By Steve Elliott
Hashish growers in Lebanon's cannabis-rich Bekaa Valley say they are ready to join the fight against Islamic militant group ISIS.
The Lebanese army and the hash growers -- who formerly trained their weapons on each other -- now have a common enemy, because ISIS has been targeting marijuana crops in Syria, reports Rebecca Collard at PRI. The group recently posted a video online of ISIS militants destroying shoulder-tall stalks of cannabis near the city of Aleppo.
With the Bekaa Valley hashish factory of Ali Nasri Shamas in Bouday, Lebanon, just 30 minutes from the Syrian border, that's a big concern. Many area residents fear the wild-eyed jihadis, known for their practice of beheading opponents in online videos, are coming to the valley.
But Shamas said he's ready if they do. "This is for ISIS and [the Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Nusra Front," he said, showing off a two-foot long machete.
That's not the extent of his arsenal, in case you're wondering. He also has mounted machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, all originally bought to defend his crops from the Lebanese army -- but now ready to be turned against ISIS.
When ISIS militants attacked a border village between Bouday and the Syrian border back in October, hash farmers joined in to defend it. "When we heard they were attacking Brital, I joined the other men going to defend the village," said one man who asked to be called Abbas.
By Steve Elliott
The recent announcement from the United States federal government that it won't stop Native American tribes from growing and selling marijuana is a game-changer. In February, the subject will be the focus of a groundbreaking national conference focusing on legalization in Indian country.
Tribal leaders, executives, entrepreneurs and health and social work professionals -- along with law enforcement personnel -- will be on hand to examine the legal, political and social policy implications of the change, reports Indian Country Today Media Network.
The conference will be held Friday, February 27, at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Quil Ceda Village, Washington. Odawi Law PLLC and Harris Moure, PLLC are the co-sponsors of the event to help "leaders in Indian country fully understand the wide-ranging issues associated with embarking on the development of tribal marijuana legislation and considerations of commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacture and distribution in tribal jurisdictions,” according to a press release.
FAIR Act Would Eliminate Department of Justice Program that Enables State and Local Police to Keep Proceeds of Property Seized from Citizens
Momentum Builds in Congress for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Days after Attorney General Holder Issues Policy Limiting Police Participation in Controversial Department of Justice Program
Bipartisan legislation was introduced on Monday in both houses of Congress that would roll back changes made in the 1980s by Congress to federal civil asset forfeiture laws largely intended to incentivize law enforcement to pursue civil asset forfeitures as part of the rapid escalation of the War On Drugs.
In the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. In the House, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced an identical version of Sen. Paul’s FAIR Act.
“It’s encouraging to see strong bipartisan support in Congress for rolling back policies that have perpetuated the failed war on drugs and eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Congress has an opportunity to end the perverse incentives that federal laws give police to take innocent people’s property and run.”
Florida for Care on Monday applauded the filing of Senate Bill 528, a piece of comprehensive medical marijuana legislation drafted and filed by Senator Jeff Brandes, the Republican representing District 22.
“We are very excited to see Sen. Brandes file this important piece of legislation,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care. "Sen. Brandes has taken a courageous step in service of making the voice of Floridians heard on this issue."
One such voice is that of Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, whose mother suffered from cancer. "I'm very encouraged by Sen. Brandes' bill," Sheriff Manfre said. "As a sheriff and as the son of a cancer survivor, responsible, comprehensive, medical marijuana legislation is critically important to me."
"I hope my fellow sheriffs will see this bill in the same light and work towards consensus on this issue which is deeply personal to many Floridians, as it is to me," Manfre said.
The bill is considerably more comprehensive than previously passed Senate Bill 1030, which allowed only for a low-THC, high-CBD strain of marijuana that would primarily help those suffering with epilepsy and other seizure disorders.
“While SB 1030 was monumental in that our Legislature -- for the first time -- recognized marijuana as medicine, it simply did not help all sick and suffering Floridians in the way that Sen. Brandes’ bill would, if passed,” said Dan Rogers, director of legislative affairs for Florida for Care.
By Steve Elliott
Oregon voters last November chose to legalize marijuana. But some residents in the eastern part of the state still aren't ready to let go of prohibition.
Pendleton, an eastern Oregon town where the motto is "Let 'er buck" and the main attraction is the 105-year-old Pendleton Round-Up, may ban cannabis retailers from the city, reports Noelle Crombie at The Oregonian.
"When it comes to a lot of our laws, they are determined by a couple of counties and Portland," whined Pendleton Mayor Phillip Houk. "We are used to that, so what we have to do is buck up and figure out what we are going to do."
Among many in eastern Oregon, especially more rural areas of the state, the marijuana's reputation as a gateway to hard drugs, mental illness, family dysfunction and addiction still seems strong, The Oregonian reports.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission on Thursday held the first of 10 statewide public forums as part of an effort to collect input from residents. The first two, in Baker City and Pendleton, attracted more than 200 residents from a mostly rural area.
"I am trying to picture what this is going to look like in our town," said John Day coucilwoman Lisa Weigum, 30, who drove 80 miles to attend the Baker City meeting.
By Steve Elliott
Hawaii on Wednesday, the opening day of the 2015 legislative session, joined the U.S. Capitol and four other states in flying an American-grown, American-produced hemp flag.
GOP state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who has long advocated for industrial hemp use, sponsored the flag-raising and borrowed a hemp flag from Colorado advocate Michael Bowman, reports Chad Blair at the Honolulu Civil Beat.
Bowman enlisted the help of a Colorado hemp farmer to make the flag, according to a press release from Thielen's office.
The flag has "a vintage feel to it which appears to be a nod to America's hemp growing founding fathers and the many original flags that were made of hemp," according to Thielen's office.
"This durable flag will be flying high," the state representative's office adds.
The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources is allowed to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program after last year's passage of Act 56 into law.
The federal Agriculture Act of 2014 allows colleges and state departments of agriculture to conduct industrial hemp research, including cultivaiton.
The neighboring Hawaiian island of Maui "is slated to become the first island in the state with a home built using industrial hemp," reports the Maui News.
Photo: Rep. Cynthia Thielen and the hemp flag
By Steve Elliott
President Barack Obama on Thursday said he expects more states to legalize marijuana.
In a YouTube interview, Obama discussed cannabis policy and the contrasts between federal and state law, reports Niraj Chokshi at The Washington Post. Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska) plus the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana.
“What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana,” Obama said in response to a question from Hank Green, who with his brother runs a YouTube channel with nearly 2.5 million subscribers.
“The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue,” Obama said, about 11 minutes into the video embedded below. “My suspicion is that you’re gonna see other states start looking at this.”
By Steve Elliott
Two Democratic lawmakers have filed bills that would allow the use of medical marijuana in Indiana, but neither measure is likely to make any progress in the Republican-controlled Legislature, according to observers.
Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) and Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) are sponsoring bills in the Indiana Senate and House, respectively, that would allow state residents to use cannabis for medicinal purposes with a doctor's authorization, reports the Associated Press.
Errington's House bill would allow patients with conditions including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease or Alzheimer's disease to use marijuana for treatment.
Unfortunately, the bill has been assigned to the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, where it's unlikely to get a hearing, according to Errington.
"Bills that go there usually don't come back out," Errington told The Star Press. "I would like it to at least get a hearing, so people could come and tell their stories -- patients and physicians and others."
According to Errington, she's heard from constituents who are suffering from chronic pain and seizures, who would like to use medical marijuana to ease their suffering.
Backers of a new initiative to strengthen Washington state's medical marijuana law are now gathering signatures.
"Initiative Measure No. 1372, filed January 6, 2015, will protect and strengthen the medical cannabis law, RCW 69.51A, by offering compassion, clarity and consistency," said Kirk Ludden of Cannabis Patient Protection Washington (CPPWA) on Wednesday.
I-1372 would make the following changes, according to Ludden:
• Bringing Washington state law into compliance with stated federal policy
• Allowing business owners to obtain licenses for producing, processing or dispensing cannabis in a commercial manner. Using the language from ESSB 5073, specifying cannabis for medical use licensing, allowing producers and processors to deliver cannabis to any cannabis for medical use licensee, and allowing the botanical herb tax exemption on cannabis for medical use.
• Creating and empowering the cannabis for medical use board, made up of the state and the community, to govern all aspects of the market. Through licensing and regulation fees, revenue is generated for the board to regulate the not-for-profit cannabis for medical use market while remaining revenue neutral.
• Maintaining small, private residential gardens and patient cooperatives that do not violate the spirit or intent of law. As well as protecting existing cannabis farmer's markets serving qualifying patients.
By Steve Elliott
State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) and state Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) have once again introduced medical marijuana bills in the Kansas Legislature, as they've done every year since 2009.
None of the measures has ever gone beyond informational hearings, in which no action can be taken, but Sen. Haley thinks that might change this year, reports Amy Himmelberg of the Associated Press.
"I think the ice is beginning to thaw regarding the reasonableness of the issue among the leadership of the Legislature," Haley said.
Rep. Finney -- who has undergone chemotherapy for lupus -- thinks the bill will at least get a hearing after being ignored by Republican legislators for years. "Passing, I don't know about that," she added.
Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said he's waiting to see what the Senate does with medical marijuana. "Nobody's come and really pushed it," Hawkins claimed, adding that he's heard "very little" from constituents about it. If you'd like to change that, you can click here and let Rep. Hawkins hear from the people he's supposed to be representing.
Property Seizures by Local and State Police Often Conducted Under Pretext that Property Is Connected to Illegal Drugs
Advocates Applaud Holder for New Policy, Urge Congress to Make Reforms Permanent
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday issued an order establishing a new policy prohibiting federal agencies from accepting civil asset forfeiture assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies unless the owner is convicted of a crime. The U.S. Treasury Department, which has its own forfeiture program, is issuing a similar policy.
The new policy will greatly restrict the ability of state and local police forces to use fedeal law to seize goods without charging an individual with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which authorities seize property alleged to have been involved in a crime, charge the property directly, since goods do not have the same constitutional protections as their owners, and then keep most of the proceeds for departmental use.
The Department of Justice becomes involved after a state or local law enforcement agency seizes property pursuant to state law and requests that a federal agency take the seized asset and forfeit it under federal law.
Legalizing recreational marijuana production, distribution and possession in Vermont could generate significant tax revenues, but also involves costs and important decisions about how best to regulate the substance, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
The report makes clear that if Vermont chooses to remove its prohibition on producing and selling marijuana, lawmakers will have many choices to make about who will supply it, who can buy it, if and how it will be taxed, and how it will be regulated.
The report does not make a recommendation about whether Vermont should change its marijuana laws. Researchers say the goal of the report is to inform, not sway, discussions about the future of marijuana policy in Vermont and other jurisdictions considering alternatives to traditional marijuana prohibition.
The RAND report provides the most-detailed accounting available about the wide number of issues that face state officials -- in Vermont and elsewhere -- when considering alternatives to traditional marijuana prohibition.
“Our conversation about whether to legalize marijuana must be rooted in facts and be transparent about the uncertainties,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. “This RAND report will serve as a critical foundation for our ongoing discussion about the best course for Vermont.
"I continue to support moves to legalize marijuana in Vermont but have always said that we have to proceed with rigorous research and preparation before deciding whether to act," Shumlin said. "This report will help us do that.”
By Steve Elliott
One political party in Israel is offering marijuana for campaign donations. The only catch is, it's marijuana in the future for campaign donations now.
The gimmick, launched in a YouTube video on Saturday, helped the Green Leaf (Aleh Yarok) party get more than NIS 100,000 ($25,000 US) in donations this week, reports The Jerusalem Post.
Donors who give campaign donations are promised they will receive cannabis if and when the day comes that the plant is legalized in Israel.
The party on Monday morning opened a Headstart fundraising campaign with a range of options for donors. The page includes a sliding scale of hypothetical amounts of marijuana along with corresponding contribution levels.
A donation of NIS 50 ($12.50) entitles the donor to a savings bond redeemable for one gram of marijuana, once it's legalized. That's significantly less than the black market street value of weed in Israel, where it runs NIS 80 to 100 ($20 to $25 US) a gram. By Wednesday, all 56 available for that donation had been purchased.
By Steve Elliott
A Superior Court judge in Pierce County has ruled unconstitutional a state law which forbids doctors and other medical professionals from advertising medical marijuana authorizations in their advertisements.
Judge Elizabeth Martin in a Friday ruling said the law violates both the Washington and U.S. constitutions by curbing free speech, reports Adam Lynn at The News Tribune of Tacoma. While the state might have an interest in regulating such advertising, Martin ruled, banning it completely is unacceptable.
"I find the statute impermissibly overbroad as it chills even informational speech aimed solely at public education," Judge Martin wrote in her decision.
The ruling came in a case brought by Scott Havsy, a Pierce County osteopath. He took the state to court last year after the Washington Department of Health punished him for advertising his willingness to authorize patients' use of medicinal cannabis.
The sanctions levied against Dr. Havsy have been on hold while the court case plays out. Havsy, who has practiced for more than 30 years, authorizes a number of patients for medical marijuana.
Attorney Mark G. Olson of Everett argued that the state's ban on medical marijuana advertising hindered the ability of patients to find doctors willing to authorize them for cannabis use.
By Steve Elliott
Not one but two proposed ballot measures to legalize marijuana have emerged on Ohio in the past month.
On Thursday, Ohioans to End Prohibition announced the latest, the Cannabis Control Amendment, which would legalize cannabis sales, use and possession for adults 21 and older, reports the Associated Press. The group hopes to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.
Responsible Ohio in December had announced another proposal which calls for 10 authorized growing locations around the state.
Ohioans to End Prohibition Vice President Jacob Wagner said the new measure was different in that it would not restrict those who want to grow marijuana at home for personal use, just commercial sales.
"Any amendment that might consolidate the prospective economic power of a legal cannabis market in the hands of a chosen few is a raw deal for the people of Ohio," Ohioans to End Prohibition President Sri Kavaru and attorney Jacob Wagner wrote in a Thursday press release.
Kavuru and Wagner said in an interview they planned to announce their plan later this year but announced early after reports surfaced that the group was planning an amendment for the November 2015 ballot, reports Jackie Borchardt of Northeast Ohio Media Group.