January 09, 2016 | SteveElliott
A roundup of national Cannabis news stories for January 2016
Among the 95 commutations were two marijuana lifers who had been behind bars since the early 1990s.
President Barack Obama on Dec. 18 commuted the sentences of 95 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 46 people in July, 22 people in March, and eight people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations on Dec. 18 were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.
In taking this step, the president has now issued 170 commutations, the vast majority to nonviolent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.
Two marijuana lifers were among those whose sentences were commuted by the president on Dec. 18.
Marine veteran William “Billy” Ervin Dekle, 66, who used to fly planeloads of pot into Florida in the 1970s and 80s in his single-propeller airplane, was granted clemency, as was Charlie Cundiff, now approaching 70, who had two minor prior offenses for growing and possessing marijuana before he got caught up in a pot sting in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1991, reports Bryan Schatz at Mother Jones. Both Dekle and Cundiff have been behind bars since the early 1990s after getting life sentences for conspiracy to distribute a substance that’s now legal in some form in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
Dec. 18’s commutations are more than twice as many as the president announced last March, which were the most granted at a single time by anyone since Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration.
“The President is to be applauded for bringing some much needed holiday cheer to the families of these incarcerated individuals, but we need so much more,” said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs.
“There is legislation moving through Congress that would reduce mandatory minimums, and Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell need to bring these bills up for a vote.”
Let’s hope it passes.
State’s retail cap increases from 334 to 556
Following an analysis of the entire marijuana marketplace in Washington state, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) on Dec. 16 heard a recommendation from staff to increase the number of retail marijuana stores from the current cap of 334 to a new cap of 556.
The allocation of retail licenses determined by the board will be published on the WSLCB website at lcb.wa.gov.
Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature enacted, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed, legislation (SSB 5052) ironically entitled the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (the Act dismantles the system of safe access that has existed for patients in the state for 17 years).
“Our goal was clear: to ensure medical patients have access to the products they need,” said WSLCB director Rick Garza. “There will be more storefronts for patients going forward than are available today. In addition, qualified patients can grow their own or join a four-member cooperative,” Garza said.
Unsurprisingly, Garza didn’t mention that the Board’s original recommendations were to eliminate home growing entirely. Garza also neglected to mention that the Board reduced the number of plants patients are allowed to grow from 15 to six if on the state patient registry or just four for patients who opt not to be on the state registry.
A translation of Garza’s political-speak is that the Board was so embarrassed by the outcry from patients and advocates regarding severely reduced medical access that they were finally compelled to at least appear to do something about it, i.e., approve additional retail licenses.
Annual survey reveals that marijuana use by teenagers has stayed steady since 2015.
The results of an annual survey of U.S. middle and high school students released Dec. 16 refute claims that reforming marijuana laws and debating legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens.
According to the Monitoring the Future Survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
– Rates of daily marijuana use by eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, as well as monthly use by 12th-graders, did not change from 2014 to 2015 and have remained unchanged since 2010.
– The rate of monthly marijuana use by eighth-graders did not change in the past year, but has dropped significantly since 2010.
– The rate of monthly marijuana use by 10th-graders appears to have dropped significantly from 2014 (and 2010) to 2015.
The survey also found a decline in the number of teens who perceive “great risk” in marijuana use, negating the theory that softening perceptions of harm will result in more teens using marijuana.
“Many young people recognize that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and other drugs,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “But they also understand that it is not okay for them to use it.
“For decades, teens had an artificially high perception of risk that stemmed from exaggerations and scare tactics,” Tvert said. “Now that there is more information out there and it’s not limited to horror stories and propaganda, they are developing a more realistic view.”
Adults in Uruguay will be able to choose from three varieties of marijuana when it starts being sold in state-licensed pharmacies next year, the National Drug Board announced in December.
Each strain will have different levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), said Drug Board president Milton Romani, reports Malena Castaldi at Reuters.
“There will be three options with indications about the effects of each that point beginners toward starting with the lowest level” of THC, Romani told Reuters on the sidelines of the marijuana forum Expocannabis 2015.
Romani wouldn’t identify the three Cannabis varieties that will be available in pharmacies.
Uruguay in 2013 became the first nation in modern times to legalize the cultivation and sale of Cannabis. Authorities have developed genetically distinct plants in an attempt to stymie the black market and keep legal weed from leaving Uruguay’s borders, Romani said.
The government said registered Cannabis users will be able to buy weed at pharmacies by mid-2016, when the country’s two licensed growers start selling their first crop of about four metric tons.
“We want to do things right, and if it takes a bit longer, so be it,” Romani said. “We have to be very careful with this because any slip-up could ruin an experience that is unique to the world.”
A new statewide poll shows Georgia voters massively support expanding current access to medical marijuana.
According to Georgians for Freedom in Health Care, 84.5 percent of voters approve expanding the law to allow for in-state cultivation and production of medical marijuana, reports Chris Hopper at 11Alive. Currently, Georgia’s weak medical marijuana law only allows low-THC, high-CBD forms of Cannabis oil, which cannot be grown or produced in the state.
A commanding 81.8 percent of respondents said they’d support expanding the list of illnesses now included on the program. Allowing the smoking of medical marijuana as a form of treatment — not currently allowed in Georgia — was supported by 61.5 percent.
State Rep. Allen Peake, who authored the current law, is pushing for its expansion. “There is no issue in Georgia that unites our fellow citizens like this one,” Peake said. “People all across our state, young and old, black and white, need this medicine and they expect our government to create an infrastructure where they can have access to a safe and legal product.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is more timid. Gov. Deal recently expressed concerns with the idea, claiming he has yet to see any evidence there is a “proper way” to legalize cultivation in the state (yes, he really said that).
This year Canada will become the first country in the G7 bloc — the seven largest economies in the world — to legalize marijuana, the government reaffirmed on Dec. 4.
The move was announced in a speech by Governor General David Johnston. Johnston said the government would regulate and restrict access to Cannabis, but details about those restrictions aren’t yet available.
Johnston said getting rid of the “criminal element” of marijuana would help fix a broken system, adding that regulators would learn from recent recreational Cannabis legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington.
Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised to legalize Cannabis during the recent campaign that swept the Liberals into power.
The previous administration under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper had scaled back the country’s medical marijuana program and increased drug penalties in a move mirroring the mandatory minimums adopted by the United States.
Steve Elliott is the editor behind tokesignals.com, an independent blog of Cannabis news and opinion.