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Chronicle AM: Denver Public Pot Use Effort, House GOP Eases Up on Needle Exchange Ban, More (6/18/05)

We're heavy on the marijuana news today, but there's also good news from Congress on needle exchange, and Peru's Shining Path wins a second bad-news designation from the US government.

Denver, the Mile High City. Soon, you may be able to smoke marijuana in a club there. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization. The state Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday voted 4-2 to approve House Bill 39, which would replace criminal penalties and possible jail time for marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. The committee chair, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington), sponsored the bill. It has already passed the House, and Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he is "hopeful" Delaware will decriminalize.

New Poll Has Strong New Jersey Majority for Legalization. A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll has support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana at 58% among Garden State residents. Click on the link for demographics and more detail.

Ohio Secretary of State Attacks ResponsibleOhio Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State John Hustad (R) said Wednesday that signature-gatherers hired by ResponsibleOhio may be responsible for fraud. He cited several irregularities, including registrants with non-existent addresses, signatures that are illegible or don't match the signature on file for the applicant in the voter's existing registration record, and multiple applications submitted on the same day for a single applicant at different locations. ResponsibleOhio denied those charges, saying it had fully complied with state election laws and that it had met earlier with Hustad, and he didn't bring up any problems with their signature-gathering. The group has gathered more than 500,000 signatures; it needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Another Ohio Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Two initiative campaigns have already bowed out this year, a third (ResponsibleOhio) appears poised to qualify for the ballot (but see item above), and now a fourth has been approved for signature-gathering. The latest is the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment, proposed by Ohioans to End Prohibition. The group has only two weeks to qualify for this year's November ballot, but could continue to gather signatures beyond the July 1 deadline to try to get on next year's ballot. The group's web address -- www.legalizeohio2016.org -- suggest that next year is its real target.

Washington State Pot Workers Join UFCW. In a first for Washington, employees at the Cannabis Club Collective in Tacoma have voted unanimously to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). This is the first union contract in the state's marijuana industry. The UFCW has organized medical marijuana workers in California.

Denver Activists Plan Local Initiative to Allow Limited Public Use. Some of the same people who led the statewide campaign to legalize marijuana in 2012 are now gearing up a plan to allow public use. They're talking about an initiative that would allow indoor vaping and outdoor smoking at bars and other spaces that want to do so. A public hearing on the proposal with Denver officials is going on right now.

Harm Reduction

Congressional Republicans Easing Opposition to Needle Exchange. Faced with rising heroin use in their home states and attendant public health implications from it, House Republicans are now easing their opposition to federal funding for needle exchange programs. The health spending bill now in the House would still bar federal funding to buy needles or syringes, but would allow federal block grant funds to states and localities to be used for the other costs of operating exchanges.

International

US Designates Peru's Shining Path as Narcotic "Kingpins." The remnants of the Maoist guerrilla group that plunged Peru into bloody civil war in the 1980s has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997, but this month, the US Treasury Department designated Shining Path as a significant foreign drug trafficking organization. Shining Path is accused of being involved in cocaine trafficking in south central Peru.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate sends a message to the DEA, a new study deflates fears of medical marijuana leading to increased teen pot-smoking, California continues to try to regulate its medical marijuana free-for-all, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a Senate committee voted to keep the DEA out of medical marijuana states. Just a week earlier, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Last Thursday, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

On Tuesday, a study found that medical marijuana doesn't lead to increased youth use. A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet finds that allowing for the legal use of medical marijuana has not led to an increase in the number of teens using it in the US. The study relied on 24 years' worth of data from the Monitoring the Future surveys and found that while youth use levels were higher in some medical marijuana states, those higher levels of use had preceded the legalization of medical marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act won a committee vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

On Monday, members of a Santa Ana dispensary filed a lawsuit against local elected officials and police. The suit comes in the wake of a highly-publicized raid on the dispensary in which police were caught smashing surveillance cameras (oops, they missed one), making crude remarks about patients, and helping themselves to samples of the edibles. But the lawsuit alleges deeper problems, including collusion between Mayor Pulido, the police, and other elected officials to rig the dispensary permit system and harass unpermitted dispensaries.

Colorado

On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana patients for off-duty use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the legislature approved a youth CBD cannabis oil bill. The state Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.

Georgia

On Monday, the state unveiled its online registry for CBD cannabis oil patients. The Department of Public Health today went live with its online registry for patients authorized to use low-THC CBD cannabis oil. Also, the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis met for the first time.

South Dakota

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative was filed. A state activist has filed the explanation for a medical marijuana initiative with the state attorney general's office. Once it is reviewed and approved, proponents will then have 180 days to come up with 13, 871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives have twice been defeated in the state. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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

The US Is Deporting Hundreds of Thousands for Drug Offenses, Many Minor [FEATURE]

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

The US government wants to throw Marsha Austin out of the country. The 67-year-old grandmother came from Jamaica to New York as a lawful resident in 1985, and has lived here ever since with her husband, seven children (two more are in Jamaica), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All are legal residents or US citizens.

Marsha Austin and her family in the Bronx (hrw.org)
By her own admission, she had problems with drugs. "I live in a drug-infested area," she said of her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine in the wake of her mother's death. Jones racked up several minor convictions before getting popped for making a $5 purchase for an undercover officer in 1995.

That was "attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree," to which she pleaded guilty on her public defender's advice. The attorney failed to tell her the conviction could lead to deportation.

Her convictions led to little or no jail time, but in 2010, as her husband's health faltered, she violated probation by drinking alcohol. She did 90 days in jail, but instead of walking out, she was seized by immigration authorities at the end of her sentence and spent the next 2 ½ years in immigration jail awaiting deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly opposed her release, claiming she was under mandatory detention for her drug offenses, but then released her unexpectedly in 2013. She's been in treatment since then and now proudly reports that she's been "clean as a whistle" for the past five years. Now, her husband's health is failing, as is the health of her daughter, who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter suffered a serious illness.

"My kids and my grandkids, that's what I'm living for now," she said.

But she remains in limbo. The US government still wants to send her back to Jamaica, arguing that she is subject to deportation for the "aggravated felony" of buying $5 worth of crack for a narc.

She's not alone. Beginning late in the George W. Bush years and continuing through the Obama administration, the US has been deporting and trying to deport immigrants for drug offenses at a record clip. According to a just released report from Human Rights Watch, more than 260,000 non-citizens -- legal residents and illegal immigrants alike -- were deported for drug offenses between 2007 and 2012. Shockingly, 34,000 people were deported for marijuana possession offenses alone.

The trend is upward. The number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug crime was up 22% over that period, while the number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug possession offense was up even more, at 43%.

Tens of thousands more have been or are being detained indefinitely in immigration jails fighting pending deportation orders. Such extended imprisonments wreak havoc on the families who husbands or fathers, wives or mothers, are caught up behind bars.

The sweeping action against non-citizens comes as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on "criminal aliens," but seems disproportionately harsh when applied to low-level drug offenders, especially people who have lived all or most of their lives here and have strong family and community roots in this country. It is also at odds with the trends toward drug decriminalization and even legalization now at play in the country.

The Human Rights Watch report, "A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses," documents how the US government is routinely breaking up families by initiating deportation proceedings for drug offenses, often ones decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time. Researchers interviewed more than 130 affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated new data obtained from ICE.

Here are some of the cases examined in the report:

"Raul Valdez, a permanent resident from Mexico who had grown up in the Chicago area from the age of one, was deported in 2014 because of a 2003 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, for which he had been sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Ricardo Fuenzalida, a permanent resident from Chile now living in New Jersey, was held without bond for months fighting deportation in 2013 because of two marijuana possession convictions from 13 years earlier.

Jose Francisco Gonzalez, a permanent resident in Anaheim, California, was put into deportation proceedings and held without bond in 2014 because of a 2001 arrest for having two pot plants, despite having successfully completed a California diversion program that promised to erase his criminal record.

Abdulhakim Haji-Eda, a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the US at the age of 13, has been ordered deported as a drug trafficker for a teenage drug sale in Seattle. Now 26 years old, he has no other convictions, and is married to a US citizen with two US citizen children and another on the way.

"Antonio S.," who came to the US from Mexico when he was 12 and was eligible for a reprieve from deportation as a "DREAMer" under the executive program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was detained for over a year in Colorado and deported after a conviction for possession of marijuana, a municipal violation to which he pleaded guilty without an attorney.

"Alice M.," a 41-year-old graphic designer and Canadian citizen, [was barred] from living in the US with her US citizen fiancé because of a single 1992 conviction for cocaine possession she received in Canada in her last year of high school, a conviction that was pardoned long ago in Canada.

"Mr. V.," a refugee and permanent resident from Vietnam, was ordered deported in 2008 for a 1999 conviction for possession of crack cocaine. Although he has since been granted a full and unconditional pardon from the state of South Carolina, Mr. V. remains under a deportation order and only remains in the US because of restrictions on the repatriation of certain Vietnamese nationals."

"Even as many US states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses."

The report notes that the Obama administration has been sensitive to the injustices of the war on drugs and urges it to be as sensitive to the harsh effects of its deportation policies related to drug offenses. But it is not just the federal government that can act to improve the situation. Here are the group's recommendations:

"To the United States Congress

Eliminate deportation based on convictions for simple possession of drugs.

Ensure that all non-citizens in deportation proceedings, including those with convictions for drug offenses, have access to an individualized hearing where the immigration judge can weigh evidence of rehabilitation, family ties, and other equities against a criminal conviction.

Ensure that refugees and asylum seekers with convictions for sale, distribution, or production of drugs are only considered to have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" through case-by-case determination that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and whether the non-citizen is a threat to public safety.

Ensure that non-citizens who are barred from entering the US and/or gaining lawful resident status because of a criminal conviction, including for drug offenses, are eligible to apply for individualized consideration, i.e., a waiver of the bar, based on such factors as the above mentioned.

Eliminate mandatory detention and ensure all non-citizens are given an opportunity for an individualized bond hearing.

Redefine "conviction" in immigration law to exclude convictions that have been expunged, pardoned, vacated, or are otherwise not recognized by the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use.

To the Department of Homeland Security

Provide clear guidance to immigration officials that a positive exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be appropriate even in cases involving non-citizens with criminal convictions, with particular consideration for lawful permanent residents and non-citizens whose most serious convictions are for nonviolent offenses, including drug convictions, that occurred five or more years ago.

Provide all non-citizens who have been in detention for six months or more with a bond hearing.

To State and Local Governments

Ensure drug courts and diversion programs do not require a guilty plea from defendants that would constitute a conviction that triggers deportation, mandatory detention, and other immigration consequences even upon successful completion of the program.

Remove barriers to post-conviction relief for non-citizens convicted of nonviolent drug offenses through legal error, including through guilty pleas obtained without adequate advice from defense counsel on the potential immigration consequences of the plea.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use."

To be comprehensive and thorough, drug reform must encompass immigration law reform, too.

Chronicle AM: Senate Panel Wants DEA Out of MedMJ, MI Legalization Inits Approved, More (6/11/15)

The Senate is following the House's lead in telling the DEA not to interfere in medical marijuana states, two Michigan initiatives get the go-ahead for signature-gathering, a package of heroin bills passes the New York Senate, Vancouver gets tired of Cannabis Day, and more.

Cannabis Day in Vancouver. The city wants to shut it down. (cannabisday.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Bill Blocks DC Marijuana Sales for Two Years, But Doesn't Try to Roll Back Legalization. The House approved an appropriations bill today that would block legal marijuana sales in the District for the next two years. But, in what advocates called a victory, it does not attempt to undo Initiative 71, which allows for legal marijuana cultivation, possession, and consumption.

Michigan Legalization Initiatives Get Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. Two separate marijuana legalization initiatives are ready to start gathering signatures after the state Board of Canvassers approved the wording of their petitions Thursday. One is from the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and the other is from the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. Now, the groups must each gather 253,000 valid voter signatures in order to send the measures before the legislature. If the legislature fails to approve them, they would go before the voters in November 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana. Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

California Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act Wins Committee Vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Heroin

New York Senate Approves Package of Heroin Bills. The state Senate Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at curbing the state's opiate addiction problem. The package is a mix of treatment and law enforcement measures, including a measure allowing police to charge dealers with murder in overdose deaths. The bills now head to the Assembly.

International

Vancouver Tells Marc Emery to Cool It With His Cannabis Day Festival. "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and his wife, Jodie, have been holding an annual July 1 Cannabis Day protest for nearly 20 years, but now Vancouver city officials have told them to cease and desist because "the city does not support or approve this event at this location as planned." But Jodie Emery said that people are going to show up regardless, and if there are any problems, "that's going to fall on the shoulders of the City reps who made this call."

Canada Supreme Court Expands Definition of Medical Marijuana to Include Edibles. The Canadian high court today ruled that medical marijuana is not limited to dried, smoked flowers, but also includes edibles, extracts, and derivatives. Read the opinion here.

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana States [FEATURE]

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

Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate.

Congress doesn't want the DEA messing with medical marijuana where it's legal. (wikimedia.org)
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

While the appropriations bill must still be approved by the Senate as a whole, both houses of Congress are now on record as telling the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states. The passage of identical amendments in both houses is a good indicator that they will be included in the spending bill when it gets to President Obama's desk.

While the House has passed similar amendments for the last two years, this is the first time it was offered in the Senate. It mirrors the provisions of the CARERS Act (HR 1538/S.683), introduced earlier this year, but because a ban in an appropriations bill expires at the end of the fiscal year, advocates are still calling for the CARERS Act to move.

The vote was an impressive 21-9, with the only Democrat voting against it being Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Republicans split right down the middle, with eight opposing and eight supporting.

California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, was the only Democrat to vote "no." (senate.gov)
Drug reform advocates were pleased.

"This is another resounding victory for medical marijuana patients, their families, and their care providers. Congress is making it clear that the Department of Justice and the DEA have no business interfering in state medical marijuana laws," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The goal of this amendment is to provide deference to the states, making it strikingly similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act. Unfortunately, that bipartisan bill has languished for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Chairman Chuck Grassley has refused to hold hearings on it. The Senate spoke loudly and clearly today. Hopefully Sen. Grassley was listening," Riffle continued.

"With so many votes going our way these days, each new one gets less and less exciting. But that's a good problem to have," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "We're entering an era where marijuana reform is accepted as mainstream and not seen as controversial, and that's exactly where we want to be. With this vote, it's now clear that a growing bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers are ready to get the federal government out of the way of the effective implementation of state marijuana laws. These temporary funding restrictions certainly help us to demonstrate political momentum, but the next step should be passing legislation to permanently change federal law."

BREAKING: Another Senate Pro-Medical Marijuana Vote

US Capitol, Senate side
BREAKING: The Senate Appropriations Committee just voted to extend the ban on DOJ spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. My US Senator, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), sponsored the amendment.

Check back on our web site for information later today, and see last week's feature story on the House approving this and several other amendments that rein in DEA power.

As noted in that article, the language and arguably the fact of it being an appropriation matter (as opposed to just legalizing medical marijuana) leaves the field open for prosecutors to make arguments about how the amendment should be interpreted, and to do raids and continue prosecutions in the meanwhile. So it's not the solution to all of the problems that medical marijuana patients and their providers face, much less for marijuana policy in general. But it's a good step, and politically means the world for our efforts and their future prospects.

Chronicle AM: Forfeiture Reform Moves in MI, Fails in TX; NH Decrim Bill Fails; LA MedMJ Advances, More (6/5/15)

No decrim for New Hampshire, but maybe for Miami; a pair of Colorado congressmen file a federal marijuana-impaired driving bill that would require science-based policies, Louisiana is about to become the first Southern state with medical marijuana dispensaries, and more.

Miami-Dade cops are tired of arresting people for this. (horsma hampuforum/wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill Filed. US Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) this week introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act. "If passed, the law would include marijuana in the federal definition of impaired driving; it would make access to federal highway funding in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana contingent upon those states having laws against marijuana-impaired driving and methods for enforcing them; and it would mandate that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) do the necessary testing and research on marijuana and driving to help states determine the most effective means of enforcement," the representatives said.

New Hampshire Senate Blocks Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday killed a decriminalization bill, even rejecting a last-minute compromise amendment to House Bill 618. The measure had overwhelmingly passed the House in March. Now, instead of a ticket and a fine, people caught with small amounts of pot in the state still face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail.

Miami-Dade Police Brass Support Local Decriminalization Move. Miami's top cops are getting behind a plan to make small-time marijuana possession an offense that could bring a $100 fine instead of a criminal charge. Under the plan, people possessing up to 20 grams would be hit with a civil citation instead of being arrested and jailed.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill; Only Senate Clean-Up Vote Remains. The House Thursday approved Senate Bill 143, which would allow for the use of non-smoked marijuana for medical reasons and which would set up a system of 10 dispensaries statewide. The bill has already passed the Senate, but now returns there for a final vote after the house amended the bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has said he will sign the bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. The House Thursday approved a bipartisan eight-bill package aimed at reining in law enforcement seizures of property without a criminal conviction. One bill would ban police from seizing the vehicle of someone trying to buy less than an ounce of pot, five bills would increase reporting requirements, while two bills would raise evidentiary standards in drug and public nuisance cases, making it easier for someone to get his property back if not charged with a crime. The package now goes to the state Senate.

Texas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Dies. The legislative session in Austin has ended without a bill to end civil asset forfeiture ever getting a House floor vote. House Bill 3171 was snuffed out by law enforcement opposition and never made it out of the State Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana Update

The House tells the DEA to stay out of medical marijuana states, California and Oregon move toward regulating medical marijuana grows, CBC cannabis oil bills and programs make progress, and more.

This article contains a correction to the original version, in the Minnesota subsection.

National

On Wednesday, the House voted to bar the DEA from interfering in states with CBD cannabis oil and medical marijuana laws. The moves were part of a broader assault on the DEA in the House. Click on the link for more information.

Arizona

Last Tuesday, the state Supreme Court agreed to review DUID immunity for patients. The court agreed to review a state Court of Appeals ruling issued last November that said medical marijuana patients can still be prosecuted under laws against drugged driving. Arizona has a zero tolerance per se DUID law under which all that is necessary to convict if the presence of inactive metabolites in the blood.

California

On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won a committee vote. The Assembly Appropriations Committee has approved a compromise regulation bill that combines features of two competing bills, Assembly Bill 34 and Assembly Bill 266. The bill would create a Governor's Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation, with three divisions. The Agriculture Department would handle cultivation, the Public Health Department would handle product safety and labeling, and the Board of Equalization would be responsible for licensing. The compromise bill is AB 266. A floor vote is expected later this week.

Florida

Last Wednesday, a state judge cleared the way for the CBD cannabis oil program.A judge in Tallahassee dismissed the final challenge to the state's CBD cannabis oil law passed last year, clearing the way for the long-delayed program to actually get underway. Now, growers should be able to provide CBD cannabis oils to patients within a few months.

Illinois

Last Saturday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions moved ahead. The House last Saturday approved a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but will have to go back there for approval after the House added language clarifying that patients are not prohibited from having a state firearms owner ID card.

Minnesota

As of Monday, the CBD cannabis oil program is taking registrants. Patients can sign up for the state's CBD cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up.

[Ed: The initial version of this article initially described the Minnesota program erroneously as involving "CBD cannabis oil." While the program has limits including not allowing smoked or edible marijuana, it does not specify THC vs. CBD content.]

Oklahoma

On Saturday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign get underway. Hundreds of people showed up at the state capitol for the launch of a medical marijuana initiative campaign led by Oklahomans for Health.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Senate passed a bill restricting medical marijuana growers. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill widely opposed by patients and growers that limits the number of plants caregivers could grow. The measure, Senate Bill 964, also requires regular reporting by growers and allows localities to prohibit dispensaries.

South Carolina

Last Friday, the medical marijuana bill was pronounced dead for the year. A bill that would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana is dead in the state legislature this year, senators said. Senate Bill 672, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), will, however, get more hearings before the legislature begins the second year of its two-year session in January.

Texas

On Monday, the CBD cannabis oil bill was signed into law. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

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

Chronicle AM: DEA Gets Slapped in Congress, 2nd ME MJ Init in Circulation, More (6/3/15)

The DEA gets its budget cut and its activities restricted in the House, but is still wiretapping like crazy, a Delaware decrim bill advances, so does a CBD cannabis oil bill there, and more.

DEA was in the crosshairs on Capitol Hill this week. (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware House Approves Decriminalization Bill. The House Tuesday passed decriminalization 24-14 with no Republican "yes" votes. The measure now goes to the Senate. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he supports it.

Second Maine Legalization Initiative Gets Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. A legalization initiative sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project can begin collecting signatures, state officials said Tuesday. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will need at least 61,123 qualified voter signatures to make the ballot. Another legalization initiative from Legalize Maine is already in the signature-gathering process.

Milwaukee Common Council Votes to Shrink Pot Fines. The council voted Tuesday night to reduce the maximum fine for possessing 25 grams or less from $500 to $50. Mayor Tom Barrett must approve the measure before it can go into effect.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Senate Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 90 w/ SA2, known as "Rylie's Law," after a Rehoboth Beach girl who suffers from epileptic seizures. The measure now heads for the House.

Law Enforcement

DEA Slapped Down in Series of Congressional Budget Votes. In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated. The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. Click on the link for full coverage.

DEA Wiretaps Triple in Nine Years. The DEA conducted 11,681 wiretaps in 2014, up from 3,394 in 2005, according to USA Today. Over that period, the agency has increasingly resorted to state court judges to get wiretap warrants in a bid to get around more rigorous federal requirements. "Federal law requires approval from a senior Justice Department official before agents can even ask a federal court for permission to conduct one," the newspaper explained. "The law imposes no such restriction on state court wiretaps, even when they are sought by federal agents."

House Passes Seven Amendments to Rein in DEA [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated.

The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) offered the amendment barring the DEA and the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to do bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It passed on a voice vote yesterday.

"Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency's power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."

Last night, members voted to slash $23 million from the DEA's budget and reallocate the money for more cost-effective programs. One amendment, from Rep. Ted Liew (D-CA) shifted $9 million from the agency's marijuana eradication program to youth programs; another, from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) shifted $4 million from the DEA budget to rape test kits; while the third, from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) shifted $9 million from the DEA to a program to try to reduce police abuse by procuring body cameras for police officers.

In today's votes, an amendment offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) would bar the DEA and Justice from interfering in medical marijuana states. It passed 242-186. Similar legislation passed Congress last year, but was set to expire.

The House also passed an amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) to protect state laws allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil. It passed 297-130. A third amendment, from Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), to protect state laws allowing industrial hemp also passed on a vote of 282-146.

But the most far-reaching amendment, which would have barred federal interference in states where marijuana is legal for either medical or general purposes, failed on a vote of 206-222. It was sponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"Votes in support of rolling back the federal government's war on medical marijuana are beginning to become routine. Last year, passing this amendment was unprecedented. This year, it was predictable. Medical marijuana has gone from 'controversial' to 'conventional' on Capitol Hill," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But this is just the start, Riffle said.

"This is an important amendment because it addresses the tension between state and federal marijuana law," he noted. "We welcome it as a temporary fix, but what we really need is a comprehensive and more permanent solution. It's time for Congress to pass legislation that ends prohibition at the federal level and allows states to determine their own marijuana policies."

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority was singing the same tune.

"Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it's time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law," he said. "That's what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well. Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there's absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer."

"There's unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said DPA's Piper.

Despite the narrow failure of that last amendment, the votes are just the latest indicator of rising congressional dissatisfaction with the scandal-plagued agency. Former Administrator Michele Leonhart was forced to resign earlier this year after a disastrous performance before congressional overseers over the agency's latest scandal, which involved DEA agents using taxpayer (and sometimes, drug baron) funds to consort with prostitutes in Colombia.

But the agency's problems with Congress go deeper than mere scandals -- of which there are plenty -- and reflect rising congressional concern that the DEA is not only ineffective, but downright obstinate, especially when it comes to marijuana policy. Leonhart herself epitomized the culture problem in the DEA when she was unable to bring herself to admit to Congress last year that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin.

The House has now shown it isn't very keen on the DEA's mass surveillance programs, either. Knowledge of their extent first appeared with a Reuters expose in 2013 that outlined collaboration between the DEA, NSA, CIA and other agencies to spy on Americans in the name of the drug war, including the creation of false investigative trails to disguise the fact they were getting information from secret surveillance programs. Then, this April, USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program, the first known US effort to gather bulk data on citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime, was the precursor of the post-9/11 spying programs.

"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. "From spying on Americans to busting into people's homes the DEA doesn't fit in well in a free society and the time is now to reverse these harms."

DPA recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about the campaign to rein in the DEA are available at www.drugpolicy.org/DEA.

"The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."

Washington, DC
United States

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