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Chronicle AM: Canada Election Should Bring MJ Legalization, Ohio Init in Dead Heat, More (10/20/15)

Canada's Liberals have vowed to legalize marijuana, and now they've just won the election; the Ohio pot legalization initiative looks like it will be a squeaker, a federal judge rules in favor of marijuana businesses in legal states, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Ohio Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A University of Akron Buckeye poll released today has the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative at 46%, with 46% opposed and 8% undecided. But the poll also had 53% of respondents saying the initiative is a "bad idea" because it would grant an oligopoly on commercial marijuana growing (to the investors who funded the initiative). On Issue 2, an initiative aimed at invalidating initiatives that grant private inurement including by monopoly or oligopoly, 40% said they were in favor, 27% were opposed, and 32% were undecided. The election is two weeks from today. A Kent State University poll last week had the legalization initiative at 56%. Click on the link for more demographic and methodological information on today's poll.

Medical Marijuana

Brookings Institution Report Says Federal Government Stifles Medical Marijuana Research. Researchers at the think tank called on the federal government to eliminate obstacles to medical marijuana research in a strongly-worded report today. "The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety," the report, authored by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, says. "Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area." For a start, marijuana should be moved to Schedule II, they said.

California Federal Judge Rules Feds Can't Shut Down Legal Marijuana Businesses. US District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled Monday that the Justice Department is barred from prosecuting marijuana operations that are in compliance with state laws. Breyer cited recent votes in Congress to prohibit such actions. The move came in the case of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which had been ordered closed by a permanent injunction in 2012. Attorneys for the alliance successfully argued that the congressional moves invalidated the injunction, and Breyer agreed. "The plain reading of [Congress's amendment] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extend that MAMM operates in compliance with California law," Breyer wrote. "To the Court's recollection," Breyer added, "the Government has yet to allege or even suggest that MAMM was at any time operating in violation of state law."

Asset Forfeiture

Former Dallas DA Accused of Misusing Asset Forfeiture Funds. Former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins is accused of spending asset forfeiture money for personal use, according to an audit expected to be released today. The audit shows that Watkins spent the money on everything from cell phone bills to travel expenses to the sponsorship of a football league. Seized funds paid for more than $50,000 worth of cell phone bills, and Watkins spent another $71,000 on public service announcements, other promotional activities, legal fees, and travel.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Senator Expresses Support for Drug-Testing Public Housing Residents. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) told the West Virginia Council of Churches Monday that he supported drug testing public housing residents. He said he got the idea from schoolchildren with addicted parents. Drug testing public housing residents is "something that we have to consider," he said. Courts have previously struck down similar testing programs, viewing them as illegal, warrantless searches.


Canada's Liberals Sweep to Victory -- With Marijuana Legalization in Platform. Led by Justin Trudeau, Canada's Liberal Party swept to a strong victory in Monday's elections. The Liberals won 184 seats. They only needed 170 seats to form a majority in the 338-seat lower chamber. The Liberal platform included, among other things, marijuana legalization: "We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," the platform states. Marijuana prohibition doesn't prevent youth use, causes socially disruptive and expensive arrests, and supports organized crime, the statement adds. "We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."

Chronicle AM: UN Decriminalization Drama, Global Undertreatment of Pain Report, More (10/19/15)

A thousand march for marijuana in Dallas, a few dozen in Montgomery; a UNODC document calling for drug decriminalization gets leaked, then yanked; the Global Commission on Drug Policy issues a report on pain, and more.

A Halloween/Reefer Madness-themed billboard rolled out today by Arizona legalization activists.
Marijuana Policy

Dallas March for Marijuana Brings Nearly a Thousand to the Streets. Around a thousand people joined a march calling for marijuana law reform in Texas Saturday. The march was organized by Dallas-Fort Worth NORML. Click on the link for more.

Dozens Turn Out for Alabama Rally for Marijuana Law Reforms. Several dozen people took to the foot of the state capitol last Friday to call for marijuana decriminalization and access to medical marijuana. Efforts to pass a medical marijuana bill have stalled in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Seneca Nation Moving Toward Medical Marijuana. The Seneca Nation of Indians is preparing to vote early next month on whether to authorize the National Council to start drafting laws and regulations to govern medical marijuana. The vote would be only a first step toward the tribe getting in the medical marijuana business. The Justice Department opened the door for tribes to get involved in pot operations with a memo last fall.

Kansas Silver Haired Legislature to Renew Push for Medical Marijuana. The Silver Haired Legislature, which advocates for senior citizens, is again calling on the legislature to pass medical marijuana. At a meeting earlier this month in Topeka, the group adopted three proposed bills it will push to see passed in the next term. Click on the link for more details.


UN Bid to Urge Drug Decriminalization Foiled. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has withdrawn a document calling on governments to consider "decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal consumption" after at least one country objected. The document was leaked by Sir Richard Branson over the weekend, and when a journalist violated the UNODC's embargo on release of the document, UNODC walked back the report.

Global Commission on Drug Policy Releases Report on Undertreatment of Pain. The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) today released its third thematic report, The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain: The Negative Impact of Drug Control on Public Health. The report was launched by Commissioners, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Michel Kazatchkine and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover. The report finds that three-quarters of the world's population has no access to pain-relieving drugs and that "the reasons for this have little to do with issues of cost or scarcity of supplies- and everything to do with the prohibition and repressive stand the world has taken on drugs. States are obsessed by the fear that people will use controlled medicines, such as morphine as drugs, thereby neglecting the important medical uses." Click on the title link to read the report.

WOLA Discussion on Impact of Drug Policy on Human Rights in the Americas Wednesday. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is hosting the discussion in Washington, DC, at lunch time Wednesday. Click on the link for speakers, more information, and to RSVP.

State Department Cuts Some Mexico Drug War Funding Over Human Rights Concerns. The State Department has concluded that Mexico failed to reach some human rights goals in its drug war, triggering the cutoff of millions of dollars of drug war assistance. The move only affects a small portion of overall US drug war aid to Mexico, but does signal growing frustration with alleged abuses by Mexican security forces. Some 15% of aid provided to Mexican security forces is subject to human rights provisions, meaning that Mexico lost $5 million of a total of $148 million in US drug war funding this year. That $5 million was instead diverted to Peru to help finance coca eradication.

Mexico Supreme Court to Take Up Marijuana Legalization Next Week. The high court is set to discuss a legal challenge that could effectively legalize the use and production of marijuana. The challenge comes from a non-profit that filed an injunction against the Mexican health regulatory body COFEPRIS over a 2013 ruling by that body. The hearing is set for October 28.

Norway's Two Largest Cities to Move Toward Giving Free Heroin to Addicts. The cities of Oslo and Bergen are set to begin heroin-assisted treatment pilot programs after the Labor Party won local elections there, but they will have to win approval from the national parliament first. Parliament rejected a 2012 effort to start the programs. Norway has the world's second highest drug overdose rate, after Estonia.

Chronicle AM: OH MJ Init Polls 56%, Meth Prohibition Madness, More (10/13/15)

Marijuana Policy

A new poll suggests these guys could actually pull it off.
Ohio Poll Has ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative at 56%. A new Kent State University poll that asked respondents directly about whether they would support the ResponsibleOhio Issue 3 initiative found that 56% would vote for it. But to complicate matters, the poll also found that 54% intended to vote for Issue 2, which would make it more difficult to write monopolies into the state constitution and is aimed directly at thwarting the ResponsibleOhio initiative. If both pass, look for a lengthy court fight to ensue. More poll details and methodology at the link.

Texas Poll Has Support for Legalization at 46%. A new Lyceum survey shows a narrow gap between fans and foes of marijuana legalization. Some 50% were opposed, with 46% in favor. But of the half that were opposed, 57% of them would support decriminalization. Between the two numbers, that's about three-quarters of Texans saying they are ready to liberalize the marijuana laws.


How the Meth Problem Demonstrates Drug Prohibition's Failure. Radley Balko has a long and incisive piece in the Washington Post dissecting how drug prohibition is about the worst way to deal with methamphetamines. It's well worth the read, but here's the bottom line: "Here's one idea that makes too much sense for anyone to seriously consider: Legalize amphetamines for adults. Divert some of the money currently spent on enforcement toward the treatment of addicts. Save the rest. Watch the black markets dry up, and with them the itinerant crime, toxicity and smuggling. Cold and allergy sufferers get relief. Cops can concentrate on other crimes. Pharmacists can go back to being health-care workers, instead of deputized drug cops. Everybody wins, save of course for those who can't bear the prospect of letting adults make their own choices about what they put into their bodies."


British MPs Debate Marijuana Legalization. MP Paul Flynn called marijuana prohibition "a disaster more serious than the prohibition of alcohol in the United States," during Monday's debate on marijuana policy. The debate was the result of a petition signed by more than 220,000 people asking Parliament to take up the issue, and the results are a foregone conclusion given the Conservatives' control of the legislative body. Still, marijuana has now made it to Parliament. Click on the link for more debate details.

Legalizing Marijuana Could Save Britain Hundreds of Millions of Dollars, Leaked Treasury Report Says. Legal weed could increase government revenues by as much as a billion dollars a year, according to a Treasury report leaked over the weekend. The government would gain from taxing marijuana, while creating savings by not having to enforce pot laws. The report was commissioned by the Liberal Democrats when they were junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, and the party would have used it to help shape drug policy had it remained in office. "There are successful cannabis markets emerging in different parts of the world and we should look to learn from those experiences," said Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb.

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Regulation Coming to CA, US Senate Passes Drug War Bill, More (10/12/15)

Legal marijuana moves ahead in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana will be comprehensively regulated in California, Jerry Brown splits on a pair of immigration drug deportation bills, Mexican opium poppy production is up dramatically, and more.

Finally, a statewide plan for regulating medical marijuana in California (
Marijuana Policy

Colorado's August Sales Topped $100 Million. For the first time, the state's monthly marijuana sales exceeded $100 million in August. Recreational marijuana came in at $59.2 million, while medical marijuana sales added another $41.4 million. That's $100.6 million in overall pot sales. The state collected $13 million in pot taxes that month.

Washington State Accepting New Retail Shop License Applications. As of today, the State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board is accepting and processing new applications for retail marijuana operations. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will now need to be licensed, and will be prioritized in the licensing process.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed into law a package of bills designed to bring comprehensive, statewide regulation to the state's thriving medical marijuana industry. The three-bill package will establish "a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and sale of medical marijuana," Brown said in his signing statement. "This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system," said Brown. "This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice."


California Governor Signs One Bill to Block Immigrant Drug Deportations, But Vetoes Another. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed Assembly Bill 1352, which allows resident non-citizens convicted of a drug offense to seek deferred adjudication and, upon completion, withdrawal of a guilty plea to avoid triggering federal deportation proceedings. But he vetoed Assembly Bill 1351, which would have allowed immigrants to avoid pleading guilty to a drug offense in order to enter drug treatment.

Drug Policy

Senate Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The US Senate last Thursday approved S. 32, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would make it a federal crime to manufacture or distribute drugs anywhere in the world if there is "reasonable cause to believe that such substances or chemicals will be unlawfully imported into the United States or waters within 12 miles of the US coast." The bill now goes to the House.


British Lib Dems Set Up Panel on Marijuana Legalization Ahead of Parliamentary Debate Today. As Parliament prepared to debate marijuana legalization today in response to a widely signed citizen petition, the Liberal Democrats announced they were creating an expert panel on the subject. Click on the link for much more.

Chile Will Allow Sale of Medical Marijuana Products in Pharmacies. Chilean Vice Minister of Health Jaime Burrows said last Friday that the country will modify its laws to allow the sale of medical marijuana products in pharmacies. Such sales would be allowed with "the authorization of a specialist, a prescription, and strict controls of stock," he said. A decree enacting the changes is now being reviewed by President Michelle Bachelet.

UN Commission on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Retire the Army From the Drug War. The UN body said soldiers should retire from the streets and return to their bases because they are not trained to undertake policing work. "This must be propelled by a real sense of urgency," said the commission's Zaid Raad al-Hussein. "This is not something we can afford to wait months for without an end." The Mexican army has come under sustained criticism over human rights abuses in its war on drug trafficking organizations.

DEA Says Mexican Opium Crop Up By 50%. Jack Riley, the acting administrator of the DEA, told a House committee last week that there has been a 50% increase in poppy production in key Mexican opium-producing states this year. He added that most heroin consumed in the US comes from Mexico.

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: 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.)

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