National News for August 2015
MEXICO/ARIZONA: A sewer line backup caused all kinds of waste to spill into a Nogales, Arizona home this month, destroying the home and damaging two nearby businesses. When going to investigate officials used video feed to look under the house and determine the cause of the backup. They were able to see bundles blocking the sewage line but were unable to reach them for two days. After they were finally able to get in the passage under the house they were surprised to find the bundles were about 15 pound bricks of marijuana, totaling around 60 pounds altogether. Authorities believe smugglers sent the drugs through a sewer in Mexico and someone on the US side would catch them by using the tunnel under the house. It appears that the house is vacant and the owner lives out of state. No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing.
WASHINGTON, DC: Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill into law last month banning the sale of synthetic drugs. One of the first businesses affected by this law was Market Dollar Plus and was shut down two days after the bill went into effect. The business, which has been raided in the past for selling the drugs, was ordered to cease all business operations for 96 hours. Local shops around the store are thrilled about the shutdown claiming “it really brought a bad element to the block” and “it was obvious people would go there to buy synthetic marijuana then smoke it on the public street.” Another business owner on the block says “It was kept open for the K2, not the groceries…food on the shelf was often spoiled.”
Under the new law the owners of the market could face a fine of $10,000, they must also provide an outline plan to ensure the drug is no longer sold there. A Bloomingdale store was also shut down, for a year, for selling ‘spice’. The Bloomingdales store had been caught selling the substances repeatedly and while prosecutors had been pursuing litigation against the owner for months the new law makes it much easier to shut down the businesses rather than drag the owner to court in an attempt to revoke their business license.
MONTANA: Anthony Varriano, a 29 year old reporter, proposed a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to regulate and tax marijuana. He submitted the proposal to legalize recreational use for legal review, if passed he must collect 50,000 signatures to get it on the ballot. The language in his proposal calls for the legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older with limitations on the amounts that may be purchased and possessed. It also requires that the first $40 million in revenue raised annually in taxes go to public schools. Another proposed initiative, from Mort Reid, president of the Montana Cannabis Information Association, would remove certain limitations in the current state medical marijuana law. On the opposite end of the spectrum Steve Zabawa, a car dealership owner, is trying for a second time to repeal the medical marijuana law and ban any schedule 1 drug from the state. He tried to get his measure on the ballot in 2014 but was unable to collect enough signatures in time.
WASHINGTON, DC: An amendment has been proposed to alter the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill which aims at accelerating the discovery and development of new medicines, would “facilitate credible research on the medical efficacy of marijuana” by creating a subcategory for marijuana on the drug schedule. It would also encourage the National Institutes of Health and the Drug Enforcement Administration to work together on the issue. Sponsors of the amendment include Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Sam Farr (D-Cali), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va), and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md). Blumenauer told the Huffington Post, “Given the widespread use of medical marijuana, it is imperative that doctors better understand how it can be used to treat different people and conditions, as well as the risks involved.” Rep. Griffith has backed efforts to increase patients’ access to medical marijuana, while Rep. Harris previously made an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Washington, D.C. from executing its marijuana legalization program. Harris, however, did tell Huffington Post that drug policy should be based on sound science and that research on marijuana’s value is “sorely lacking”.
The new amendment would leave marijuana as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and LSD, but would create a new subcategory labeled Schedule I-R. Many believe this new classification would allow federal funding for further research into the drug, something they believe is not currently allowed for the Schedule I classification drugs. While many others claim the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I does not prevent research and the subcategory rescheduling would not change much in terms of funding. The issue will be discussed in the House of Representatives later this month.
INDIANA: The First Church of Cannabis is suing the city of Indianapolis as well as the state of Indiana, claiming marijuana laws in the state infringe on its religious beliefs. The religious objections measure signed by Gov. Mike Pence inspired Bill Levin to create the First Church of Cannabis, where cannabis is the sacrament that brings members closer to themselves and others. The lawsuit claims “it is the foundation of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression…we embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group”. However since Indiana makes possession of marijuana, and visiting a place where it is used, punishable by law, the church’s religious practices have been hindered. The church’s first service took place on July 1st and was attended by more than 100 people with 20 or more law enforcement officers observing. Local officials warned the church prior to the service that arrests would be made if marijuana was present. Levin maintains that his church is “built on the cornerstone of love, compassion, and good health” and is not just a place for members to get high.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill in late July to establish regulated marijuana stores and allow banks to provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. While it is legal in D.C. to possess, use, and grow cannabis for personal use, it is still illegal to sell or buy the plant. However the Senate Committee approved a spending bill, which allows officials to tax and regulate the sales. The committee has not only moved this bill forward but also three others earlier this year. The approval of multiple bills through the Senate, a new DEA chief, and the passing of marijuana laws in 28 states are not the only changes for marijuana policies. Many cities have also begun reforming their drug sentencing laws, adopting the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) policy. LEAD allows police to direct drug offenders to treatment or other supportive services instead of incarceration. This sentencing reform points to the shifting attitudes in the US to treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. While reforms on marijuana attitude, law, and policy seem inevitable, there are still many hurdles to be faced by those fighting for the changes as many people who profit from the prohibition of the plant are preparing to battle and block any reform.