I was flying back from Boston Freedom Rally, so our weekly review of the top marijuana news stories begins with Tuesday.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Residents of two states that have legalized marijuana support it more now than when they legalized it. In a Colorado poll sponsored by Marijuana Policy Project and conducted by Public Policy Polling, 61 percent of voters felt that the economic impact of legalization has been positive for the state. The Denver Post reports that in the poll, only 36 percent of voters would vote to repeal marijuana legalization and just 39 percent said legalization has been bad for Colorado, compared to the roughly 45 percent of voters who opposed Amendment 64 in 2012. In Oregon, DHM Research produced a poll showing that 61 percent of voters felt legalization had a positive impact on the state. The Oregonian also reports that the poll found 60 percent of statewide voters oppose bans on recreational marijuana sales. Oregon legalized marijuana in 2014 with 56 percent of the vote, the greatest electoral support for a statewide marijuana legalization measure so far.
A Florida court reached a not guilty verdict Friday in the case of a woman who uses medical marijuana. WFLX reports that 54-year-old Bridget Kirouac was facing charges of growing 20 cannabis plants in her home, a felony that could have resulted in serious prison time. Kirouac suffers from numerous chronic pain conditions and was a legal medical marijuana patient in her home state of Maine before she moved to Hobe Sound, a small town in Martin County, Florida. TCPalm.com reports that police had followed Kirouac after she visited a hydroponics store, then secured a search warrant to find the medical garden in her home. Kirouac’s attorney, Michael Minardi, refused all plea agreements that would have branded his client a felon, and instead mounted a medical necessity defense for the jury. Kirouac is free from the charges, but not free to grow her cannabis, prompting Minardi to join with Kirouac in promoting the passage of Amendment 2, the medical marijuana legalization on the Florida ballot.
Hopes for a judicial reprieve for medical marijuana in Missouri ended today. According to sources with the New Approach Missouri campaign, their appeal regarding disqualified signatures was rejected by a judge. While the campaign submitted over 285,000 signatures, Missouri law requires at least 8 percent of signatures to come from six out of eight of their congressional districts, to prevent gathering signatures only at the urban centers of the state. The Riverfront-Times reports that the Secretary of State rejected more than 10,000 signatures from the state’s 2nd Congressional District, leaving the campaign 2,242 signatures short. The campaign was then able to show that 2,219 of those signatures were actually valid, leaving them a mere 23 signatures short of placing medical marijuana on the ballot this election. New Approach Missouri raised over $1.3 million for the 2016 campaign to legalize medical marijuana.
The Dr. Bronner’s company, famous for their line of hemp-based soaps, has donated $660,000 to the campaigns to legalize marijuana in five states. The Cannabist reports that the company will work with the campaigns in California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine, saying in a statement that their pledged donations will help to “end the racist outdated policy of cannabis prohibition, that shreds productive citizens’ lives and families for no good reason.”
Meanwhile, in Nevada, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson has donated a million dollars to the campaign opposing medical marijuana in Florida. The St. Augustine Times reports that Adelson had donated $5.5 million of his fortune to successfully defeat Florida medical marijuana in the 2014 election. Adelson’s wife, Miriam, is a rehab doctor who has helped found drug treatment centers in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Stoner icon Tommy Chong wants to be the latest marijuana criminal to be pardoned by President Obama. The Washington Post reports that President Obama has commuted the sentences of 673 offenders and pardoned 70 more. Now, Tommy Chong is pushing a White House online petition to encourage Obama to pardon Chong for his 2003 conviction for selling bongs over the internet. The Pardon Tommy Chong petition needs another 83,000 signatures by Sunday to garner an official White House response.
Another stoner icon, Willie Nelson, has gotten the governor of Virginia, Terry MacAuliffe, in some hot water. MacAuliffe visited Nelson on his bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, and posed for a picture clearly showing a can of Willie’s Reserve marijuana sitting between the two.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Attorney General Loretta Lynch contradicted decades of federal government propaganda yesterday when she stated that marijuana use is not a “specific gateway” to heroin abuse. The so-called “gateway drug” argument is still a prominent part of the White House’s official repudiation of marijuana legalization, which it says “would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs…” As reported by Mike Adams in Merry Jane, Lynch was speaking in Kentucky as part of National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week when she stated that a person with a heroin problem “very often started with a prescription drug problem.” In response to a question about marijuana’s culpability in the opioid epidemic, Lynch stated “It isn’t so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids,” adding, “It’s not as though we are seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway.” Far from being a gateway drug, recent studies have shown access to cannabis reduces the prescription of, the use of, and overdoses from opiates.
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that attorneys are free to advise their clients who are engaged in the newly-legal medical marijuana program without running afoul of ethics regulations. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that an advisory opinion issued in August suggested that attorneys could not advise patients and entrepreneurs on matters related to marijuana since it remains a federally illegal substance. On Tuesday, the court amended the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct to allow attorneys to “assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted … authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes…” However, the new rules do not clarify whether attorneys themselves may use medical marijuana or be involved in the marijuana industry.
Nashville’s Metro Council has voted to become the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize personal possession of cannabis. The Tennesseean reports that the Council voted 35-3 to give Nashville police the option to cite offenders carrying a half-ounce of marijuana or less with a civil violation punished by a $50 fine or ten hours of community service. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has said she intends to sign the ordinance, noting that police will still have the discretion to make a misdemeanor arrest under state law, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Ironically, some judges observed that purging the civil marijuana infraction from a citizen’s record may be more difficult than purging the current criminal charge. Meanwhile, some Republican state lawmakers are threatening to introduce a bill that would suspend state highway funds to cities that don’t criminally punish pot offenders.
Four men in California say they have escaped from an illegal marijuana grow where they were held captive for six months. Associated Press reports that Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo says his office has arrested two women who ran the grow site. Two of the men were recruited to work as trimmers and were then allegedly held against their will at the camp. Later, two more men were allegedly captured and held by the women. The men escaped in July and found their way to the hospital for treatment of bruises and black eyes. The two women have been charged with suspicion of human trafficking, kidnapping, battery with serious bodily injury, terrorist threats, and drug charges stemming from the 23,000 cannabis plants found at the clandestine grow site.
NPR reports that Mexican police have seized a van equipped with a 10-foot air cannon capable of blasting a 60-pound bale of marijuana over the US border. This is just the latest method drug smugglers are using to breech our borders. Other methods still being used include catapults, remote-controlled drones, sophisticated tunnels, private aircraft, boats, and even small submarines.
National marijuana prohibition advocate Kevin Sabet is logging thousands of frequent flyer miles to speak out against reform initiatives on the ballot in nine states this election. KFSM TV reports that Sabet, head of the Project SAM anti-marijuana organization, was in Springdale, Arkansas, Tuesday to warn residents of The Natural State to reject the two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, Issues 6 and 7. Sabet says that medical marijuana isn’t about the sick and dying, but about pushing marijuana-infused gummy bears and sodas to children for profit. Today, Sabet is speaking in Boston, Massachusetts, against the Question 4 initiative that would legalize adult use of marijuana.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
New economic forecasts from marijuana industry analysts predict that success in seven state ballot initiatives will create another $7.8 billion in revenue by 2020. The Denver Post reports that Arcview Group and New Frontier Data have released their mid-year update to their report “The State of Legal Marijuana Markets”. California alone, according to the report, will account for $3.9 billion of that additional revenue. Nationwide, they predict all the legal and medical states will account for $20.6 billion by 2020. Previous estimates of $22.7 billion were revised downward as analysts gathered more accurate data reflecting slow sales in Illinois and New York and new regulations affecting cannabis business profitability.
Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder has signed a trio of bills designed to clarify and expand the state’s medical marijuana program. The Detroit News reports that the new laws will explicitly allow for storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, subject to local approval. New licenses and regulations governing the industry from grower to processor to tester to transporter are established in the bills including a seed-to-sale tracking system. Marijuana-infused edibles are explicitly made legal, clearing up a legal gray area made murky by numerous court rulings. A new 3 percent dispensary tax and the state’s 6 percent sales tax will apply to medical marijuana purchases. Analysts estimate those taxes combined may raise over $85 million annually.
The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch effort by opponents of marijuana reform to sink a medical marijuana initiative in the state, but two other suits remain. Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, a coalition that includes the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, asked the court to deny counting the votes for the measure because it was misleading to the voters. Justice Josephine Linker Hart, penning the court’s rejection of the claim, said the measure gave voters “a fair understanding of the issues presented.” Arkansas has two measures for medical marijuana on the ballot – Issue 6 and Issue 7 – but Issue 7 allows for home cannabis cultivation while Issue 6 does not. Issue 7 was spared in yesterday’s ruling, but both measures each still face a legal challenge. The same coalition rejected today on Issue 7 is making a similar claim against Issue 6, while a NORML attorney is behind the remaining suit against Issue 7.
Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander issued the bad news that activists pushing a medical marijuana initiative fell just 23 signatures short of making the ballot. But within his declaration was a glimmer of hope for patients as Kander became the top elected official in the Show-Me State to endorse the legalization of cannabis for medical use. In a statement, Kander said that “The Missouri General Assembly should pass legislation to allow medical marijuana.” Kander alludes to the New Approach Missouri activists who are determined to try again in 2018, then asks that if the legislature won’t submit a medical marijuana bill, “they should at least put the measure on the ballot themselves in 2018 to give Missouri voters the opportunity to decide on this issue.”
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to double the amount of medical marijuana that qualified city residents can buy each month. Bowser announced Wednesday that she will propose allowing patients to buy 4 ounces of pot a month, rather than 2 ounces. The regulatory change requires approval by the D.C. Council. Possession of up to 2 ounces of pot for recreational use is also legal in the city, and residents are permitted to grow up to three mature plants in their homes.
Two Phoenix police officers are under investigation for allegedly forcing a teenager to eat his marijuana or go to jail. The Arizona Republic reports that a 19-year-old man filed a complaint after numerous officers had pulled him over for a traffic stop. When marijuana was found by officers searching the vehicle, the man claims the police offered him the ultimatum and he complied, eating his stash of marijuana and receiving only tickets for the traffic violations. Police Chief Joe Yahner in a statement said he was “appalled” by the allegations and if they are proven, he will “take quick and appropriate action to ensure those involved are held accountable.”
Friday, September 23, 2016
The three Phoenix police officers accused of forcing a 19-year-old suspect to eat his one-gram bag of marijuana or face arrest and jail have resigned from the department and a fourth officer has been demoted. CBS News reports that officers Richard G. Pina, Jason E. McFadden, and Michael J. Carnicle quit over the encounter during which all three of them had turned off their body cameras. Police Chief Joseph Yahner said two of the officers are being investigated criminally and the third is just considered a witness who is being investigated administratively, though he did not identify which officers were which. A fourth officer, Lieutenant Jeff Farrior, was demoted to sergeant for his failure to take appropriate action when informed of the incident. Chief Yahner indicated he was prepared to fire all three officers but they resigned first.
A new bill in Ohio threatens the possibility of the state recognizing out-of-state medical marijuana cards, thwarting previous reform plans to negotiate a reciprocal agreement with neighboring Michigan. The bill, HB 597, would prevent Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy from reciprocity agreements with any state that allows for the cultivation of cannabis and smoking of marijuana. Ohio’s medical law was crafted by the legislature in the wake of the electoral failure of a controversial legalization initiative last year. Their bill prompted Marijuana Policy Project to drop their plans for a more liberal medical marijuana initiative this year, consigning Ohioans to the current law that forbids cannabis cultivation and marijuana smoking by patients. HB 597 requires other states to have similar bans on whole-plant medicine and similarly-strict condition lists and other eligibility requirements. Of the 24 other states that have medical marijuana laws, only Pennsylvania, New York, and Minnesota would fulfill HB 597’s reciprocity requirements.
Dutch lawmakers are warming to the idea of fixing The Netherlands’ inconsistent policies that tolerate possession and sales of marijuana, but criminalize cultivation and trafficking of cannabis. Liberal democrat MP Vera Bergkamp has drawn up a bill to finally legalize the production side of the industry that supplies the coffeehouses in Amsterdam and other cities with the marijuana they sell. “You can buy weed but you can’t grow and transport it, and that is wrong,” Bergkamp told Dutch media. Bergkamp’s party is joined in coalition with Labour, Socialist, and other left-wing MPs to form a majority in support of the measure, but two right-wing MPs have also announced their support. University researchers earlier this year found that keeping commercial cannabis cultivation illegal exacerbated criminal violence, fires, environmental and noise pollution, and the spread of legionella bacteria. The Dutch government, however, remains opposed, citing the message such a move would send to the children.
MI Legalize, the group denied a spot on the 2016 Michigan ballot despite turning in far more signatures than they needed, is gearing up for a marijuana legalization petition drive in 2018. The group lost state court appeals over the disqualification of signatures falling outside a statutory 180-day signature gathering window. They are still pursuing appeals in the federal courts, despite any potential relief happening far too late to make any difference in this election. The group touted its increasing political muscle and fundraising ability, confident it can pass legalization in the mid-term election.
Citing “the potential to adversely impact the health, welfare and good order and discipline” of soldiers, US Army officials in Alaska banned troops from attending cannabis trade shows and marijuana festivals. The pre-emptive move was prompted by recent Alaska cannabis fairs that have offered discounts on admission for members of the military. The policy only applies to active duty soldiers stationed in Alaska. National Guardsmen and Army Reservists are not affected by the ban. US Army Maj. Gen. Bryan Owens, who commands Alaska’s active-duty soldiers, said that “Attendance at such events is inconsistent with military service.”