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Putting the D.C. in DeCriminalization

While Washington state grabbed news headlines last week with the opening of its first retail cannabis stores, on the east coast, the other Washington just got a whole lot more 420-friendly as well. Beginning July 16, possession of one ounce or less became subject to a $25 fine, rather than a lengthy and expensive entanglement in the justice system and possible jail time.

D.C. police are undergoing a major attitude adjustment, as the law now requires them to issue a simple $25 ticket for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis. Since the D.C. police have the highest cannabis arrest rate in the nation (91% of which are arrests of African Americans), this is quite the paradigm shift.

Just keep in mind: Public smoking of cannabis is still a misdemeanor, however, punishable with jail.

Members of Congress have tried to block implementation of this major law reform by tacking on an amendment to an appropriations bill that quashes DC’s new law. But the DC city council gained a powerful ally when the White house issued a statement indicating that the president will veto an appropriations bill unless an amendment is removed that attempts to block DC from implementing its cannabis decriminalization law.

The White House statement reads, “[T]he administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of states’ rights and of District home rule.”

Drug Policy Alliance’s website calls D.C.’s decriminalization groundbreaking: “By setting a $25 fine, which is the lowest civil fine for possession among 18  states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, D.C. lawmakers cited the need to be responsive to social factors such as homelessness in the District and high rates of poverty in Wards that have seen the greatest number of marijuana arrests.

“In order to reduce racially-biased stop-and-frisks, this new law contains a provision that prohibits a police officer from using the smell of marijuana as a pretext for conducting criminal searches — the first decriminalization legislation in the country to do so.

“The new law also shields people caught with a small amount of marijuana from collateral consequences like being denied public assistance or having their D.C. issued drivers’ license suspended or revoked. This decriminalization law is viewed by both D.C. council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

Patients Get More Access in D.C. Too

Last week, it also became much easier for patients to qualify for D.C.’s medical marijuana program. On Tuesday, the D.C. city council approved legislation that replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses with a blanket authority given to doctors to recommend medical cannabis for “any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient’s physician.”

Cannabis Sentencing Reform Could Reduce Current Sentences

Also in the nation’s capitol, the U.S. Sentencing Commission just voted unanimously for sentencing reform that by their own estimation could make 46,000 men and women serving time in federal prison for drug offenses eligible for early release. The passed amendment cuts sentencing terms by an average of 25 months in the sentencing guidelines for federal judges. Congress has until November 1 to block the amendment. Eligible offenders must ask courts to reduce their sentences based on the new guidelines, and can be released starting November 1, 2015.

More Access to Financing for Cannabis Industry

Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment this Wednesday that will make it easier for legitimate marijuana businesses operating in states where the drug has been legalized to obtain financial services. The House passed the “Heck amendment” — to the H.R. 5016 spending bill by a vote of 231-192. The amendment blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury Department from spending money to penalize banks and other financial institutions for working with pot businesses that do not break state law.

The bill lists by name all states which have now passes some form of law allowing for some uses of medical canabis, including CBD-only laws. Those states now number 33, plus the District of Columbia. The measure must also be approved by the U.S. senate and signed by the president in order to take effect.

The amendment reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin or the District of Columbia, to prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a financial institution from providing financial services to an entity solely because the entity is a manufacturer, producer, or person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”

LA Cannabis Farmer’s Market Hit With Restraining Order

Previously, the Cannabis Report brought you the story on the success of the first day of LA’s first cannabis farmers market. Last week, the California Heritage Market was slapped with a temporary restraining order requested by LA’s city attorney and granted by an LA County Superior Court Judge. A hearing is set for August 6 to decide the market’s fate.

The city attorney argued that the market violates Measure D, passed by voters in May of 2013. Measure D limits LA’s number of legal dispensaries to 134 — although the city has not succeeded in shutting down all of the estimated 800-1000 LA dispensaries that are not approved under the measure.

The cannabis farmers market is run by by one of the 134 legal dispensaries, West Coast Collective. The collectives attorney David Welch told LA Weekly that all the 30 vendors selling at the market technically worked the collective and filled out IRS 1099 forms.

Fresno County Imposes Largest Cannabis-related Fine

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors imposed their largest medical marijuana fine yet since becoming the first county to pass a total cultivation ban in January. Fresno Supervisors levied a $99,000 fine — $1,000 for each of 99 plants. They also voted to raise the cap to defend its medical marijuana ordinance from legal challenges from 50,000 to 210,000 and hired the firm Best, Best, and Krieger.

Arizona Fires Professor Researching Cannabis, Supporters Gather Signatures to Reinstate Her

As of this Friday, an online petition asking the University of Arizona to reinstate a medical marijuana researcher has nearly 32,000 signatures. Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a Department of Psychiatry faculty member and researcher, won long-awaited federal approval by the Department of Health and Human Services this April for a medical cannabis study approved in 2011 by the FDA. The study would analyze the efficacy of different cannabis treatments for veterans with PTSD.

But two Republican state senators, one of them the president of the senate, have made attempts to block funding to the university unless the marijuana research was halted. When those efforts failed the Senate president, Senator Andy Biggs, reportedly angrily called the University of Arizona’s president and demanded Dr. Sisley’s phone and email account information for what he called her political activism. Sisley was suddenly terminated last week for reasons she maintains were related to her research.

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