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Ohio Marijuana Monopoly Madness: ResponsibleOhio and Its Foes [FEATURE]

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

Ohio may about to legalize marijuana, but not the way other states have done it. A constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November would create a virtual monopoly on commercial marijuana grows for the entire state. That's not sitting well with a number of Ohioans, including the Republican state legislature and a good number of Buckeye State legalization and medical marijuana activists. It's also leaving major national drug reform organizations deeply ambivalent.

The ResponsibleOhio initiative is almost certain to qualify for the ballot any day now. Its well-financed campaign has handed in more than 700,000 signatures to state officials, nearly twice the 305,000 valid voter signatures needed. Those officials have until later this week to verify the signatures. [Update: Monday, state officials said the initiative was 29,000 signatures short, but ResponsibleOhio has another 10 days to make up the shortfall and it says it will challenge the disqualified signatures at the state Supreme Court.]

ResponsibleOhio

The initiative allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. It even has provisions for medical marijuana. None of that is controversial.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state. The sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and are prepared to spend $20 million or more convincing the public to vote for it.

The investors include a number of Ohio business interests -- real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- as well as some home state big names who could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

While this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem so strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging for donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. An April Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

Strange Bedfellows

But ResponsibleOhio is facing a head-on challenge from the legislature, attacks from legalizers left out in the cold, and a more general discomfort with constitutionally-mandated monopolies.

Late last month, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any addition to the state constitution that created "a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to distribute a federally controlled substance. The proposed amendment specifies that if it passes, any initiative that conflicted with it -- i.e. the ResponsibleOhio initiative -- "shall not take effect."

If both initiatives passed, rest assured that lengthy legal battles would ensue, but in the meantime, marijuana legalization in Ohio would be dead in the water. While legislative leaders paid lip service to concerns about anti-competitiveness, the amendment is clearly designed to stop legalization and is the instrument of a body that has steadfastly refused to consider legalization for nearly 20 years.

That didn't stop some legalization supporters -- and ResponsibleOhio foes -- from applauding the move, and even encouraging it.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told AlterNet.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

"The current system is actually better than their plan. It gives them a monopoly where only these 10 groups get the right to cultivate commercially, and that's bad policy for the state," Kavuru argued. "It creates an environment that allows a black market to thrive, and it doesn't eliminate arrests. The purpose of legalization is supposed to be to get rid of criminal arrests."

The ResponsibleOhio initiative would increase penalties on some cultivators and would leave people under 21 subject to arrest, Kavuru charged. He also attacked its medical marijuana provisions.

"It doesn't actually give any protection for patients and only says a commission 'may' implement a medical program," he said. Everything for recreational is 'shall.'"

Ohio Families CANN is also not satisfied with ResponsibleOhio's initiative, said Nicole Scholten, a spokesperson for the group, which seeks access to marijuana to treat sick children.

"We are wary of ResponsibleOhio's approach," she said. "We are not convinced it would yield the type and volume of medical cannabis that would be effective for our children. Legalization does not equal sustainable medicine. The medicine that would help our kids requires specific strains of cannabis and vast quantities. ResponsibleOhio's plan to have only ten grow sites is problematic. There is no guarantee these businesses would devote the grow space to the kind and volume of cannabis we need."

But another patient-activist organization that has tried unsuccessfully for years to get an initiative on the ballot, the Ohio Rights Group, is less negative. Its executive director, Jack Pardee, noted that the legislature has refused for nearly 20 years to even discuss marijuana legalization bills.

"We've been having a debate in our community about the merits of what the legislature is trying to do with this thing and, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with protecting Ohioans from economic forces," Pardee said. "ResponsibleOhio isn't perfect, but it has a lot of the pieces that ending prohibition needs to be successful."

National Drug Reform Groups Ambivalent

The divisions among Ohio activists are somewhat reflected by the national groups that have so far been the big players in marijuana legalization. None of them are directly involved with ResponsibleOhio -- it certainly doesn't need their fundraising abilities -- but they are watching with great interest and concern.

"It doesn't resemble our initiatives," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert. "We have not proposed such laws in the past, and it's not the type of law we would draft," he told AlterNet.

"It's up to Ohio voters to decide if this is the kind of system they want to replace marijuana prohibition with," said Tvert. "It would get the job done, but we think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and there should be a system where there can be a lot of competition and different businesses out there producing this product."

And he had a word of advice to Ohio activists opposing ResponsibleOhio.

"If they want to end marijuana prohibition, they need to weigh their opposition to this initiative against the possibility of having to wait longer for a better initiative," Tvert said.

"A lot of legalizers, we feel like the movement has been hijacked by the money people," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But the bottom line for NORML is that we want to legalize marijuana," he told AlterNet.

"While we'd have a preference for the little or medium-sized guy, we're not that concerned about who gets rich off it," the movement veteran said. "We're about not treating marijuana users like criminals, and we can speed that process along by three or four or five years because some rich investors run their own initiative, if it actually legalizes pot smoking and dispensaries where they can buy, if they qualify for the ballot, we will support it even if it's not perfect."

Stroup took great umbrage with the legislature's move to block the initiative.

"That's a bad faith move by the legislature," he growled. "The reason we have the initiative process is because legislatures were not responsive to the will of the people, and now we have a case where the people are going around the legislature, and the legislature is going to try to go around the people."

Stroup prophesied high-stakes litigation if ResponsibleOhio wins at the ballot box, but its victory is nullified by passage of the legislature's initiative.

"That undermines the basic purpose of initiatives, and we have at least one legal opinion that nothing in that resolution would in any way affect the initiative if it were to pass," he said. "I hope the courts act in that case."

"We've fought for a long time to end marijuana prohibition for civil rights, social justice, public health, and public safety reasons, and to create a legal market," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "But to then have some folks come along trying to create a constitutionally-mandated oligopoly kind of sticks in everybody's craw."

DPA has worked and is working on legalization in a number of states, and was consulted in the drafting of the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but is not endorsing it. Nadelmann's ambivalence was indicative of the mixed feelings the measure is arousing among activists.

"The fact is, we have investors putting up $20 or $30 million to win this thing in a state that will be the center of national political attention next year -- no one else is going to do it in Ohio. There is a possibility the oligopoly provision could get knocked out. The best outcome would be for this initiative to win, and then get that knocked out," he said.

"Aside from the oligopoly provision, it's actually pretty good," Nadelmann continued. And after criticism of an earlier draft, "they were actually pretty solicitous, they added home grow, medical marijuana protections, and the distribution model is pretty good."

Who Will Be in the Driver's Seat?

But the ResponsibleOhio move also signals the emergence of monied interests whose deep pockets could leave activists and the drug reform movement on the sidelines -- and who may not share the same interests dear to the hearts of reformers.

"There's something similar going on in Michigan," Nadelmann noted, referring to an as-yet-to-filed initiative from the Michigan Responsibility Council, one of three groups planning legalization initiatives in the state right now. "And look at Arizona, there's a lot of industry funding there, and there's been hard negotiations between MPP and those guys."

"The influence of DPA, MPP, and other activists is going to diminish rapidly," he predicted. "This is going to be increasingly driven by industry, and a lot of competing interests within the industry. And as this evolves into legislative processes, other forces are going to come into play and certain players will be able to make their demands felt. Social justice concerns could get knocked out."

If Not ResponsibleOhio, Who, and When?

The unhappy Ohio legalization activists and other ResponsibleOhio critics say that if and when it is defeated, they can move forward with their own legalization plans. Given the legislature's recalcitrance, that means they would have to run their own initiative campaign.

They haven't been able to do that so far, and while some, such as OTEP's Kavuru, say they can do it now, others aren't so sure.

"We have access to a lot of money," Kavuru said. "And we have a real solid political team. We're in negotiations right now for significant funding, and it's much easier to raise money for a recreational initiative than a medical one, because people are also looking at it as an investment."

But ResponsibleOhio is here and now, and if it goes down, it remains to be seen if anyone else can actually get on the ballot.

"If this is defeated this year, I doubt any major funders would step in to play a role in 2016," said NORML's Stroup. "I understand. The people in Ohio feel they were doing a great grassroots effort and hear these rich guys came along and bought the space. But the Ohio activists so far haven't shown they can get the funding to do good surveys, let alone pay for signatures or a professional campaign. This year may be our chance to take a conservative state like Ohio and leapfrog it ahead on legalization. I'm not real comfortable with ResponsibleOhio, but I just want it legalized."

The fun is just beginning in Ohio.

Chronicle AM: Obama Visits Prison, OH Gov Okays Naloxone, Ohio Init Could Come Up Short,More (7/17/15)

A surprising analysis suggests the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative could come up short on signatures, Guam releases medical marijuana program draft regulations, Obama visits a federal prison, Ohio's governor okays naloxone over-the-counter, and more.

Pres. Obama delivers statement during prison visit (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Fall Short on Signatures, But Will Fight If It Does. Columbus's 10 TV is reporting that its analysis of signatures gathered to put the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative on the November ballot shows the initiative coming up 48,000 valid voter signatures short. That would be truly surprising, given that the group turned in 700,000 raw signatures and it only needs 305,000 valid ones to qualify. The group told 10 TV, however, that it could still collect signatures during a 10-day review period and that it could file legal challenges on signatures that were invalidated.

Michigan Democrat Will Introduce Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said today that support for legalization has reached critical mass and that he will introduce a bill to do just that. "You've got people on the left who are saying that people should not be having their lives ruined over something like marijuana and you've got people on the right who are saying marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs," said Irwin. "It makes sense from a public safety and public health perspective to bring that activity into the regulated space where we can make sure that consumers are protected. And we can also take the hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending on prosecuting marijuana offenders and direct those resources towards real criminals with real victims." There are also at least three groups working on legalization initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Releases Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Increase Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access. Gov. John Kasich (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that will make the overdose reversal drug naloxone available over the counter. This is the third year in a row Kasich has signed a naloxone bill, each one more expansive than the one before. Two years ago, he authorized a pilot program for naloxone and last year, he signed a bill allowing friends and family members of drug users to carry the drug.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Bill to Ban N-Bomb Heads to Governor's Desk. The General Assembly Thursday approved House Bill 341, which would classify the synthetic psychedelic NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, as an illegal controlled substance. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCroy (R). If he signs it, N-Bomb and its derivatives will become Schedule I controlled substances.

Criminal Justice

Obama Visits Federal Prison, Calls for Lesser Sentences for Drug Crimes. Wrapping up a week heavy on criminal justice, President Obama Thursday visited the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. While there, he met with six drug prisoners and called for lesser sentences for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Obama Calls for More Criminal Justice Reforms, Israeli Knesset Pot Brouhaha, More (7/15/15)

The president gives a major speech calling for greater criminal justice reform, there's a revised version of a California marijuana legalization initiative, North Carolina is moving to ban new synthetic drugs, the Israeli Knesset squabbles over marijuana policy, and more.

Wisconsin's Republican governor wants to drug test food stamp recipients and is going to court to fight for it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Second Version of California Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act Filed. The folks behind the initiative have revised and updated it. This is one of four legalization initiatives already filed. Everyone is still waiting for one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform to drop. To read the latest version of the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act, click on the title link.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Set to Ban N-Bomb, Other New Synthetics. A bill that would make the synthetic drug NBOMe (N-Bomb) and other designer drugs illegal is one vote away from passage. House Bill 341 would add 12 known variants of NBOMe to the state's Schedule I list. It would also add methoxetamine, a synthetic form of ketamine often marketed as Special K, and acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of the opioid fentanyl. Variants of methylphenidate (Ritalin) would also be banned, and some recent synthetic cannabinoids, too. The bill has passed the House and now awaits a final Senate floor vote.

Criminal Justice

President Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reform. In a speech before the NAACP Tuesday, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, reconsidering solitary confinement, increased reentry programs for people leaving prison, and an end to asking about criminal histories on job applications. He also called on Congress to pass sentencing reform legislation by year's end. Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Challenges Federal Ban on Food Stamp Drug Testing. The state attorney general Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to clarify whether federal law would allow the state to drug test food stamp recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) earlier this week signed a measure to do so into law. The US Agriculture Department says that drug testing food stamp recipients is not allowed, but Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) said that policy is contrary to federal law that allows states to test them.

International

Israeli Knesset Members Boycott Marijuana Policy Meeting to Protest "Pro-Legalization" Views of Panel Head. Most members of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse failed to show up for a committee meeting on "progressive cannabis policies" Tuesday, saying they were protesting the pro-legalization stance of committee chair Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party. Conservative MPs accused Zandberg of "turning [the committee] into the caucus to promote cannabis... instead of the goal for which the committee was formed: to fight drug abuse and drug-related crimes, rehabilitation of users, and public campaigns to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in general and especially among youth." Zandberg was unbowed. "I support legalization and I have never hidden it, and I plan to lead the committee with up-to-date and relevant discussions based on data," she added. "The committee will seriously deal with a long line of topics, including medical marijuana, dealing with alcoholism, and trying to change the policy of criminalizing cannabis." She accused the protesting members of being a "nature reserve of moralizers."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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: Using RICO Against Legal Cannabusinesses, Last Minute Move Kills WA Social Clubs, More (7/14/15)

A novel legal tactic by marijuana foes rears its ugly head, last minute maneuvering scuttled pot social clubs in Washington state, Bernie Sanders wants cheaper Naloxone prices, Illinois' first medical marijuana grow gets underway, and more.

Bernie Sanders calls for lower Naloxone prices (sanders.senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Foes Using RICO To Go After Legal Marijuana Businesses. A Washington-based "anti-crime" group, the Safe Streets Alliance, is using a federal law crafted to fight organized crime to go after marijuana businesses in Colorado. It recently forced one shop out of business after suing not just it but a laundry list of businesses associated with it, and has another lawsuit pending in southern Colorado. None of the lawsuits has been decided, but the mere filing was enough to get rid of one business.

No Marijuana Social Clubs for Washington State. In a last minute amendment to House Bill 2136, the recently passed legislation tweaking the laws around the state's marijuana industry, the legislature outlawed the establishment of marijuana social clubs. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is unhappy: "It makes it a felony to actually operate a business like this. Frankly, it's a stupid provision and I think that it's overkill," Holmes said. Holmes had been working on a model social club ordinance for Seattle. He said he was irked that the amendment was added and approved without notice.

Medical Marijuana

US Senators Seek Info from Feds on Progress on Medical Marijuana Research. A group of eight United States senators Monday sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting information about the agencies' efforts to facilitate and coordinate scientific research on medical marijuana. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

First Illinois Cultivation Center Begins Medical Marijuana Production. The Ataraxia cultivation center announced Monday that it is beginning to grow medical marijuana. The group says it thinks it is the first in the state to do so. The grow is located in Albion.

Harm Reduction

Bernie Sanders Calls on State Governments to Lower Price of Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender says other states should emulate New York, which negotiated a price cut with the manufacturer of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. "The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone," Sanders joined Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in saying in a letter to the National Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General.

International

Colombia Marijuana Price Plunge Sees Farmers Switching to Coca, Avocados. Prices for Colombian marijuana have dropped by two-thirds in the past year, largely because of oversupply due to a bumper crop last year. That has farmers getting out of the pot business and looking for alternatives, including coca and avocados. Marijuana was a decent cash crop for impoverished farmers; now, they'll have to try something else.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

With state legislative sessions winding down, its been pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front, except for California, where both localities and the legislature continue to grapple with the issue.

California

Last Thursday, an attorney representing collectives filed a lawsuit challenging Riverside County's new restrictions on grows in unincorporated parts of the county. James De Aguilera, representing Chronic Relief and others, seeks an injunction to block implementation of an ordinance passed in May, which is set to go into effect Thursday. The ordinance bans commercial grows, but allows patients and caregivers to grow up to 12 plants.

On Monday, the governor signed the medical marijuana organ transplant bill into law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill advanced. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.

Also on Tuesday, Monterey County supervisors adopted a temporary dispensary and cultivation ban in unincorporated areas of the county. They approved a 45-day interim ordinance to allow them time to write and enact regulations for what they think will be a burgeoning industry.

On Wednesday, Senator Feinstein was delivered petitions demanding she get on board with medical marijuana. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to change her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

Louisiana

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana bill into law. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) Monday signed into law Senate Bill 143, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. The law foresees an extensive regulatory process to select and supervise a state-authorized grower and 10 licensed distributors, but some advocates are concerned that the prescribing language will make the law meaningless. The DEA will pull prescribing privileges from doctors who prescribe marijuana, which is why other states say doctors can recommend it. The bill originally called for recommendations, but the language was changed at the behest of social conservative groups in the state.

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

Chronicle AM: Chile Decriminalization Vote, Miami Beach Decriminalizes, CDC Heroin Warning, More (7/8/15)

A bill decriminalizing marijuana possession and allowing personal cultivation is moving in Chile, a bill regulating the medical marijuana industry is moving in California, the CDC issues another warning about heroin, Miami Beach is the latest South Florida community to decriminalize, and more.

Heroin overdoses nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, according to the CDC. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Filed. Two separate marijuana reform initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state's office recently. They are ballot issues #7 and #8 on the official website. Ballot Issue #7 is the legalization initiative, submitted by a Glendive man who says he plans to bicycle the state to gather signatures. Ballot Issue #8 is the medical marijuana initiative. Both initiatives are now being reviewed by legislative services and must be okayed before signature gathering can begin.

Miami Beach Decriminalizes Possession. Miami Beach city commissioners voted unanimously today to approve an ordinance to fine those caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and jailing them. Under the ordinance, police will have the option of issuing a $100 ticket to people caught with less than 20 grams, but could still arrest them at the officer's discretion. Miami-Dade County recently passed decriminalization, and Palm Beach is considering a similar move.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.

Opiates

CDC Again Sounds Alarm on Rising Heroin Use. In a report released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that heroin use in the US has grown at "an alarming rate," with overdose deaths doubling between 2011 and 2013. Heroin use is up among multiple demographic groups, but the biggest increases were among white people, women, and people with higher incomes and private insurance. "Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response -- to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."

International

Chilean House Approves Decriminalization, Personal Cultivation Bill. The lower house of the Chilean congress has approved a measure that would decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use of up to 10 grams and allow people to grow up to six plants of their own. Now, the bill must be reviewed by a health committee before the lower house votes again on its specific elements. The bill would then go to the upper chamber.

Poll: BC Residents Say Legalize It! A new Insights West poll has support for marijuana legalization at 67% among adult residents. Support was even higher among young adults, with the 18-to-34 age bracket coming in at 72%. Click the link for more details.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival in Doubt After Offering Pill Testing Services. Just yesterday, we noted that the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival set for this weekend in Nova Scotia had taken the ground-breaking harm reduction step of offering pill testing services for attendees. But now there's a hitch: As a result of the pill testing plan, his insurance company underwriters have pulled its liability insurance, and now the festival may not be able to go on at all. Organizers are looking at their options.

Moroccan Head of State Rejects Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation. Head of state Abdelilah Benkirane said Tuesday his government will not allow the legalization of cannabis cultivation, and that those who claim differently are selling "illusions" to the country's hash farmers. Morocco is one of the world's leading hash producers. Opposition parties have called for the legalization of cultivation.

Chronicle AM: Oregon Pot Sales Could Start in October; MT & NM Forfeiture Reforms in Effect, More (7/3/15)

Oregon is working to expedite the beginning of legal pot sales, Rand Paul rakes in the campaign cash at a pot industry confab in Denver, asset forfeiture reforms go into effect in Montana and New Mexico, law enforcement naloxone access goes into effect in Virginia, Colombia's coca crop jumps, and more.

Coca cultivation and potential cocaine production jumped last year in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature Okays Retail Marijuana Sales Beginning October 1. With a 40-19 vote in the House Thursday, the legislature has sent a bill temporarily allowing tax-free marijuana sales through existing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin October 1. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has not indicated whether she will sign it. If she doesn't, sales wouldn't begin until sometime next year.

Rand Paul Raises At Least $120,000 at Marijuana Industry Fundraiser in Denver. The Republican presidential contender pulled in the campaign cash at a private fundraising event at the National Cannabis Industry Association's Cannabis Business Summit. At least 40 people paid a minimum of $2,700 each to take part, and the Marijuana Policy Project also kicked in another $15,000. This is the first time a major presidential candidate has taken big money from the pot industry.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana, New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reforms Now in Effect. Both states passed reform bills earlier this year, and they went into effect July 1. The Montana law requires a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can proceed. The New Mexico law is even tougher. It abolished civil asset forfeiture outright. The New Mexico law also requires that all seizures go into the general fund, preventing them from being used as a law enforcement slush fund.

Harm Reduction

Virginia Law Allowing Cops to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Now in Effect. A series of bills approved by the General Assembly this year dealing with heroin and prescription opiate use went into effect July 1, including a provision that allows police officers to carry the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone. More than 3,000 Virginians have died of heroin overdoses in the past five years.

International

Big Increase in Colombian Coca Crop Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that Colombian coca cultivation jumped 44% last year, to about 430,000 acres. Potential cocaine production jumped from 290 tons in 2013 to 442 tons last year, an increase of 52%. Colombian officials said the increase showed the ineffectiveness of aerial eradication, which Colombia halted earlier this year after a UN agency linked the herbicide used in the spraying to cancer in humans.

Thai Anti-Drug Officials Prepare to Drug Test Entire Village. All 500 residents of the community of Suan Son Soi 9 are set to be drug tested next Friday after the Narcotics Suppression Bureau said recent inspections had found a seven-year-old child already using drugs and a mother who fed her infant child the mild stimulant drug kratom mixed with water.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been quite a week for medical marijuana. Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota saw their first dispensaries open; Hawaii is now set to join the dispensary crowd; CBD cannabis oil became legal in Wyoming, and more.

Delaware

Last Friday, the state's first dispensary opened for business. The First State Compassion Center opened last in a Wilmington industrial park. This is nearly four years after the legislature approved them, but the process was stalled when Gov. Jack Markell (D) backed away in the face of federal threats. Finally, Delaware's patients have a legal place to obtain their medicine.

Hawaii

On Monday, it became clear that the dispensary bill will become law. Gov. David Ige (D) has released a list of bills he intends to veto, and the dispensary bill is not on it. That bill, House Bill 321, will initially allow up to 16 dispensaries, to be operated by eight medical marijuana businesses. It comes 15 years after the state became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, the state's first dispensary opened for business. The Alternative Therapies Group has opened the state's first dispensary in Salem. It only took three years once voters approved medical marijuana in 2012.

Minnesota

On Wednesday, medical marijuana became legal in the state, but you can't smoke it. The state's new medical marijuana law went into effect at midnight, with people lining up at the Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis as it opened its doors as soon as it was legally able. The state's law is very restrictive and highly regulated, and does not allow for use of smokeable marijuana as medicine.

New Jersey

On Monday, the legislature approved a bill allowing sick kids to use CBD cannabis oil in school. The state Senate Monday approved the bill; an identical version had already passed the House. Now it's up to Gov. Christ Christie (R) to sign it.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, the House Health Committee unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill. The committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 3, which would allow seriously ill Pennsylvanians to access medical marijuana with recommendations from their doctors. The bill will now go to the House Rules Committee for further consideration. The bill had been bottled up by the committee chair, but a vote was allowed after Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R-Ridley Park) filed a discharge petition that would have put it before the House for a floor vote. The bill passed the Senate in May.

On Monday, a "compromise" medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Ron Marisco (R-Dauphin) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 1432, which would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana. The move comes as a measure that passed the Senate, Senate Bill 3, has been stuck in the House.

Wyoming

On Wednesday, CBD cannabis oil became legal in the state. A new law allowing seizure patients to use CBD cannabis oil is now in effect. But the state health department hasn't yet created patient registration cards, leaving patients uncertain about their legal status. The department says it is working on it. The measure was House Bill 32

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

Chronicle AM: OR Legalizes, Miami Decriminalizes, CT Defelonizes, More (7/1/15)

New laws went into effect today, legalizing pot in Oregon, legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota, legalizing CBD cannabis oil in Wyoming, Miami decriminalizes pot possession, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana is Now Legal in Oregon. The Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative approved by Oregon voters last November went into effect as of 12:01 a.m Pacific Time today. That means that people 21 and over can now legally possess up to eight ounces of weed at home and grow up to four plants. Only one ounce may be possessed in public. Public consumption remains illegal. But you won't be able to go to the marijuana store just yet. Sales are currently set to begin next year, although there is a chance the legislature could act to move up that date. 

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana Reform Bill Into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) Tuesday signed into law a bill that rejiggers parts of the state's marijuana legalization plan. The new law replaces the existing three-tier tax structure and replaces it with a 37% retail tax. The law also directs the state to share pot tax revenues only with cities and counties that allow sales in a bid to encourage them to do so.

Wyoming Governor Creates Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Matt Mead (R) announced Tuesday that he is creating a council to assess the impact of marijuana use. The move comes as Wyoming activists plan a legalization initiative that could go before voters next year.

Miami Decriminalizes. The Miami-Dade County commission Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $100 civil citations to people possessing up to 20 grams of pot. Police could still arrest them, though. Police officials said they will have to develop a policy on when a ticket is appropriate.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Governor Will Sign Dispensary Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) has released a list of bills he intends to veto, and the dispensary bill is not on it. That bill, House Bill 321, will initially allow up to 16 dispensaries, to be operated by eight medical marijuana businesses. It comes 15 years after the state became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Minnesota—But You Can't Smoke It. The state's new medical marijuana law went into effect Wednesday, with people lining up at the Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis as it opened its doors shortly after midnight. The state's law is very restrictive and highly regulated, and does not allow for use of smokeable marijuana as medicine.

Wyoming CBD Cannabis Oil Law Goes Into Effect. A new law allowing seizure patients to use CBD cannabis oil went into effect Wednesday. But the state health department hasn't yet created patient registration cards, leaving patients uncertain about their legal status. The department says it is working on it. The measure was House Bill 32.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC City Council Passes Measure Toughening Synthetic Drug Penalties. The council Tuesday approved emergency legislation that allows DC Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier to shutter for four days any business caught selling synthetic drugs. The businesses could also face a $10,000 fine for a first offense and loss of their business licenses for a second one.

Sentencing

Connecticut Drug Sentencing Reforms Pass Legislature. The legislature gave final approval Monday to a bill that reduces most drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Under current law, drug possession can garner up to seven years in prison. A mandatory minimum two-year sentence for drug possession in a school zone is also being eliminated. The law will go into effect October 1. 

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Moves in NJ, PA; Initiative News from CA, MS, OH; Pot Sentencing Reform in LA, More (6/30/15)

It looks like ResponsibleOhio will qualify for the November 2015 ballot, activists in California and Massachusetts move forward with their initiative campaigns, the New Jersey legislature passes a bill to let sick kids use CBD cannabis oil in school, and more. 

Initiative season is upon us. (reformca.com)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Initiative Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The Responsible Use Act has been cleared for signature-gathering. It has 180 days to collect 365,880 valid voter signatures, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The act is one of four legalization initiatives that have been filed so far this year; a fifth is expected to drop later this summer. This act would set a retail tax of $8 an ounce on dried buds.

Louisiana Governor Signs Marijuana Sentencing Reform Law. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has signed into law a bill that would reform the state's marijuana sentences—the harshest in the nation. First time possession was punishable by up to six months in jail; now the maximum will be 15 days. Second offense possession was a felony punishable by up to five years in prison; now it's a misdemeanor punishable by six months. Third time was punishable by up to 20 years; now it remains a felony, but the max is only two years.

Massachusetts Activists Release Second Draft of Legalization Initiative. Bay State Repeal has submitted a second draft of its legalization initiative for informal review by the state attorney general's office. The current draft of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act would legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over and envisions a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The Bay State Repeal effort is one of two potential legalization initiatives; the other is supported by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Turns In Twice the Number of Needed Signatures. The controversial but well-financed initiative to create an oligarchy of sanctioned commercial marijuana growers as part of overall legalization scheme turned in more than 695,000 voter signatures today. ResponsibleOhio only needs 305,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. At least two other groups are seeking signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Legislature Approves Bill Allowing Sick Kids to Use CBD Cannabis Oil in School. The state Senate Monday approved the bill; an identical version had already passed the House. Now it's up to Gov. Christ Christie (R) to sign it.

Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Pennsylvania. Rep. Ron Marisco (R-Dauphin) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 1432, which would allow for the limited use of medical marijuana. The move comes as a measure that passed the Senate, Senate Bill 3, has been stuck in the House.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC City Council Considers Harsher Penalties for Synthetic Drugs. The council is set to consider emergency legislation that would allow the DC Metro Police chief to temporarily close businesses that sell synthetic drugs. The move comes after the city has seen a spike in overdoses and bad reactions linked to the new synthetics. The measure would let the city close businesses for up to four days and fine them up to $10,000.

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