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A new poll has good news for Florida's medical marijuana initiative, pot decriminalization is one Senate vote away in New Hampshire, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Racial Disparities in Teen Marijuana Arrests Worsen After Legalization.  Teen marijuana arrests actually increased after legalization in Colorado, and so did racial disparities among those arrested, according to a new state report.  White juvenile arrests dropped by 8%, while Latino arrests increased by 29% and black arrests increased by 58%. Among adults, marijuana arrests have decreased by nearly half, but racial disparities among those arrested grew slightly worse. In 2012, black people got busted at a rate almost double that of whites; in 2014, the rate was almost triple.

Florida Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization, Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for pot legalization at 56% and support for medical marijuana at 80%. Legalization isn't on the immediate horizon in the Sunshine State, but a medical marijuana initiative will be on the November ballot. A similar initiative was defeated in 2012 with 58% of the vote; it needed 60% to win because it was a constitutional amendment.

New Hampshire House Passes Decriminalization Bill. The House Wednesday voted 289-58 to approve Senate Bill 498, which was amended in committee to include provisions that would decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana.  The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval. 

International

Myanmar Opium Farmers Call for End to Eradication Until Alternatives are Found. The 4th Annual Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum ended Monday with a call for recognition of the struggles of poppy farmers and no crop eradication without alternative development programs in place: "We grow opium because we are poor and do not have other livelihood opportunities to feed our families and send our children to school, as well as for medicinal and traditional uses. We are not involved in the drug trade, we are not criminals, and we are not commercial farmers. Some of us also grow it for traditional and medicinal uses. It is important to differentiate between small-holder farmers like us, and those people who grow opium commercially and/or who invest in it," the farmers said.  "The government should not carry out any force eradication of our opium fields unless and until they have provided access to sustainable crop substitution programmes and alternative livelihoods to our communities. Eradication should especially not take place during the harvest season. By that time we have already invested a lot and also cannot grow another crop anymore that season." Myanmar is the world's second leading producer of opium, behind Afghanistan. 

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A Georgia cop gets nailed for running with the Gangster Disciples, a New Jersey cop gets busted for peddling pot, an Indiana cop gets popped for peddling pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Atlanta, a former DeKalb County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday as part of a mass indictment of Gangster Disciples gang members. Deputy Vancito Gumbs is accused of tipping off gang members to police activity, including an October raid on a bar he knew a gang member frequented. The 48 people indicted are charged with a variety of offenses including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, and fraud.  Gumbs resigned from the department in October after he was reported to be using drugs.

In Linden, New Jersey, a Linden police sergeant was arrested last Thursday on charges he was peddling pot. Officer William Turbett III, 30, is charged with fourth-degree distribution of marijuana, as well as pot possession.  Turbett had already been suspended without pay for an unrelated matter. He's now looking at up to 18 months in prison.

In York, Pennsylvania, a York County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on charges he stole drug money from the departmental evidence room. Sgt. Troy Senft is accused of pilfering $760. He is charged with theft, destroying evidence, tampering with evidence, obstruction, and receiving stolen property. He is out on his own recognizance.  The cash was set to be seized, but Senft seized it for himself.

In Indianapolis, a former Anderson police officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to federal drug possession and distribution charges. Donald Jordan, 52, went down after a confidential informant told police he Jordan had approached him to sell marijuana, then provided him with hydrocodone tablets. That sparked an audit of the department evidence room, where pills and $5,000 in cash turned up missing. He copped to one count of possession with intent to distribute and to distribute Xanax, a Schedule IV controlled substance and one count of distribution and intent to distribute hydrocodone. He's looking at up to 15 years in federal prison. 

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Missouri looks poised to vote on medical marijuana this fall, Florida looks poised to pass it this fall, an Ohio medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

California

As of Monday, there will be medical marijuana issues on the June ballot in several localities. Two northern California counties and two northern California cities will be voting on medical marijuana-related issues in the June 7 election. In Nevada County, Measure W would prohibit all outdoor marijuana grows and limit indoor grows to 12 plants; in Yuba County, Measure A would allow limited outdoor marijuana cultivation and Measure B would authorize one dispensary for every 20,000 residents; in Sacramento, Measure Y would impose a 5% gross receipts tax on cultivation and manufacturing businesses (requires two-thirds majority); and in Davis, Measure C would allow the city to impose a tax of up to 10% on businesses selling marijuana, although it doesn't currently allow them.

Florida

On Tuesday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana and majority support for legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for pot legalization at 56% and support for medical marijuana at 80%. Legalization isn't on the immediate horizon in the Sunshine State, but a medical marijuana initiative will be on the November ballot. A similar initiative was defeated in 2012 with 58% of the vote; it needed 60% to win because it was a constitutional amendment.

Missouri

On Sunday, New Approach Missouri handed in signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. Supporters of the group's medical marijuana initiative handed in some 260,000 raw signatures. They only need 167,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Even if 30% of the signatures are disqualified, campaigners would still have enough to qualify.

Ohio

On Tuesday, the House approved a medical marijuana bill. The House voted 71-26 approve House Bill 523. Patients under a doctor's supervision could use marijuana oils, tinctures, edibles, and vapors, but could not smoke it, nor could they grow their own.  The bill specifies 18 conditions for which medical marijuana could be used and now goes to the Senate.  Meanwhile, activists are working to get a more patient-friendly medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.

 

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

With the sentence commutations announced last week, President Barack Obama has now cut more than 300 harsh drug war prison sentences, more than the previous six presidents combined. Thousands more could be eligible for commutations, but bureaucratic obstacles inside the Justice Department mean the clock is likely to run out before Obama gets a chance to free them.

Thousands could go free with sentence cuts this year--if bottlenecks are fixed. (nacdp.org)

As part of the Obama administration's emphasis on criminal justice reform and reducing the federal prison population, then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole called on nonviolent federal drug war prisoners to seek clemency in April 2014.

“In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine, but  there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," said Holder at the time. "This is simply not right."

Holder noted that Obama had granted commutation to eight people serving time for crack offenses the previous December.

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety.  The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences," Holder said.

The mass clemency program is one of Eric Holder's sentencing reform legacies. (justice.gov)

Under Holder's criteria for clemency, low-level drug offenders who had served at least 10 years, had good conduct in prison, had no significant criminal history or connection to gangs, cartels, or organized crime, and who would probably receive a "substantially lower sentence" if convicted of the same offense today would be eligible for sentence cuts.

Of roughly 100,000 federal drug prisoners—nearly half the entire federal prison population—more than 36,000 applied for clemency. Many of them did not meet the criteria, but the Justice Department has reviewed nearly 9,500 that did. Of those, only the 306 have actually been granted clemency; applications are still pending for 9,115 more.  (An additional 8,000 pending applications are being handled by a consortium of private attorneys, the Clemency Project.)

Many of those might not make it to Obama's desk before the clock runs out on his term because the Justice Department has stumbled in administering the program. Thousands of prisoners doing harsh drug war sentences could lose their chance for early freedom because Justice didn't get around to hiring enough people to handle the flood of applications it generated.

The situation so infuriated Office of Pardons attorney Deborah Leff, who was hired to oversee the project, that she quit earlier this year. Her resignation letter to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates made it clear why.

Despite her "intense efforts" to do her job, Justice had "not fulfilled its commitment to provide the resources necessary ffor my office to make timely and thoughtful recommendations on clemency to the president," she wrote. "The position in which my office has been placed, asking us to address the petitions of nearly 10,000 individuals with so few attorneys and support staff, means that the requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard."

It wasn't just that Justice wasn't adequately staffing the pardons office—it had a total of 10 staff attorneys—but Yates was overturning the pardons attorney's recommendations and blocking the office's traditional access to the White House, Leff complained.

“I have been deeply troubled by the decision to deny the Pardon Attorney all access to the Office of the White House Counsel, even to share the reasons for our determinations in the increasing number of cases where you have reversed our recommendations,” Leff wrote in her resignation letter to Yates.

Pardons attorney Deborah Leff resigned in frustration.

"It is essential that this groundbreaking effort move ahead expeditiously and expand," she wrote, implying that Justice Department process was stalling justice.

The staffing problems had been apparent early on, which is why the Department turned to the Clemency Project to help out last year. But that effort, which involved some 4,000 attorneys from 30 law schools,  70 large law firms, and more than 500 small firms and solo practitioners doing pro bono work, has also been slow to get rolling. 

Now, with the days slipping away and freedom for thousands in the balance, both the Justice Department and the Clemency Project are feeling the heat. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston told the Washington Post last week that many more petitions will be granted in Obama's final months and that the Justice Department has doubled the number of lawyers at the pardon office. And administration officials said that President Obama wants to see more petitions on his desk.

"The President is deeply committed to the clemency initiative. That is evident not only by the historic number of commutations he’s granted to date, but by his wholesale approach to revamping the way the government approaches commutations," White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in a statement.

The Justice Department said it was working hard, too.

"The Justice Department has dedicated the maximum amount of resources allowed by Congress to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, and we have requested additional funds from Congress for each year the initiative has been in place," spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement.

But it may be too little, too late for the thousands of men and women behind bars who could see freedom being waved in front of them only to vanish when the clock runs out.

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In a major study, AAA finds no scientific basis for drugged driving laws that assume impairment based on THC levels, Orlando becomes the latest city to downgrade small-time pot possession, the Ohio House approves a medical marijuana bill--but no smoking--an English university begins handing out pill test kits to students, and more.

Pill testing kits distributed by Britain's Newcastle University and its local SSDP chapter. (SSDP Newcastle)

Marijuana Policy

AAA Study: No Scientific Basis for Laws Regulating Marijuana and Driving. A new study from the American Automobile Association's Safety Foundation has found that per se limits (those that base an assumption of impaired driving on a specified level of THC in one's system) are "arbitrary and unsupported by the evidence."  Six states have  per se marijuana impaired driving laws, while nine states have zero tolerance marijuana DUID laws, and the AAA calls for scrapping them. They should be replaced by police officers trained to detect impairment, with a THC test as a back-up, the automobile club said.

Orlando "Decriminalizes" Pot Possession. The city council voted 4-3 Tuesday to adopt a revised measure that makes possession of 20 grams or less of weed a violation of city code. Police officers will have the discretion to issue civil citations instead of arresting violators. The fine is $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second,  and a third offense will generate a mandatory court appearance.  Small-time pot possession remains a misdemeanor under state law.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House voted 71-26 Tuesday to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 523. Patients under a doctor's supervision could use marijuana oils, tinctures, edibles, and vapors, but could not smoke it, nor could they grow their own.  The bill specifies 18 conditions for which medical marijuana could be used and now goes to the Senate.  Meanwhile, activists are working to get a more patient-friendly medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Governor Signs Needle Access Expansion Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 97, which will allow thousands of Marylanders to access life-saving needle exchange programs.  The bill passed both chambers with overwhelming support. Maryland ranks 2nd nationally in new per capita HIV infections, and needle exchanges are a proven method of reducing and preventing new infections.

International

British University Handing Out Drug Test Kits to Students. In what as described as a first of its kind harm reduction effort, Newcastle University and the local Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter have joined forces to distribute drug test kits so students can check and see if they drugs they are about to consume are safe or not.  “Although drugs are illegal, statistics suggest lots of young people still use illegal drugs, and that the prevalence of this use is even higher within student communities," said SSDP President Holly Robinson.  “We recognize the safest way to take drugs is not to take drugs but, as some individuals will always choose to take them, we believe it is important to make information and services available to minimise the risks."

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They marched for weed in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janiero, New York and Toronto, and many other cities; a Massachusetts poll shows a dead heat for legalization there, Missouri looks set to vote on medical marijuana this year, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Poll Shows Voters Evenly Split on Legalization Initiative. A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll has a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana trailing narrowly, but within the poll's margin of error. The poll had support at 43%, with 46% opposed. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points. This is a sobering poll result for legalization fans; initiative experts like to see support in the 60% or above range before a campaign begins.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Local Issues on California June Ballot. Two northern California counties and two northern California cities will be voting on medical marijuana-related issues in the June 7 election. In Nevada County, Measure W would prohibit all outdoor marijuana grows and limit indoor grows to 12 plants; in Yuba County, Measure A would allow limited outdoor marijuana cultivation and Measure B would authorize one dispensary for every 20,000 residents; in Sacramento, Measure Y would impose a 5% gross receipts tax on cultivation and manufacturing businesses (requires two-thirds majority); and in Davis, Measure C would allow the city to impose a tax of up to 10% on businesses selling marijuana, although it doesn't currently allow them.

New Approach Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of the group's medical marijuana initiative handed in some 260,000 raw signatures Sunday. They only need 167,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Even if 30% of the signatures are disqualified, campaigners would still have enough to qualify.

Drug Testing

Alaska Republicans Endorse Drug Testing Welfare Recipients. At its annual convention at the end of April, the state Republican Party endorsed mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients. The notion was voted in as a plank in the state party platform.

International

Global Marijuana Marches All Over the Place. This past weekend was the date for the annual world-wide Global Marijuana March, and march they did in an estimated 829 cities in 72 countries. Thousands came out in Buenos Aires, thousands more in Rio de Janeiro, thousands more in Cologne, Germany, and an estimated 20,000 in Toronto, among others. The US also saw marijuana marches in Texas and New York City, among other places.

Colombia Authorizes Use of Glyphosate for Manual Coca Fumigation. Less than a year after the country banned the aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate to kill coca plants, Colombia's National Narcotics Council has authorized the use of the plant-killer in manual eradication. The move comes as coca cultivation is reportedly on the rise in some parts of the country.

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It's harvest time in Afghanistan and the poppy crop is bountiful, the State Department says UN drug treaties don't require a NIDA monopoly on research marijuana, CBD bills get signed by the governor in Alabama and go to the governor in Oklahoma, South Dakota's internal possession law is obstructing sentencing reforms, and more.

It's a bumper crop of opium poppies for Aghanistan this year. (unodc.org)

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Foes Attack Marijuana Potency. The anti-legalization Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, led by Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (D), and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), is set to make an issue of marijuana potency as it attempts to blunt support for the state's legalization initiative. It's a 21st Century version of former drug czar William Bennett's "not your father's marijuana."

Oregon To Allow Recreational Edibles Sales Beginning in June. The Oregon Health Authority issued draft temporary rules Wednesday that will allow the sale of marijuana edibles to recreational users at medical marijuana dispensaries beginning in June. Recreational pot shops aren't open yet, but adults who want to purchase marijuana have been able to do so at dispensaries. Now, they will be able to buy edibles there, too.

Medical Marijuana

State Department Says NIDA Monopoly on Research Marijuana Unnecessary. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department has gone on record stating that the United States could issue multiple licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes without violating the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. The statement came in response to a direct request from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) regarding whether issuing multiple licenses to grow medical marijuana was a violation of the Single Convention. The State Department's interpretation is at odds with that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has always maintained that the treaty only allows a single license, which is granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This has created what is referred to as the "NIDA monopoly on cannabis," which has stalled medical cannabis research for years.

Alabama Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) Wednesday signed into law "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, which will allow the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat people suffering from debilitating seizures. The bill is named for Leni Young, a child whose family had to move to Oregon because her CBD treatment was illegal in Alabama. The family reports a dramatic reduction in seizures since using cannabis oil.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Wednesday voted 69-14 to approve a bill expanding the medicinal use of CBD cannabis oils. Last year, the state approved CBD cannabis oil, but only for people under 18. This bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, removes that age restriction.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Connecticut Bill Would Increase Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The legislature is considering House Bill 5524, which changes the definition of narcotic substances to include fentanyl and its derivatives. This would expose fentanyl sellers to up to 15 years in prison, as opposed to the up to seven years in prison they currently face.

Drug Policy

South Dakota's Internal Possession Laws An Obstacle to Sentencing Reform, Report Finds. Criminal justice reforms have slowed the growth of the state's prison population, but South Dakota is still locking up too many drug offenders because of a state law that makes ingestion of a controlled substance a felony. That's the bottom line of a new report issued Thursday by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Signs Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Order. Gov. Scott Walker (R) Wednesday signed an emergency order mandating drug testing for people seeking unemployment benefits. Those who refuse the drug test will have their benefits denied; those who fail it must undergo drug treatment and a job skills assessment in order to retain benefits. The rule will take effect when published later this week.

International

High Yields for Afghanistan's Poppy Crop This Year; Taliban Happy. Farmers and officials in Helmand Province, the heartland of Afghan opium production, are reporting high yields thanks to abundant rainfall and the cancellation of government eradication campaigns. Taliban members were taking part in return for wages and taxes, in cash or in kind, as well as recruiting new members from among the seasonal laborers who scrape the resin from the poppy pods. "We are happy that we had a good harvest this year compared with previous years," said Abdul Rahim Mutmain, a farmer in Musa Qala district. "There is no security concern for a single laborer being checked or robbed by the police," Mr. Mutmain said. "The entire district is under Taliban control and the bulk of the harvesters are Taliban." He added, "Actually, this is the Taliban regime -- you can take your narcotics anywhere or anytime you want to sell them."

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Tyler Kinney was a detective corporal in Colchester, VT, not Connecticut.  He was the officer in charge of the department's evidence locker.

You can find Kinney's charges here: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2015/05/18/kinney-plead-guilty-drug-gun-theft-charges/27536061/

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