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DC Marijuana Initiative Hands in Plenty of Signatures [FEATURE]

It now looks extremely likely that the residents of the nation's capitol will vote in November on whether to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. Representatives of the DC Cannabis Campaign legalization initiative handed in some 58,000 signatures Monday morning, and they only need some 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

outside DC election headquarters (drugpolicy.org)
Signature-gathering experts generally expect to see something between 20% and 30% of signatures handed in deemed invalid. For the DC initiative to fail to qualify, the invalidation rate would have to be above 50%.

The measure will be known as Initiative 71 once it officially qualifies for the ballot.

The District of Columbia isn't the only locale where marijuana legalization is almost definitely going to be on the ballot this fall. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified, and organizers of an Oregon legalization initiative just last week handed in more than 145,000 signatures, nearly twice the 88,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify.

Colorado and Washington led the way on marijuana legalization, with voters in both states passing legalization initiatives in 2012. DC, Alaska, and Oregon all appear poised to join them in November.

In DC, campaigners will emphasize the racially disparate impact of marijuana prohibition. In 2010, black people accounted for 91% of marijuana arrests, even though they now account for less than half the city's population. The District is also currently saddled with the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the nation.

The DC initiative is not a full-blown legalize, tax, and regulate measure. It would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate six plants at home. But District law prevents initiatives from addressing budgetary issues, which precludes the initiative addressing the tax and regulate/marijuana commerce aspect of legalization. But the DC city council currently is considering a tax and regulate bill to cover that.

boxes of signature petitions ready to go (drugpolicy.org)
The city council passed a decriminalization bill that goes into effect shortly, but advocates argued based on other decrim laws in the states that alone is not enough to change police practices. They noted that in Colorado and Washington, where actual legalization is in effect, marijuana arrest rates have dropped dramatically. Those declines not only save millions in tax dollars; they also save thousands of people from the legal and collateral consequences of a pot bust.

After handing in signatures this morning, key players in the initiative gathered for a noon tele-conference.

"In just a few weeks, DC's groundbreaking decriminalization law goes into effect," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which is supporting the initiative. "But decriminalization is just the first step. Today, the DC Cannabis Campaign turned in enough signatures to put Initiative 71 on the ballot."

"Last week, the US celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act," noted Dr. Malik Burnett, recently brought in as DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug policy reform is the civil rights issue of this century. Prohibition isn't working, and it is leading to poor outcomes, especially in communities of color. We definitely applaud the city council for getting decriminalization done, but in other jurisdictions with decriminalization, we continue to see a large number of racially biased arrests. If we look at jurisdictions that have legalized, arrest rates for small amounts of marijuana are down 75%."

"Today is a big day in this effort," said Councilmember David Grosso, sponsor of the Tax and Regulate Marijuana Act of 2014. "It looks like it will be on the ballot this fall, and I'm confident that people here in DC will vote to legalize marijuana. The people have been in the forefront of this for a long time, starting with medical marijuana back in 1998."

Grosso said he sponsored the tax and regulate bill because of the failures of prohibition.

"I'm a strong believer that the war on drugs has been a failure," he said. "We need to move beyond putting people in jail for marijuana and non-violent offenses. But once we legalize it, it's important to regulate it in a way that is responsible for the District, which is why I introduced the tax and regulate bill. It has to go through a couple of committees, but we're a full-time legislature and could have it done by the end of the year. If not, I will reintroduce it next year."

"This initiative is very different from the other efforts," said DC Cannabis Campaign chair and long-time DC political gadfly Adam Eidinger. "It's very focused on the consumer, how we can keep them out of jail and give them a supply without creating a marketplace. This is looking at the rights of the individual and letting them produce their own at home. This by itself isn't full legalization -- Grosso's bill is the complete picture, but we can't put that on the ballot, so we did the next best thing to enshrine the rights of the consumer," he explained.

"We already passed home cultivation for medical marijuana in 1998, and many us were demanding from the city council that we actually get home cultivation as part of medical," Eidinger noted. "Their failure to do so has fueled the interest in pushing this forward. Medical marijuana is not the destination for every user, nor is decriminalization. The goal is to stop the bleeding, to stop arresting four or five thousand people here every year. My goal is take marijuana arrests down to zero," he said.

DC election workers start validating signatures. (drugpolicy.org)
"I want to note that I am also the social action director for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a major backer which provided money to get this off the ground," said Eidinger. "We've raised and spent at least $150,000 and we hope to raise another $100,000 between now and election day. A lot of these initiative campaigns are fueled by business interests, but we're not offering a retail outlet as the end result of the initiative. It's a little more difficult to raise money when it's about civil rights -- not making some business person rich."

Even if the initiative makes the ballot and passes, there is still an outside chance that congressional conservatives will seek to block it. That's what happened with the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which Congress didn't allow to go into effect for more than a decade.

Similar moves are already afoot over the District's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law. A Maryland congressmen and physician, Rep. Andy Harris (R), has already persuaded the House Appropriations Committee to approve a rider to the DC appropriations bill that would block implementation of the decrim law. But that measure still has to be approved by the House as a whole, and then by the Senate.

If that were to happen, it wouldn't be without a fight.

"The Drug Policy Alliance and the DC Cannabis Campaign look forward to working with members of the city council to expand on Initiative 71 to develop tax and regulate centered around the idea of racial justice," said Dr. Burnett. "The first step is passing 71 to show the will of the people, followed by legislation from the city council. That combination will show Congress that DC residents are serious about reforming their drug policies, and Congress will respect DC home rule."

Dr. Burnett also had some advice for Dr. Harris, the Republican congressman trying to block DC marijuana reforms.

"I would encourage Dr. Harris to take a continuing medical education class on cannabis and to see the reports from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse that teen marijuana use is flat and to understand that the health outcomes associated with incarceration are much worse than those associated with cannabis use," he said.

According to recent polls, support for legalizing marijuana in the District is around 60%. If the initiative actually makes the ballot, it has a very good chance to win in November. And if it wins in November, congressional conservatives will have to explain why DC residents aren't good enough for direct democracy, or get out of the way. And the following spring could see a thousand flowers bloom in the nation's capital.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

It's on in Alaska! Marijuana Legalization Vote Coming in August

Alaska election officials have certified that a marijuana legalization initiative there has qualified for the ballot. Alaskans will go to the polls in August.

"Based on the numbers posted by the Division of Elections, Alaskans will have the chance to overturn the failed policy of prohibiting marijuana use," Taylor Bickford, a spokesman for the legalization campaign, told the Associated Press last night.  

The initiative is sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska with the help of the Marijuana Policy Project.

It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults and the cultivation of up to six plants. It would also allow people to keep the fruits of their harvest in excess of an ounce as long as they keep it at home. It would create a system of state-regulated and -taxed retail marijuana sales.

Alaska appears to be in line to be the third state to legalize marijuana.

Location: 
AK
United States

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization!

The New Hampshire House Wednesday afternoon approved a bill that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. The measure, House Bill 492, passed on a vote of 170-162.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester) with a bipartisan group of four cosponsors, would make the private possession and home growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.

It would also direct the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration to license and regulate marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities. As amended by the House, it would enact a wholesale tax of $30 per ounce and a sales tax of 15% per ounce. The House voted down a similar bill 228-89 in 2012.

The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee to review its revenue aspects. However that committee votes, it will return to the House floor for a second vote. If approved again, it then goes to the Senate.

"House members made history today, and they are clearly on the right side of it," said Matt Simon,the New Hampshire-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. "Marijuana prohibition has been an enormously expensive failure. Most Americans, including 60% of New Hampshire residents, agree that it is time to adopt a more sensible policy."

Unfortunately for marijuana advocates, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is not one of them. She said only yesterday that she would veto the bill because it would send the wrong message to kids. To actually achieve marijuana legalization in the Granite State, both the House and the Senate would have to override her veto. The margin of victory in this first House vote isn't enough to do so.

Concord, NH
United States

Colorado Makes History with First Legal Retail Marijuana Sales [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

For many people New Year's Eve means going to bars and celebrating with a night of drinking and carousing with their friends. For Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham, the night was a little different. The duo flew into Denver from Jacksonville, Florida, in order to be first in line for Colorado's historic legal retail marijuana sales. Hartle and Hasham came prepared with a tent, and set up camp in front of 3D, Denver's Discrete Dispensary at 6:00pm on New Year's Eve. They were the first to arrive, making it even before the news cameras.

Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville, FL, to be first in line. (Rebecca Chavez)
While there are quite a few retail marijuana stores opening to the public on January 1, 3D was the place to be for those interested in being a part of history. The Marijuana Policy Project sent out a December 27 press release stating that they were recognizing the first sale at 3D as the first sale. With a press conference planned, and an Iraq war veteran slated to be the first retail customer, 3D was buzzing with excitement in the early hours of the new year.

There were over a dozen people standing around outside, eager to get their hands on some of the first retail marijuana sold in the country, but the majority of the crowd had a more professional purpose. News crews and industry insiders sat in the lobby of 3D, while owner Toni Fox rushed around talking to press and making last minute adjustments.

For Fox, the opening of 3D for retail sales has been a long process that is "the culmination of everything we've been working towards." Many dispensary owners planned to make the switch when they found out about Amendment 64, but Fox started planning in 2009. When she started looking for space for her dispensary, she did it with a retail location in mind. This early decision paid off in a big way when it came time to hand out marijuana licenses for the city of Denver. The retail space is large and well lit.

Denver's Discreet Dispensary (3D) is now open for sales to adults 21 and over. (Rebecca Chavez)
Unlike many other dispensaries, this retail location is completely separate from the medical area. Before sales start, the area is set up to help people find exactly what they need. Fox expects that a lot of people won't know what to do when they get to a retail marijuana facility, so she's tried to make purchasing easy for someone experiencing a dispensary for the first time.

She even made the decision to limit the retail edibles that she offers early on to only those from Dixie Elixer, one of the few edible companies set up for retail sales. This choice keeps people who want to try an edible for the first time from having to sift through a multitude of options.

The publicity of being the first marijuana store is a great boost for 3D, but Fox knows that there are some risks involved, especially regarding the much buzzed-about marijuana shortage. Though the limit for Colorado residents is higher, Fox decided that she wouldn't make any sales of more than the non-resident limit of seven grams. Still she is concerned.

The sign says it all. Welcome to a new era. (Rebecca Chavez)
When asked whether there is going to be enough product, she states that 3D should have enough to last until February. "Or Monday," she said, sharing a laugh with one of her employees while acknowledging that the truth about retail marijuana is that no one knows the extent of the demand just yet.

Judging from the size of the crowd inside the building right before the press conference began, the novelty of marijuana is going to drive a lot of people to businesses like 3D. Media sources from around the world jockeyed to get the best view of a small podium where the directors behind the Amendment 64 campaign prepared to say a few words about what retail sales mean for marijuana, and what the future brings.

This is business as usual for Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth, and Brian Vicente, the organizers of the successful Amendment 64 campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado and who have all been doing press conferences about it for years now. This one is a little more chaotic than usual, and that's because the message is so unique. Aldworth sums it up when she says that this moment is a shift, and that "marijuana sales will be a boon instead of a burden" on our communities and our economy.

From left: Toni Fox, Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, Sean Azzariti, Brian Vicente (Rebecca Chavez)
The first proof of this occurs with the very first sale. Sean Azzariti is a veteran who uses marijuana to treat his post traumatic stress disorder, but who cannot get medication because the state doesn't recognize PTSD as one of the ailments that allows for medical marijuana use.

For the first time, he will be able to legally purchase the marijuana that has helped him get through the years since he fought in the Iraq War. This sale will provide the city and state with valuable tax dollars, while also boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people who want to work in marijuana.

Cameras and reporters flooded into the retail sale room to document the moment of the first sale. Outside the building, the dozens of people lined up to purchasse legal marijuana kept multiplying. The line stretched across the length of the building and, despite the falling snow, people were all smiles as they awaited their chance to be a part of history.

As Tvert pointed out during the press conference, "Today there will be people around the nation buying marijuana," but only in Colorado is it legal and regulated.

Colorado has initiated a new era in marijuana policy in the United States, and Washington state will be joining later this year. With Alaska and Oregon both well-placed to legalize it this year via the initiative process, and with other states about to consider marijuana legalization bills in their legislatures, the beginning of the end of US marijuana prohibition has commenced.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

A New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Filed. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act was filed with the California attorney general's office Wednesday. It would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It's not clear, however, whether its backers will seek to gather signatures for 2014 or will use it as a place marker for 2016. Another legalization initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is in the signature-gathering phase, but lacks deep-pocketed financial backing.

Thinking About a Post-Pot Prohibition World. Martin Lee, the author of Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, about the cultural histories of LSD and marijuana, respectively, writes about marijuana legalization as a beginning, not an end, and has some interesting and provocative thoughts about what should come next.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Florida Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments on whether the proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana should go on the November 2014 ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) had challenged it as misleading and in violation of federal law. The justices did not decide the issue, but a decision will be coming shortly.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Needs a Lot of Signatures in a Hurry. The state Division of Elections reported Thursday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative, has just under 137,000 signatures that have been validated. They need 683,149 by February. There is some lag between signatures gathered and signatures validated, and organizers say they have collected 400,000 signatures so far. But that means they need probably another 400,000 in just a few weeks just to have a cushion that would allow for the inevitable invalid signatures.

International

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Struggling. Sensible BC's signature-gathering campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot in British Columbia looks like it is going to fall short. The group needs 310,000 valid signatures by Monday, but only has 150,000 gathered. But if they don't make it this time, that won't be the end of it. "Sensible BC is here to stay," said the group's Dana Larsen. "You can be quite sure we're going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don't succeed this time. We're not going away."

Report Says SE Asia Amphetamine Use is Fueling Rise in HIV Risk. An increase in injection use of amphetamines in Southeast Asia is raising the risk of the spread of HIV and requires "urgent" action, according to a new report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee. Not only injection drug use, but risky sexual behavior as well among amphetamine users, is part of the problem, the report says.

New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

The Drug Policy Alliance has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the California Secretary of State's office. But it's not clear whether backers will try to get it on the ballot next year.

The initiative, The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by persons 21 or over and allow people to grow up to four plants. It would leave the rest of the state's marijuana laws and its medical marijuana laws unchanged, but would create statewide regulation of adult sales and commercial cultivation, with a 25% retail sales tax.

The initiative is backed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which says that given impressive recent poll numbers, it wanted to have something ready for 2014 just in case.

It's not clear whether there will actually be an effort to get this on the ballot for 2014, or if this is more like a place marker for 2016. Look for a firm decision on that next month.

Another initiative, The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, was submitted in August and is now in its signature gathering phase. It has until the end of February to come up with 504,000 valid voter signatures, but it has not received big money backing, making the effort to get on the ballot an uphill battle.

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- November 20, 2013

A Maryland gubernatorial candidate and a Maine legislator both call for marijuana legalization, politicians are in trouble for drugs, and marijuana law reforms appear to be advancing internationally, except in one Australian state. That's just for starters. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur wants to legalize marijuana. (wikipedia.org)
Maryland Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Heather Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, Tuesday released a plan to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana. Under her proposal, marijuana taxes would generate $157 million a year and would go to pay for early childhood education. Click the link for more details.

Maine Legislator Unveils Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) Tuesday announced she was introducing a new bill to legalize marijuana. The bill, LR 2329, would legalize the possession of small amounts of pot by adults over 21 and impose a 10% sales tax and 15% excise tax on marijuana sales. Russell said the recent vote by Portland residents in favor of legalization sent a clear message to lawmakers.

California Marijuana Legalization Effort Extends Deadline for Input, Amendments. Backers of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, the nation's first "open-sourced" legalization initiative, have extended their timeline for further comments on the measure. Backers are holding a series of meetings throughout the state before turning in final amendments to state officials in the first week of December. This initiative is sponsored by Americans for Policy Reform. Another measure, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, is already in the signature-gathering phase. Neither has the backing of deep-pocketed donors, who seem to be waiting for 2016 instead.

AMA Passes Resolution Against Marijuana Legalization. Delegates at the American Medical Association's 2013 Interim Meeting Tuesday passed a resolution opposing marijuana legalization. "Our AMA believes that (1) cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern; (2) sale and possession should not be legalized," the resolution says. Note, however, that there is some confusion over the "and possession" language. The draft document cited by the anti-legalization group Project SAM, which touted the resolution's passage in a press release, appears to have the words "and possession" struck through, suggesting that they had been deleted from the resolution and that the AMA might support decriminalization. Project SAM was unable to provide clarification Wednesday, but promised to get back to the Chronicle.

Sentencing Reform

Washington State Defelonization Bill to be Rolled Out Tomorrow. The activist group Sensible Washington is holding a press conference Thursday to formally introduce a legislative proposal to defelonize the possession of personal use amounts of illegal drugs. Speakers will include bill sponsors Representatives Sherry Appleton (23rd Disrict), Joe Fitzgibbon (34th District), Jessyn Farrell (46th District), Luis Moscoso (1st District) and Jim Moeller (49th District), as well as former corrections official and speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Matt McCally.

Politicians in Drug Trouble

Congressman Busted for Cocaine Possession. US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), the congressman arrested last month for cocaine possession, pleaded guilty today and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. [Ed: An article on ThinkProgress.org suggests Radel may have decent views on drug policy, but there isn't really enough information to know for sure. An update to the article pointed out that he voted for legislation that would allow states to subject food stamp recipients to drug tests. However, that vote actually was for a larger piece of recurring legislation, the Farm Bill, of which the drug testing provision was a small part. The drug testing provision was passed as an amendment sponsored by another Republican legislator, on a voice vote, meaning there is no record as to what Radel's position was on it, or if he had one. -DB]

Toronto's Crack-Smoking Mayor is Foe of Drug Reform, Harm Reduction. Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has belatedly admitted to smoking crack "in a drunken stupor," is a long-time foe of both drug law reform and harm reduction. Ford has consistently supported the criminalization of drug users and scoffed at programs such as clean needles for drug users as "absolutely ridiculous." He's always appealed to law-and-order voters and praises gang and drug sweeps aimed at poor, marginalized groups. He was a loud and vocal opponent of the 2005 Toronto Drug Strategy, which included a proposal that the city support federal marijuana decriminalization. This after he was caught six years earlier with a joint in his pocket when he was busted for drunk driving in Miami. Whether Ford's recent misadventures will prompt (force?) him to change his attitudes remains to be seen. [Ed: Whether it will ever matter again what Ford's views are also remains to be seen.]

International

Dutch Liberals to File Bill for Regulated Marijuana Production. Holland's D66 Liberal party, the second most popular in the country, is drawing up legislation to regulate marijuana cultivation. The measure would address the country's "back door problem," where cannabis cafes are allowed to sell small amounts of marijuana, but cannot legally acquire it. The move comes as pressure is mounting on the conservative coalition government to resolve the issue. Two-thirds of the country's largest municipalities support such a move. The Justice Minister, who opposes legalizing cultivation, has said he will update parliament on the situation by year's end.

Pot Legalization in US Driving Down BC Bud Prices. Marijuana activists in British Columbia say the marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and especially Washington are driving down the prices of the province's trademark BC Bud. Dana Larsen, who runs a Vancouver dispensary and is trying to push a referendum to decriminalize in the province, said his prices had dropped 20%, while Jodie Emery, wife of imprisoned "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery, said pound prices had dropped from $2,000 to $1,000.

Marijuana Decriminalization Clamor Grows in Bermuda. The Bermudan government has already signaled it is willing to discuss the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, and now the opposition is making similar noises. The government said in its Throne Speech that it is working on the possibility of decriminalization, and the opposition People's Labor Party Shadow Finance Minister David Burt has replied, saying his party wants the removal of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts, options for the medical use of marijuana on the island, and the regulation of the sale and use of the drug.

South Australia Ready to March Resolutely Backward on Pot Policy. Parliamentarians in South Australia are preparing to amend the state's marijuana laws for the worse. The changes would reduce the amount of marijuana punishable only by a fine from 100 grams to 25 grams, and carrying more than 25 grams would be a criminal offense. The measure would also double the fine, from $150 to $300. There are also plans afoot to increase the penalties for marijuana cultivation.

Marijuana Policy on the Ballot (Last) Tuesday

[Ed: This piece was written before Election Day. See other articles this issue for the results.]

State and local elections Tuesday will see voters in Colorado, three Michigan cities, and Portland, Maine, deciding on marijuana policy reform questions. In Colorado, voters will decide whether to approve taxation of the legal marijuana industry, while in Michigan and Portland, voters will decide on decriminalization and legalization, respectively.

In Colorado, Proposition AA would impose a 15% excise tax on wholesale recreational marijuana transactions, as well as an additional 10% sales tax at the retail level. The measure is expected to pass despite the opposition of some vocal segments of the state's marijuana community.

In Lansing, Jackson, and Ferndale, Michigan, voters will be asked to amend city charters to ensure "that nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession, and transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained 21 years," as the Lansing language puts it.

"It's important to send a message and to take a position as a capital city," said Jeffrey Hank, a Lansing attorney who has pushed to decriminalize marijuana in Lansing. "We're the last of the major Michigan cities to have (marijuana decriminalization) reform."

Decriminalization (or personal legalization) has already passed in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti.

In Portland, voters in Maine's largest city will decide whether to approve Question 1, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2 ½ ounces without penalty. The question also includes a resolution of support for taxing and regulating marijuana at the state and federal level.

While the Maine and Michigan local initiatives are likely to be ignored by state and local law enforcement, they will still have the symbolic value of putting voters on record as supporting marijuana law reform. If they pass, that is.

Washington Medical Marijuana Recommendations Draw Opposition

The three state agencies and the governor's office that constitute the state's medical marijuana working group on Monday released their draft recommendations for dealing with medical marijuana in the era of legal marijuana possession and state-licensed marijuana stores under the I-502 initiative. Their recommendations would essentially gut the existing medical marijuana system, and patients and advocates are crying foul.

What's the future for medical marijuana in Washington?
The recommendations from the State Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing the I-502 regime), the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue would allow state-registered patients to purchase tax-exempt marijuana from the 334 stores envisioned under I-502, but would also reduce the amount patients could possess from 24 ounces to three ounces, require doctors to register patients with the state, remove the affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, and end the right to petition for new medical conditions to be added.

The recommendations also call for eliminating the right of patients to grow their own, either individually or collectively, require existing dispensaries to comply with I-502 regulations, and force out of business those that can't. That would bring the state's medical marijuana system in line with I-502's no home grow provision.

While I-502 only envisions legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, the recommendations would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to use medical marijuana, but patients under the age of 18 would only be allowed to use it with parental consent and could only possess one dose at a time.

The state agencies will make their final recommendations by January 1, when they must send a final report to the state legislature, but in the meantime, they are taking for public comment between now and November 8. They can expect to get an earful from an angry medical marijuana community.

"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."

ASA, which worked with local activists to create the Health Before Happy Hour campaign to try to ensure that medical marijuana patients don't get run over by the legalization bus, is also holding a series of stakeholder meeting to mobilize the community and protect what it views as its hard-won rights. Those meetings will be held between October 27 and 30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.

ASA created that campaign in part because of ominous portents coming from state officials and other key players. In May, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith warned that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program, while state Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, more recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down.

Then, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs chimed in to claim that "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." As if that weren't enough, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries, and US Attorneys continue to menace patients and providers. US Attorney Jenny Durkan qualified the state's medical marijuana system as "untenable," and vowed to shut down the dispensaries.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," said Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical marijuana. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."

Instead of gutting the medical marijuana program, the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is calling for a system of state-licensed and regulated dispensaries outside the scope of I-502. The campaign is supporting legislation similar to Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire (D).

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

Olympia, WA
United States

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