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Chronicle AM: MedMJ Regulation Coming to CA, US Senate Passes Drug War Bill, More (10/12/15)

Legal marijuana moves ahead in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana will be comprehensively regulated in California, Jerry Brown splits on a pair of immigration drug deportation bills, Mexican opium poppy production is up dramatically, and more.

Finally, a statewide plan for regulating medical marijuana in California (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado's August Sales Topped $100 Million. For the first time, the state's monthly marijuana sales exceeded $100 million in August. Recreational marijuana came in at $59.2 million, while medical marijuana sales added another $41.4 million. That's $100.6 million in overall pot sales. The state collected $13 million in pot taxes that month.

Washington State Accepting New Retail Shop License Applications. As of today, the State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board is accepting and processing new applications for retail marijuana operations. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will now need to be licensed, and will be prioritized in the licensing process.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed into law a package of bills designed to bring comprehensive, statewide regulation to the state's thriving medical marijuana industry. The three-bill package will establish "a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and sale of medical marijuana," Brown said in his signing statement. "This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system," said Brown. "This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice."

Immigration

California Governor Signs One Bill to Block Immigrant Drug Deportations, But Vetoes Another. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed Assembly Bill 1352, which allows resident non-citizens convicted of a drug offense to seek deferred adjudication and, upon completion, withdrawal of a guilty plea to avoid triggering federal deportation proceedings. But he vetoed Assembly Bill 1351, which would have allowed immigrants to avoid pleading guilty to a drug offense in order to enter drug treatment.

Drug Policy

Senate Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The US Senate last Thursday approved S. 32, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would make it a federal crime to manufacture or distribute drugs anywhere in the world if there is "reasonable cause to believe that such substances or chemicals will be unlawfully imported into the United States or waters within 12 miles of the US coast." The bill now goes to the House.

International

British Lib Dems Set Up Panel on Marijuana Legalization Ahead of Parliamentary Debate Today. As Parliament prepared to debate marijuana legalization today in response to a widely signed citizen petition, the Liberal Democrats announced they were creating an expert panel on the subject. Click on the link for much more.

Chile Will Allow Sale of Medical Marijuana Products in Pharmacies. Chilean Vice Minister of Health Jaime Burrows said last Friday that the country will modify its laws to allow the sale of medical marijuana products in pharmacies. Such sales would be allowed with "the authorization of a specialist, a prescription, and strict controls of stock," he said. A decree enacting the changes is now being reviewed by President Michelle Bachelet.

UN Commission on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Retire the Army From the Drug War. The UN body said soldiers should retire from the streets and return to their bases because they are not trained to undertake policing work. "This must be propelled by a real sense of urgency," said the commission's Zaid Raad al-Hussein. "This is not something we can afford to wait months for without an end." The Mexican army has come under sustained criticism over human rights abuses in its war on drug trafficking organizations.

DEA Says Mexican Opium Crop Up By 50%. Jack Riley, the acting administrator of the DEA, told a House committee last week that there has been a 50% increase in poppy production in key Mexican opium-producing states this year. He added that most heroin consumed in the US comes from Mexico.

Sweeping Bipartisan Federal Sentencing Reform Legislation Filed [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive sentencing reform legislation Thursday. The bill aims at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering reentry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents "small government" conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates -- a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves "cooperation incentives" to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.

In addition to reducing prison terms for some offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant's criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a bill cosponsor (wikimedia/Bbsrock)
"This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade," Grassley said. "This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused."

"The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth," said Durbin. "Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

"Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik's cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference," said Schumer. "This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for nonviolent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I'm hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs."

"For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential," said Booker. "Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong."

Although the bill doesn't move completely away from the resort to mandatory minimums, it is still garnering general support among the civil rights, drug reform, and criminal justice reform communities.

The bill aims to reduce federal prison populations. (nadcp.org)
"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences -- especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."

"In an age of intense partisan conflict, it's heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was also on board.

"Today marks a unique moment in our history and an important step forward in making long overdue reforms to our justice system," said Wade Henderson, the group's CEO. "This bill represents the most robust bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform in years. "This harmonic convergence of left and right -- of civil rights and small government advocates -- represents a coalition of conscience that can carry this legislation to the White House. We applaud the effort and look forward to working with the cosponsors on this legislation."

Now, the bill has to actually get through Congress. Given the high-powered and bipartisan support in the Senate, prospects look good there, but whether the House will be willing to sign on remains to be seen.

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.

Sentencing

Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Cannabis Social Clubs An Issue, NYC Psychedelics Conference, Argentine Election, More (9/25/15)

The issue of marijuana social clubs is bubbling up in Alaska and Colorado, a second Massachusetts legalization initiative gets ready to collect signatures, Oklahomans really don't like asset forfeiture, and more.

A conference on psychedelics is coming to New York City next month.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill Would End Students Losing Financial Aid for Getting Caught With a Joint. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed HR 3561, which would protect students who get arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses from losing access to financial aid. Under the 1998 version of the Higher Education Act (HEA), students with drug convictions lost financial aid, but that law was later walked back to apply only to students in school and receiving financial aid at the time of their offense. Blumenauer's bill would exempt students caught with marijuana from that punishment.

Alaska Set to Ban Cannabis Social Clubs. The state Marijuana Control Board has accepted draft language that would ban businesses allowing on-site pot smoking. The board said such businesses are not a type that was specified in the initiative that legalized marijuana in the state. If Alaskans want marijuana social clubs, it will now be up to them to convince the legislature to create legal space for them.

Colorado Bill Will Allow Marijuana Social Clubs. Rep. Kit Loupe (R-Colorado Springs) says he has drafted a bill that would create a retail marijuana club license. Marijuana users would be allowed to consume at the club, and the clubs could also serve alcohol and food, if licensed to do so. He says he will introduce the bill when the legislature convenes in January.

Second Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off Tomorrow. It's the 26th Annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, and Bay State Repeal is using the occasion to launch the signature gathering drive for its legalization initiative. Another initiative campaign, the Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana, got going on signature-gathering earlier this week.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Seeking Members for Medical Marijuana Task Force. The state Health Authority's Public Health Division said Thursday it is seeking applicants to serve on a newly created Task Force on Researching the Medical and Public Health Properties of Cannabis (the Cannabis Research Task Force). Those interested need to fill out this form by September 30.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Bill Would Mandate Screening of School Students. A wide-ranging bill to deal with heroin and opiate use being finalized by state Senate leaders would include mandatory drug screening of junior and high school students. While it is only a drug "screening," not a drug test, the provision is raising privacy and confidentiality concerns among some lawmakers. Click on the link for more discussion.

Psychedelics

Psychedelics Conference in New York City Next Month. The annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will take place in New York City on October 9-11. "In recent years, a growing community of scientists, doctors, artists, activists, seekers and scholars has orchestrated a renaissance in psychedelic thought and practice. Horizons is a unique forum that brings together the brightest minds and the boldest voices of this movement to share their research, insights and dreams for the future," according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which is a partner in the conference. Click on the links for more information.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Civil Asset Forfeiture Repeal. A new SoonerPoll shows strong public antipathy toward asset forfeiture and strong support for ending asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. Some 70% said they would support "legislation that would allow law enforcement only to keep property when a criminal conviction is achieved" and 78% said they agreed that "law enforcement keeping confiscated property without a conviction denies those of their constitutional right of due process is un-American." The poll comes as the legislature ponders asset forfeiture reform.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Drivers' License Suspensions for Non-Driving Drug Offenses. The state is one of handful that still maintain such laws, but perhaps for not much longer. Senate Bill 2014 has passed the Senate and now heads to the House.

International

Argentine Presidential Candidates Ignore Experts, Call for More Drug War. The top three hopefuls in this year's presidential race -- Sergio Massa, Mauricio Macri, and Daniel Scioli -- all are calling for a tougher drug war, but Argentine scholars and experts say they are only deepening failed policies. More than a hundred scholars have signed a document, The Drug Issue in Argentina, that says maintaining, let alone deepening, existing prohibitionist policies is not the right way to go. Click on the links for more.

Tomorrow is the Anniversary of the Disappearance of Mexico's Ayotzinapa Students. A year ago Saturday, 43 students from a teachers college went missing in Iguala, Guerrero. They still haven't been found, and their disappearance has revealed links between local politicians, local law enforcement agencies, and drug gangs in a scandal that has severely tarnished the reputation of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The families are keeping the pressure on. Click on the link for more.

Medical Marijuana Update

A sitting US senator addresses the marijuana industry, California cops raid an Indian reservation grow op, Florida signature-gathering for another initiative is well underway, and more.

National

On Monday, a US senator addressed an industry meeting and called for the feds to butt out. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke at the National Cannabis Industry Association meeting in New York and told industry professionals she is pushing a bill she cosponsored last March with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would bar the federal government from interfering with marijuana in states where it is legal, either medicinally or recreationally. "There's a conflict between state and federal statute that confuses doctors, patients and providers alike," she said. "People aren't sure what's legal, what's not, and the gray area that resulted is hindering health care and the industry's development."

California

Last Thursday, a union organizer was indicted on federal corruption charges. Dan Rush, a pioneer in organizing marijuana industry workers for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), was indicted on federal corruption, attempted extortion, and money laundering charges in Oakland. Rush is accused of using his position "to obtain money and other things" over a five-year period. He is accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for referring medical marijuana business clients to him and of accepting $550,000 in debt forgiveness from a dispensary operator (who was also acting as an FBI informant at the time). Rush and his attorneys have denied the charges.

Last Friday, a state monopoly medical marijuana initiative was filed. Foes of marijuana reform in the Golden State have filed an initiative that would eliminate private marijuana cultivation and privately-owned dispensaries "in the interest of public safety." They would be replaced by one "state-owned cultivation site," which would supply "state-owned dispensaries." The initiative would also raise the minimum age for patients from 18 to 21. The initiative's proponents include anti-marijuana campaigner the Rev. Ron Allen, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, and the Take Back America campaign.

On Tuesday, California cops raided an Indian reservation grow operation. Mendocino County sheriff's deputies Tuesday raided a commercial marijuana cultivation operation on the Pinoleville Pomo Nation reservation in Ukiah, cutting down about 400 plants, seizing about 100 pounds of trimmed buds, and an undetermined quantity of cannabis oil. The county maintains the operation is illegal under the state's medical marijuana laws.

Connecticut

Last Friday, dispensaries came a step closer to reality. The state Department of Consumer Protection announced that it has received 19 new applications for dispensaries in response to its June request. Three dispensaries will be selected to operate in New Haven or Fairfield counties.

Florida

Last Friday, initiative organizers said they had half a million signatures. The United for Care campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year reports that it has already gathered 500,000 signatures. They need 683,149 valid voter signatures by February 1 to qualify. This is the same group that was behind the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, which garnered 58% of the vote, but came up short because constitutional amendments require 60% to pass.

Michigan

On Tuesday, a House panel advanced a package of medical marijuana bills. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday passed a package of bills aimed at legalizing dispensaries and edible forms of medical marijuana. The bills have tighter rules than similar measures that failed last year, and some patient advocates are grumbling. Seed-to-sale tracking is one new addition; an 8% excise tax is another. Now it will be up to the legislature's GOP leadership to advance the bills or not.

New Jersey

On Monday, news came that the state will get a fourth dispensary. The state Department of Health has issued a permit for Compassionate Sciences in Bellmawr. It will becomes the state's fourth dispensary when it opens next month.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, patients and parents demanded action on pending medical marijuana legislation. Supporters of delayed medical marijuana legislation rallied at the state capitol Tuesday to urge solons to act on a pending bill. A bill passed the state Senate in May, and House leaders earlier this summer created a group to draft a version that would pass in the GOP-led chamber. Protestors urged House leaders to just hold a vote on the Senate-passed bill.

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

Chronicle AM: MA Legalization Campaign Rolls Out, Federal "Synthetic Drugs" Bill Filed, More (9/22/15)

Signature gathering is getting underway in Massachusetts; the Albuquerque city council votes narrowly for decriminalization, but faces a possible veto; New York's junior senator addressed the National Cannabis Industry Association, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) addressed the NCIA in New York City yesterday. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Rolls Out Today. One of two groups seeking to put legalization initiatives on the November 2016 ballot officially kicked off its signature gathering campaign today. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts held a Boston news conference with several state lawmakers to get the ball rolling. The campaign must collect 64,750 valid voter signatures to place the matter before the legislature. If the legislature doesn't act, the campaign would have to collect an additional 10,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. The other legalization campaign in the state is by Bay State Repeal.

ResponsibleOhio Will File Initiative to Expunge Old Marijuana Convictions. The group behind this year's controversial marijuana legalization initiative is preparing a second initiative that would create a process to expunge old marijuana-related convictions. The Fresh Start Act would allow for reviews to expunge convictions if their actions would no longer be considered illegal. The group needs to gather 92,000 signatures before year's end to place the issue before the legislature next year. If the legislator then refuses to act on the initiative, it could go before voters on the 2016 ballot.

Albuquerque City Council Votes (Again) to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The council voted 5-4 along party lines late last night to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia. A similar resolution last year was vetoed by Mayor Richard Berry, but since then, voters in the region have had the opportunity to express their support for decriminalization and have done so. Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is located, voted 60% for decrim, and every precinct in the city itself was above 50% for decrim. Is the mayor paying attention? Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

US Senator Addresses Industry Meeting, Calls for Feds to Butt Out. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke at the National Cannabis Industry Association meeting in New York Monday and told industry professionals she is pushing a bill she cosponsored last March with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would bar the federal government from interfering with marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal. "There's a conflict between state and federal statute that confuses doctors, patients and providers alike," she said. "People aren't sure what's legal, what's not, and the gray area that resulted is hindering health care and the industry's development."

California State Monopoly Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. Foes of marijuana reform in the Golden State have filed an initiative that would eliminate private marijuana cultivation and privately-owned dispensaries "in the interest of public safety." They would be replaced by one "state-owned cultivation site," which would supply "state-owned dispensaries." The initiative would also raise the minimum age for patients from 18 to 21. The initiative's proponents include anti-marijuana campaigner the Rev. Ron Allen, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, and the Take Back America campaign.

New Psychoactive Substances

House Bill Would Criminalize Hundreds of New "Synthetic Drugs." Bipartisan legislation filed last week is aimed at reducing the traffic in new psychoactive substances, such as ones marketed under names like "flakka," "bath salts," and "K2." The bill is HR 3537, sponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Charlie Dent (R-PA), and David Jolly (R-FL), and it would amend the Federal Analogues Act to make it stronger, as well as adding a list of known new psychoactive substances to the Controlled Substances Act. In a bid to target distributors -- not users -- the bill narrows the act so that it does not apply to simple possession.

Chronicle AM: Midwest Marijuana, Clinton Looks Abroad to Fight Heroin, Dan Rush Indicted, More (9/21/15)

Michigan has two legalization initiative campaigns and now it has a legalization bill, Ohio's legalization initiative ballot language is set, a key UFCW organizer gets indicted, Chuck Schumer calls on the DEA to do something about Chinese drug sales websites, and more.

Hilary Clinton hints at eradication and interdiction to fight heroin. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Rep Files Five Nanogram Drugged Driving Bill. Rep. David Kerner (D-Lake Worth) has filed House Bill 161, which would make driving with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood a drugged driving offense. The bill is named after teenager Naomi Pomerance, who died in a traffic accident last year in which the driver of the scooter on which she was riding was high on marijuana and ran a red light.

Michigan Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and six cosponsors have filed House Bill 4877 to bring full-fledged marijuana legalization to the state. The move comes as two groups are working to put legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Ohio Ballot Board Revises Legalization Initiative Ballot Language to Remove "Misleading" Characterizations. On orders from the state Supreme Court to fix "misleading" ballot language after ResponsibleOhio challenged the original version, the state Ballot Board has revised its ballot wording to describe the initiative. The ballot title, which ResponsibleOhio had also challenged, will, however, stand. It reads: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes." The campaign had challenged the use of "monopoly" and would have preferred "personal" instead of "recreational" use.

Ohio ACLU Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The ACLU of Ohio is getting behind the controversial legalization initiative because it would "begin to move our state away from senseless, wasteful drug prohibition toward a system that is supervised, safe, efficient, legal, and operating under regulatory oversight," the group said.

Washington State Teens Do Not Face Felonies for Marijuana Possession. After reports last week that an eastern Washington prosecutor had charged three teens with felonies for marijuana possession, saying that a new law designed to regulate medical marijuana demanded the charges, the air has cleared. The new law, Senate Bill 5052, does not require that teens be charged with felonies for possessing less than 40 grams, and the prosecutor has now dropped the felony charges. Interesting take on all this at the title link.

Medical Marijuana

Feds Indict Union Organizer on Corruption Charges. Dan Rush, marijuana industry organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), was indicted on federal corruption, attempted extortion, and money laundering charges in Oakland last Thursday. Rush is accused of using his position "to obtain money and other things" over a five-year period. He is accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for referring medical marijuana business clients to him and of accepting $550,000 in debt forgiveness from a dispensary operator (who was also acting as an FBI informant at the time). Rush and his attorneys have denied the charges.

Connecticut Dispensaries Move a Step Nearer. The state Department of Consumer Protection announced last Friday that it has received 19 new applications for dispensaries in response to its June request. Three dispensaries will be selected to operate in New Haven or Fairfield counties.

Florida Initiative Organizers Say They Have Half a Million Signatures. The United for Care campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year reports that it has already gathered 500,000 signatures. They need 683,149 valid voter signatures by February 1 to qualify. This is the same group that was behind the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, which garnered 58% of the vote, but came up short because constitutional amendments require 60% to pass.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Hillary Clinton Would Take War on Heroin Beyond US Borders. In an interview with WMUR radio in New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential contender said she would take the fight against heroin beyond the US border if necessary. "I think you have to," responded Clinton. "This has to be a comprehensive strategy. And we know that this cheap heroin that is killing so many people is coming across our border." Interdiction and eradication have long been favorite drug war strategies, but have not proven very effective.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Tribal Chairman Gets Job Back After Drug Testing Brouhaha. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Chairman Bruce Renville was reinstated last Friday after being suspended for imposing drug testing on all tribal employees. In his zeal to get a grip on alcohol and drug abuse on the reservation, Renville went beyond the letter of the law. Employees who tested positive will not be punished.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Calls on DEA to Crack Down on China Drug Websites. Responding to concerns over synthetic cannabinoids, the New York Democrat is calling on the DEA to form a special unit to identify Chinese websites doing bulk sales of new psychoactive substances and ban credit card companies from doing business with them. "By simply telling the credit card companies not to deal with these sites, we can shut them down," Schumer said. "When you buy a synthetic drug, you give a credit card number. You can go on your iPhone right now and pull up some of these websites. They say 'We take Visa.' Visa would no longer take them. None of the credit card companies would take them. We could strangle them."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CO Pot Tax Holiday, Toledo Decriminalizes, So Does South Palm Beach (Sort Of), More (9/16/15)

Marijuana, marijuana, marijuana. It's almost all pot news today, from Colorado taxes to decrim in Toledo and South Palm Beach, to a new federal bill aimed at ending DEA funding of marijuana eradication, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Eliminate DEA Marijuana Eradication Program. US Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) today filed a bill that would end the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That program funds state and local law enforcement efforts to find and destroy marijuana grow sites. The bill would bar the use of such funds for that purpose. It's not yet available on the congressional website.

Colorado Becomes First State to See Marijuana Tax Revenues Exceed Alcohol Tax Revenues. In the past fiscal year, the state took in $70 million in marijuana taxes, far above the $42 million it got from taxes on alcohol.

Colorado Pot Tax Holiday Today. Because of a quirk in state law, the state must suspend collecting marijuana taxes today. The state underestimated total state tax collections in 2014, which results in the automatic suspension of "new" taxes, such as those imposed on marijuana under legalization there. Pot shops expect big crowds. The taxes return tomorrow.

Toledo Decriminalization Measure Passes Overwhelmingly. Voters approved the Sensible Toledo decriminalization ordinance by a margin of more than two to one. The ordinance would eliminate jail time and fines for possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana. Current municipal ordinances make possession of up to 100 grams a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and possession of up to 200 grams a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Under Ohio state law, possession of up to 100 grams is decriminalized.

West Palm Beach Approves Ordinance Giving Police Possession Ticket Option.The city council Tuesday night approved an ordinance giving police the option of issuing $100 fines instead of misdemeanor charges against people caught with 20 grams or less of weed. The move is part of a South Florida trend toward de facto decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Activists Use Primary Attention to Pressure Candidates. The advocacy group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis is taking advantage of the state's early presidential primary and the attention it generates to pressure presidential candidates to stand up for medical marijuana. The group has developed a questionnaire it plans to deliver to all the candidates. "Moms and dads across America want to know what presidential candidates are proposing to help the sick and suffering obtain medical cannabis, a proven plant that is made by God," said Maria La France, a Des Moines mother whose 14-year-old son Quincy has epilepsy.

International

In India's Punjab, Half of All Prisoners Are Drug Offenders. Of the 26,000 inmates behind bars in Punjab, 47% have either been convicted or are awaiting trial under the country's Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The crush of drug inmates is overwhelming jails in the state, which have an official capacity of 19,000. Many of the drug inmates are considered "addicts," and many of the state prisons have become "de-addiction centers."

Chronicle AM: CA on Verge of Regulating MedMJ, Federal No Mandatory Minimums Drug Bill Filed, More (9/11/15)

Nearly 20 years after the passage of Prop 215, California may finally get statewide medical marijuana regulation; the Illinois governor's veto pen has an impact, but also gets blunted; there's a new report on drug policy and human rights in Latin America, and more.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Dies… For Now. The bill, House Bill 218, passed out of the legislature, only to be the subject of an amendatory veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), in which he made several changes to the text of the bill. Now, the clock has run out on the legislature approving that language, but a new bill is expected to emerge and the state could still pass decriminalization this year.

Medical Marijuana

California Legislators Set to Pass Historic Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. Before day's end, the legislature is expected to approve bills that would finally bring statewide regulation to the thriving industry. The bills, Assembly Bill 266 and Senate Bill 643, are to be amended and passed today and then signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Passage should create a full-fledged, highly regulated system with licensing for all stages of cultivation, production, distribution, and sales.

Illinois Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Thursday vetoed a measure that would have allowed people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to qualify for medical marijuana. His administration also refused to expand access to medical marijuana for 10 other ailments. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended adding the 11 conditions, but Rauner killed PTSD and the Department of Public Health killed the rest. Rauner said expanding the program was premature.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Senators Call for Review of FDA Decision on Oxycontin for Kids. A bipartisan group of senators have asked the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to investigate the Food and Drug Administration's August decision to approve the use of the powerful pain reliever in pediatric patients. The senators called the FDA move "a step in the wrong direction" in the face of growing levels of opiate dependency and abuse.

Illinois Legislature Overrides Veto of Heroin Treatment Funding. The state Senate Wednesday voted 44-11 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) veto of portions of an omnibus heroin bill that would have mandated Medicaid paying for drug treatment for heroin users. The state House had already voted to override, so now the whole range of House Bill 1 will go into effect.

Asset Forfeiture

California Legislature Kills Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Under heavy lobbying pressure from law enforcement, the state Assembly Wednesday killed Senate Bill 443, which would have reformed civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill had enjoyed bipartisan support and nearly unanimous votes prior to the final Assembly vote. But there is still a chance the bill will be reconsidered and passed today, the last day of the session. Stay tuned.

Sentencing

Senator Kelly Ayotte Introduces Bill to Increase Fentanyl Trafficking Sentences. Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) Thursday filed S. 2027 to increase penalties for the synthetic opioid. There are no particulars on the bill available yet.

Rep. Maxine Waters Introduces Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses. Rep. Waters (D-CA) Thursday filed H.R. 3489, "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." There are no particulars on the bill available yet.

International

New Report Examines Drug Policy and Human Rights in Latin America. The Argentine Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has released a new report, The Impact of Drug Policy on Human Rights: The Experience of the Americas, covering a wide range of issues, from long prison sentences for minor drug offenses to the way harsh drug policies run counter to international human rights standards. The report also highlights how such policies have a disproportionate effect on the poor, minorities, and other vulnerable members of society.

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