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Chronicle AM: House Leaders Offer Sentencing Reforms, FL & OH Pot Polls, MI MedMJ Bills Move, More (10/8/15)

The House leadership rolls out a sentencing reform package, new polls show marijuana legalization majorities in Florida and Ohio, the Duke City still can't have decriminalization, and more.

Dispensaries could be coming soon in Michigan. Legislation is moving. (
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization, Overwhelming One For Medical Marijuana. A New Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 51% and support for medical marijuana at 87%. The state has a CBD medical marijuana law, legislators are proposing expanding it, and there is a medical marijuana initiative campaign underway, too. Click on the link for more poll details and methodology.

Massachusetts Legalization Campaign Halfway There on Signature Gathering. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts says it has already collected some 47,000 signatures, half of its goal of 100,000. The initiative needs just under 65,000 valid voter signatures by November 18. No word yet on how the rival Bay State Repeal, which has its own legalization initiative, is doing.

As Initiative Vote Looms, Ohio Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has generic support for legalization at 53%, just about where it was a year ago. The poll comes as voters there will decide next month on the fate of a controversial legalization initiative from ResponsibleOhio -- Issue 3 on the November ballot. The poll did not specifically ask voters about support for that measure. Click on the title link for more poll results and methodology.

Albuquerque Mayor's Decriminalization Veto Upheld (Again). For the second time in as many years, the Albuquerque city council has passed a decriminalization ordinance, the mayor has vetoed it, and the council has been unable to uphold the veto. An attempt to override Mayor Richard Berry's (R) latest veto failed Wednesday night on a 5-4 vote along party lines.

Medical Marijuana

As Clock Ticks, Calls on California Governor to Sign Medical Marijuana Bills. Law enforcement and the cannabis industry, as well as cities and counties and state lawmakers, are all calling on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign a package of comprehensive, statewide medical marijuana regulation bills without delay. The bills are Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 653, and Assembly Bill 243. Brown has until Sunday to act. If he doesn't the bills will become law without his signature.

Florida Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) has filed House Bill 307, which would allow patients to use medical marijuana under the state's "investigational drug" law. Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) said he would file a companion measure in the Senate.

Michigan House Approves Dispensaries, Edibles Bills. The House Wednesday voted 95-11 to approve House Bill 4209, which would create a state board to regulate dispensaries, as well as approving bills to allow for the use of edibles and to set up a tax structure. The measures now head to the state Senate.

Harm Reduction

Expert Panel Calls for Injection Drug Users to Have Access to Hep C Treatment. An international expert panel convened by the International Network for Hepatitis in Substance Users is recommending that injection drug users be offered drugs to cure the disease, as well offered comprehensive social support and harm reduction services. The recommendations were published this month in the International Journal of Drug Policy.


House Leaders Announce Sentencing Reform Deal. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) Wednesday announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill -- The Sentencing Reform Act -- takes a similar approach to the Senate's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions. "This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform," said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President's desk."

Chronicle AM: MI Forfeiture Reforms Head to Governor, OH Sues Over Toledo Decrim, More (10/7/15)

Toledo's decriminalization is challenged, Florida officials face heat for delays in implementing the state's CBD medical marijuana law, an Illinois panel approves medical marijuana for pain conditions (but will the governor go for it?), and more.

Ohio's attorney general worries that decriminalization could make Toledo a cartel hot-spot.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Sues Toledo Over Municipal Decriminalization Ordinance. State Attorney General Mike DeWine, joined by the Lucas County prosecutor and sheriff, have sued the city of Toledo in a bid to overturn its decriminalization ordinance. Toledo voters approved the ordinance last month, becoming the first in the state to enact municipal decriminalization. The lawsuit objects to provisions in the ordinance barring police from reporting marijuana crimes to other agencies, making pot trafficking a "negligible" offense, and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of other drugs. Toledo could become a cartel capital because of the ordinance, DeWine warned: "Absent legal action, it's not hard to imagine international drug rings making Toledo their regional base for operations," he said.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Grumble Over Slow Pace of CBD Medical Marijuana Implementation. At a hearing in Tallahassee Tuesday, lawmakers grilled Health Department representatives over delays in the program. "I mean, it's been almost two years since this bill was passed," said Rep. Greg Stube (R-Sarasota). "And we still don't have any restitution for these children that are trying to get this drug that the legislature recognizes is something needed for the state of Florida," he complained. The department said it was "mindful" of the need to make progress, but still couldn't say when five initial cultivation licenses would actually be issued.

Illinois Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Chronic and Other Pain. The state's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted Wednesday to approve chronic pain, intractable pain, and chronic post-operative pain. The additions must also be approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who earlier rejected 11 other suggestions for expanding the list of qualifying conditions. The board is also pondering whether to add autism, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and PTSD.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. The state Senate Wednesday gave final approval to a seven-bill package that will increase civil asset forfeiture reporting requirements and increase the burden of proof for seizures from "a preponderance" of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence the seized items were connected to a crime. The package has already passed the House. Some groups, including the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan ACLU, want to see even deeper reforms, including eliminating civil asset forfeiture entirely and requiring a conviction before property can be seized in a criminal proceeding. But this is a start.


Massachusetts Bill Would Block Sending Women to Prison for Drug Treatment. An amendment to a supplemental spending bill would prohibit women from being civilly committed to the Framingham state prison for drug treatment. The bill and its amendments are to be debated tomorrow. It's a move that was recommended by Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) task force on opioid abuse. Baker is looking for $5.8 million in the supplemental budget to pay for women in the prison for drug treatment to be moved to a hospital, most likely Taunton State Hospital.

Chronicle AM: Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners to Be Freed, Ohio Early Voting, More (10/6/15)

Major sentencing news today; early voting starts today in Ohio (marijuana legalization is on the ballot), a North Carolina hemp bill has gone to the governor, Colombia will still spray a nasty herbicide on coca crops, and more.

Federal prisons will be a little less crowded a month from now. (
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Law Criminalizing Hash Oil Explosions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday vetoed Assembly Bill 849, which would have made it a crime to cause an explosion causing bodily harm. The bill was inspired by a series of butane hash oil lab explosions, but in his veto message, Brown said the conduct is already proscribed and another law on the matter "creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit."

Early Voting Starts Today on Ohio Legalization Initiative. Ohioans can vote for or against Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio initiative beginning today. Early voters can mail in absentee ballots or visit early-voting locations across the state.

Oregon's Multnomah County (Portland) Issues Report on Legalization. The Multnomah County Health Department has issued a report saying there are drawbacks and benefits from marijuana legalization, but that more research is needed. The report recommends implementing policies to address impaired driving, teen use, and dependence; there should be warnings for pregnant and nursing women, and there should be limits on the potency of pot, as well as on contamination from pesticides and other substances.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Issues Emergency Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Health Department has just released emergency rules as the state moves to merge medical marijuana into the recreational pot regulatory system. The rules set standards for packaging "High THC compliant products," testing requirements, safe handling, employee training, and labeling. Click on the rules link for all the details.


North Carolina Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A measure legalizing industrial hemp production has been approved by the state legislature and now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The measure is Senate Bill 313. McCrory must veto it to block it; if he fails to act, it is approved.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

An Overdose an Hour in Chicago Last Week. In the middle of last week, Chicagoans were overdosing on heroin, prescription opiates, or drug combinations at a rate of more than one an hour. Authorities reported responding to 74 overdose calls in 72 hours between last Tuesday and last Friday. ER doctors are suggesting that heroin cut with the powerful opioid fentanyl is behind the outbreak.


Feds to Free 6,000 Drug Prisoners at Month's End, More to Follow. The Justice Department has announced that some 6,000 federal drug war prisoners will get early release from prison between October 30 and November 2. Most will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being freed on supervised release. This is the result of actions by the US Sentencing Commission, which cut sentences for some drug offenders last year and later made the chance retroactive, affecting currently serving inmates. An estimated 46,000 of nearly 100,000 federal drug prisoners should eventually qualify for the program.


Colombia Will Continue to Use Glyphosate, Just Won't Aerially Spray It Anymore. Colombian police will continue to use the herbicide glyphosate to eradicate coca plants, even though it won't apply it with aerial sprays, the chief of police said. The National Narcotics Council outlawed aerial spraying earlier this year, after glyphosate was found to contain massive amounts of carcinogens, but eradicators will now spray by hand, Police Chief Rodolfo Palomino said. "We will continue with other forms of manual eradication and land fumigation with glyphosate," said Palomino.

September's Drug War Death Toll Includes Black Teen Armed Only With "Finger Gun"

Four more people died in the drug war last month, including two men shot and killed by police, one armed only with a stapler and the other armed only with a finger. A police officer and another man also died in the drug war, not from gunfire, but from misadventure.

According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying narrowly-defined drug war deaths for the past five years, the September deaths bring this year's toll to 46. The Chronicle only counts deaths directly linked to drug law enforcement activities -- not, for example, drug gang shootouts or overdose deaths.

Keith Harrison McLeod, a black, 19-year-old Baltimore County resident died September 23 after being shot by a police officer who said he made a "finger gun" gesture at him.

According to Baltimore County Police, the killing happened after a pharmacist in suburban Reistertown called police to report that McLeod had tried to use a fake prescription to purchase an opiated cough syrup (promethazine and codeine), popularly known as "purple drank" among its recreational users.

When the cops showed up, McLeod took off running, but then stopped and got into a "confrontation" with a pursuing officer. Police said, and have video surveillance footage to back them up, that McLeod then moved his hand from behind him and pointed his finger at them like a gun: "[The man reached] around to the small of his back and abruptly whipped his hand around and pointed it toward the officer, as if with a weapon."

The white police officer, identified only as Officer Earomirski, then shoots McLeod, who fell to the ground, but continued "reaching into his waistband as if for a weapon," and Officer Earomirski then shoots him twice more. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Northwest Hospital. No actual weapon was recovered.

Keith McLeod, who was unarmed, is dead, Officer Earomirski is on administrative leave, and "police authorities are investigating."

Dominic Fuller, 34, a Haines City, Florida, man was killed by Polk County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) SWAT officers as he pointed a stapler at them two days earlier. It was the end of a wild manhunt.

According to the PSCO, deputies had been called on a report of drug dealing and a suspicious vehicle in Auburndale and encountered Fuller, who was wanted in a neighborhood shooting a week earlier. Fuller took off on foot, and deputies on the scene discovered his car was stolen and contained a handgun.

As police searched for him, Fuller desperately sought transport away from the area, entering a parked camper with a woman inside and demanding she give him a ride, then entering the house where the camper was parked and demanding a ride or a bicycle from that woman. He left when neither would comply. Numerous witnesses said they saw Fuller running through the area, trying car and residential door handles, with one witness saying they heard him yelling "I have a gun!"

He got into one home, only to be spotted by Deputy Carlos Valle, who saw him standing in the doorway, "showing only his left hand and concealing his right hand behind his back. "Fuller refused commands to surrender, went back into the house, and slammed the door, then tried to escape out a side window, but retreated back into the house when another deputy shined his rifle-mounted flashlight on him.

He then opened the front door, ignoring commands to show his hands and to surrender. When Fuller saw another deputy, Gabriel Reveron, hidden near the doorway, he turned toward the deputy and raised his right hand, displaying a black and chrome object. Reveron, "in fear for his life," fired five shots at Fuller, who staggered back inside slammed the door.

The PCSO SWAT team then spent two hours trying to establish contact with Fuller before entering the residence and finding him dead of gunshot wound to the chest. No gun was recovered, but a black and chrome stapler was found near his body.

Fuller, who was out on bond on meth and paraphernalia charges, had a lengthy criminal record including assault, weapons, and various drug charges.

Deputy Reveron is on administrative leave.

Sgt. Eric Meier of the Crawford Police in upstate New York died September 17, not from a criminal's bullet, but from an apparent heart attack as he traipsed through fields and woods while investigating a report of a marijuana grow. Meier, 51, "suffered a medical emergency" in mid-afternoon and died later that afternoon at the Orange Regional Medical Center.

Zachary McDaniels of Richland County, South Carolina, died on September 6, choking to death on a bag of marijuana during a traffic stop. According to the Richland County Sheriff's Office, McDaniels was one of two men who stole a car at local shopping mall and fled on foot when deputies pulled them over. McDaniels was caught, and police said after he was caught, he started having trouble breathing. EMS workers were called to the scene and found a baggie in his airway, but were unable to remove it. He went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain injury and died after his family took him off life support. The autopsy showed he had swallowed four other baggies of weed before the fifth one got stuck.

Chronicle AM: Lynch Reaffirms Obama MJ Stance, Celebs Come Out for Sentencing Reform, More (10/5/15)

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is following the same path on marijuana states as her predecessor, the big California legalization initiative rolls out, Uruguay grants licenses to grow commercial marijuana, there will be no cannabis sales in Berlin (at least for now), and more.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Lynch Reaffirms Obama Administration's Approach to Marijuana States. The new attorney general has made clear she is not going off the reservation when it comes to marijuana policy. Former Attorney General Holder crafted the administration's largely hands-off approach, and Lynch has now said she will follow that path. "I think states have to make these decisions on their own," she said in an interview with NBC. "They listen to their citizens and they take actions. What we have said, and what we continue to say is that states have to also have a system designed to, number one, mitigate violence associated with their marijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep young people, children away from the products."

ReformCA Rolls Out Its California Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Oregon Dispensaries Rake in the Bucks from Recreational Sales. Dispensaries, which were allowed to start selling marijuana to any adults October 1, are reporting "gangbuster" business during their opening weekend. One Southeast Portland dispensary reported 600 customers a day, compared to the 30 a day it had been seeing for medical marijuana. A Bend dispensary reported $55,000 in sales on opening day, and a Northeast Portland dispensary was staying open 24-hours-a-day to meet demand.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois' First Medical Marijuana Crop is Coming In. Shine on, harvest moon. The state's medical marijuana cultivation centers spent the weekend harvesting their first legal crop, and some are already preparing their first shipments to patients. The state has had a medical marijuana law in effect since January 2014, but only now is the medicine about to get to patients.

Ohio Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Summary. For the second time, Attorney General Mike DeWine has rejected the summary language for a proposed medical marijuana initiative from Ohio Medical Cannabis Care LLC. DeWine pointed to six defects in the language. The group can resubmit its language once it has addressed them. Click on the link for details on the defects.

Three of Kettle Falls Five Sentenced to Federal Prison. The Kettle Falls Five were a family group of medical marijuana patients pursued by federal prosecutors even though both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Washington. Last Friday, two were sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, while a third was sentenced to 33 month. Family patriarch Larry Harvey was also prosecuted, but has died, and a fifth member has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 16 months. The three sentenced last Friday are still free while their convictions are being appealed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Aimed at Opiate Abuse. The measure, Senate Bill 2020, is focused on prevention and intervention to curb opiate use. It has provisions regarding pain management, expanded manufacturer drug take-back programs, and insurance changes to make it easier to get coverage for drug treatment. The bill now goes to the House.


A-List Celebs Get Behind Sentencing Reforms, Prison Population Reductions. Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, and Piper Kerman are among 90+ celebrities calling for reform to our criminal justice system. The stars are joining the campaign led by #cut50, a bipartisan effort to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. The celebrity push comes on the heels of a historic deal on criminal justice reform last week. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release. Click on the link for more.


No Cannabis Cafes for Berlin. Plans for Germany's first legal marijuana sales businesses have gone up in smoke after federal regulators rejected plans by Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichschain district to allow them. The Federal Institute on Pharmaceuticals put the kibosh on the plan, but this isn't the end of it. Similar moves are afoot in Hamburg, Bremen, Munster, and Dusseldorf, and Kruezberg-Friedrichschain says it isn't giving up, either.

Uruguay Awards Commercial Marijuana Cultivation Permits. Marijuana should be available for sale at pharmacies in about eight months after Uruguay has now selected two companies to grow it for the country's legal market. It will go for about $1.20 per joint.

Sweeping Bipartisan Federal Sentencing Reform Legislation Filed [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive sentencing reform legislation Thursday. The bill aims at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering reentry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents "small government" conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates -- a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves "cooperation incentives" to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.

In addition to reducing prison terms for some offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant's criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a bill cosponsor (wikimedia/Bbsrock)
"This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade," Grassley said. "This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused."

"The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth," said Durbin. "Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

"Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik's cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference," said Schumer. "This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for nonviolent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I'm hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs."

"For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential," said Booker. "Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong."

Although the bill doesn't move completely away from the resort to mandatory minimums, it is still garnering general support among the civil rights, drug reform, and criminal justice reform communities.

The bill aims to reduce federal prison populations. (
"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences -- especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."

"In an age of intense partisan conflict, it's heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was also on board.

"Today marks a unique moment in our history and an important step forward in making long overdue reforms to our justice system," said Wade Henderson, the group's CEO. "This bill represents the most robust bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform in years. "This harmonic convergence of left and right -- of civil rights and small government advocates -- represents a coalition of conscience that can carry this legislation to the White House. We applaud the effort and look forward to working with the cosponsors on this legislation."

Now, the bill has to actually get through Congress. Given the high-powered and bipartisan support in the Senate, prospects look good there, but whether the House will be willing to sign on remains to be seen.

Here Comes the Big One: The ReformCA Marijuana Legalization Initiative [FEATURE]

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.

The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs.

"We believe this effort has the most statewide input and consensus, and thus the greatest likelihood of succeeding on the 2016 ballot," ReformCA said. "We engaged in extensive discussions with thousands of stakeholders across California, including community leaders, activists, elected officials, city and county employees and locals."

ReformCA also consulted with the California NAACP, the Latino Voters' Leagues, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and medical, health care and environmental groups. It took part in lengthy discussions with the Drafting Advisory Group, which includes state and national activist and industry groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, the Emerald Growers Association, New Approach, the Harborside Group, and the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation.

"We've filed our proposed initiative language based on the policy priorities and common sense reforms Californians have been asking for for six years now" and the Manatt, Phelp and Phillips Law Firm has created "an elegant policy document," ReformCA said, adding that it was crafted to comport with the guidelines laid down by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy and to complement the statewide medical marijuana regulation scheme approved last month by the legislature.

A handful of other legalization initiatives have already been filed, and some are approved for signature gathering, but there isn't much sign that any of them have the bucks or the organization to get the job done. It takes some 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 elections, a number that means paid signature gathering at a cost that could run a million dollars or more.

And that's just to get on the ballot. With 38 million residents and some of the country's largest media markets, California is an expensive place to run an initiative advertising campaign -- as in $10 million or $20 million or more.

Let the campaign begin! (
There is money out there, and unlike 2010, when Richard Lee's Proposition 19 came up short, both financially and at the polls, the state's already existing legal (medical) marijuana industry looks to be gearing up to help. Earlier this year, contributed $2 million toward the cause, with half going to an initiative campaign committee that will spend it on the initiative it likes best. The other half is going to a PAC that will work to elect pro-legalization candidates. Facebook cofounder Sean Parker, who did support Prop 19, says he will probably invest in a legalization initiative, too.

But if, as expected, both the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project get behind the ReformCA initiative -- they were a teensy bit nervous last week -- that should help open the floodgates and pave the way to getting those signatures and making the ballot.

This is a first draft of the initiative, and the campaign is seeking feedback before filing a final version, but only until midnight Pacific Time this Wednesday. Here's what it will do:

  • Personal Use and Cultivation. Legalizes possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over and allows for personal cultivation of up to 100 square feet and the possession of "the results of lawfully harvested homegrown cannabis."
  • Unlawful Acts. A $100 fine for minors possessing or sharing not more than an ounce with other minors; a $500 fine for adults providing less than an ounce to minors, for minors who possess more than an ounce but less than a pound, for adults who possess more than an ounce, for public consumption, and for smoking up in a moving vehicle; either a misdemeanor or infraction (prosecutor's choice) for possessing more than a pound, selling more than an ounce but less than a pound, growing marijuana beyond 100 square feet without a license or as a minor; a felony for providing pot to minors under 18, distribution to other states, growing on federal or state protected lands, or engaging in violence.
  • Driving. No measuring metabolites. Instead: "A person shall be deemed to be under the influence of cannabis if, as a result of consuming cannabis, his or her mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle or operate a vessel with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances. This standard shall be the sole standard used in determining driving under the influence allegations."
  • Employment. Does not affect employers' ability to fire employees for marijuana use.
  • Medical Marijuana. With limited exceptions, "does not infringe upon the protections granted under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996," grants business licenses to existing, compliant medical marijuana businesses.
  • Regulated Marijuana Commerce. Establishes the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs to regulate and rule-make; envisions licenses for cultivation, nursery, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, retail, and testing enterprises.
  • Local Control. Cities and counties can ban marijuana commerce, including retail outlets, but not delivery services, but only by popular vote -- not by executive or legislative action. This means the default position is "no ban."Localities cannot ban personal cultivation.
  • Taxation. Tax on cultivators of $2 per square foot licensed; production tax paid by first purchaser of $15 an ounce ($5 an ounce for first 500 pounds from small producers); 10% retail sales tax -- half to the state and half to the locality.

Remember this is just the draft, but ReformCA is finally out of the gate. California should join the ranks of the legalization states next year, and the Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 is the most likely vehicle.

Oakland, CA 95472
United States

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.


Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A criminal gang of Puerto Rican cops gets indicted, prison guards run wild all over the country, and more cops get in trouble for stealing dope and cash. Let's get to it:

In Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly smuggling cell phones and marijuana into the prison. Damond Lamar Johnson is charged with possession of a controlled substance and contraband, conspiracy, and criminal use of a telecommunications device. He went down after he was found with marijuana during a pre-shift search and later confessed to other instances of smuggling pot and cell phones into the joint.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Jackson police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was aiding some local drug dealers by pulling over their rivals and seizing their cash during illegal stops. Officer Bryan Jones went down after a tip from the community. He's been charged with extortion. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Atlanta, a former Georgia prison guard was indicted last Thursday on charges related to the use of cell phones to facilitate drug trafficking and other crimes behind bars. Anekra Artina Williams, 20, a guard at Valdosta State Prison, was charged with extortion and distributing methamphetamine and extortion. She is one of a dozen people rounded up in the federal bust, including current and former inmates and a prison cafeteria worker.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, 10 police officers were indicted last Friday for allegedly participating in a criminal organization run out of the police department. They are accused of using their positions to make money through selling drugs, robbery, extortion, and manipulating court records. The officers are Shylene López-García aka "Plinia"; Ángel Hernández-Nieves, aka "Doble"; Xavier Jiménez-Martínez, aka "Negro"; Alvin Montes-Cintrón, aka "Vinillo"; Ramón Muñiz-Robledo, aka "Marmota"; Guillermo Santos-Castro, aka "Caco Biftec"; Luis Flores-Ortiz, aka "Piquito"; José Neris-Serrano; Manuel Grego-López; and David Centeno-Faría, aka "David Bisbal." They are charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, as well as extortion, drug trafficking, civil rights violations, and making false statements.

In State College, Pennsylvania, a former State College police officer was sentenced last Friday to 23 months in jail for stealing drugs from the evidence room. Thomas Dann, 56, stole cocaine and prescription medications while serving as the evidence room custodian, and originally faced dozens of counts. He pleaded guilty to four counts of felony acquisition of a controlled substance by fraud for stealing three pounds of cocaine, as well as dozens of prescription opioids.

In Baltimore, a former jail guard was sentenced last Friday to six years in prison for his role in a Baltimore jail racketeering conspiracy. Travis Paylor, 27, is one of 40 people convicted in the wide-ranging prison corruption case involving the Black Guerrilla Family and got the longest sentence because he continued to engage in illegal activity even after he was charged. He was convicted of smuggling contraband, including drugs, into the prison.

In Los Angeles, a former LAPD officer pleaded no contest Tuesday to offering to sell drugs to an undercover officer last year. Randolph Agard pleaded guilty to two counts of possession for drugs for sale, and was sentenced to 480 hours of community service and three years' probation. Agard had responded to an online ad seeking drugs placed by police. When he arrived at a meeting place, he was arrested by LAPD narcs, who found 20 hydrocodone tablets in his pocket and 35 more in his car.

Drug War Issues

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