Sentencing

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Rand Paul Files Crack Sentencing Reform Bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 2657 the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender unveiled the bill publicly the following day as he pitched his criminal justice reforms before an African-American audience at the National Urban League.

Rand Paul (congress.gov)
The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it seeks to address the issue of drug weights in food items by clarifying that only the weight of the drug itself -- not the weight of the food containing it -- can be used in charging decisions, thus resulting in lesser charges for defendants.

As of early Tuesday morning, the text of the bill is not yet up on the congressional web site, but can be viewed here.

The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties by removing the sentencing enhancements for crack.

It's been a busy month for Paul when it comes to criminal justice matters. In addition to the RESET Act, he has also introduced an asset forfeiture reform bill and a medical marijuana amendment explicitly allowing states to set their own laws. And he also cosponsored, along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another sentencing reform bill.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Sentencing Commission Makes Drug Sentencing Reductions Retroactive

The US Sentencing Commission Friday voted unanimously to make previously agreed upon federal drug sentencing reductions retroactive. That means tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could see sentence cuts beginning in November 2015.

The move comes after the Commission's April decision to amend federal sentencing guidelines by lowering base offense levels in the guidelines' Drug Quantity Table across all drug types, which should lead to lower sentences for most federal drug offenders. Today's vote means that sentencing judges can extend that reduction to people currently serving drug sentences.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

"We did it! We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment," an elated Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), wrote to supporters. "Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. The average sentence reduction for those who qualify will be two years!"

The Sentencing Commission had asked for public input on its pending decision and was swamped with some 65,000 letters. FAMM took credit for much of that.

"I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," Stewart wrote. "With your help, we generated most of the 65,000 letters the US Sentencing Commission received about this issue. And more than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 to reject the amendment to reduce drug guidelines. If it fails to act by then, federal courts could begin considering petitions for sentence reductions, but no prisoners would be released under the reductions until November 15, 2015.

"The delay will help to protect public safety by enabling appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges, ensuring effective supervision of offenders upon release, and allowing for effective reentry plans," Saris said.

Look for a Chronicle feature article on this ground-breaking move early next week.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.

International

Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

Chronicle AM -- July 17, 2014

Marijuana decriminalization comes to the nation's capital, Vermont is set to study marijuana legalization, New Jersey residents press for "decarceration," Canadians are ready for marijuana reform, and more. Let's get to it:

Decriminalization is now the law in the District of Columbia.
Marijuana Policy

The District of Columbia is Decriminalized. The decriminalization of the possession of an ounce of less of marijuana is now the law in the nation's capital. A law passed by the DC city council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray (D) went into effect one minute after minute. Small time pot possession is now punishable only by a fine of $25. But the cops can still take your stash.

Vermont Launches Study of Marijuana Legalization. The state has hired the RAND Corporation to sort through the issues around legalizing marijuana in the Green Mountain State. The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) says the study is needed because lawmakers are expected to take up the issue during the legislative session next year. A report is expected to be issued by January.

Medical Marijuana

UFCW to Start Representing Washington State Medical Marijuana Workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 367 announced this week that it expects to represents workers at a Puyallup medical marijuana collective. The UFCW represents a variety of retail, food processing, manufacturing, and production workers, but has also been active in the medical marijuana industry and has a Cannabis Workers Rising campaign, especially in California, where it has organized numerous work sites.

Drug Policy

Netroots Nation Gathering to Take Up Drug War Issues Friday. The ninth annual gathering of progressive voices known as Netroots Nation, meeting in Detroit this week, will address the war on drugs during a panel Friday. The panel is called "Marijuana Arrests: The Gateway to Mass Incarceration." The panel will take place at 4:30pm and can viewed live online here.

Sentencing

New Jersey Campaign to Reduce Incarceration Gets Underway. Residents of Essex County have launched a campaign to get lawmakers to pass legislation that would reduce incarceration in the Garden State. More than a thousand of them have signed a Change.org petition urging legislators to pass a bill they call the New Jersey Decarceration Act, which would lead to a large-scale release of nonviolent drug and other offenders.

International

Canadians Ready for Marijuana Reform, Poll Finds. An Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by the Department of Justice has found that seven out of 10 Canadians are ready to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Some 37% of respondents said it should be legalized, while another 33% said it should be decriminalized. Only 14% supported the status quo, while 12% wanted harsher penalties. The poll was commissioned by the government in December, but it hid the results until the newspaper The Star managed to obtain them.

Malaysian Court Sentences Nigerian Student to Death for Marijuana Trafficking. A Malaysian High Court judge sentenced Nigerian college student Uchechukwu Nelson Ohaechesi to be hanged after he was convicted of trafficking 26.5 kilograms of marijuana.

Chronicle AM -- July 16, 2014

The House okays marijuana banking, DC decriminalizes tomorrow, DC expands its medical marijuana program, Miami-Dade taxpayers pay for a particularly heinous killer drug raid, a lot of states did sentencing reforms last year, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana businesses could go to the bank under a measure passed by the House today. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
Marijuana Policy

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses. In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

DC Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of one minute after midnight, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be decriminalized in the nation's capital. Jail time for pot possession will be replaced with a $25 fine. A Republican-led effort in the House to block it remains alive, but will not stop the law from taking effect -- at least for now. That effort still has to get through the Congress and overcome White House opposition, and that looks like a long-shot at this point.

Grosse Point, Michigan, Initiative to Legalize Up to an Ounce Turns in Signatures. A municipal initiative campaign to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point turned in more than 600 signatures today. The group needs 493 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Grosse Point is one of a handful of Michigan towns with similar campaigns this year, including Berkley, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Turns in Signatures. Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action (the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance) have submitted more than 7,000 signatures for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an once of marijuana. They need 5,763 to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

DC City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city council Tuesday approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Michigan Legislature Set to Vote on Medical Marijuana Improvement Measures This Week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

LA Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market Hit With Temporary Injunction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Thousands Sign Petition Supporting Fired University of Arizona Researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley made no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Cops Slow to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a law allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone in March, but Ohio police are slow to get with the program. Police in Columbus said they have no plans to carry it "anytime soon," and many rural agencies are also unwilling to do it. About 17 people a week are dying from opiate overdoses in Ohio. Under the new law, the drug is also available to friends, family members, and "others who may be in a position" to assist with reversing overdoses.

Law Enforcement

Miami Agrees to Pay in Death Squad-Style Police Drug Robbery Sting Killings. Miami-Dade taxpayers will shell out $600,000 to the families of three men killed by a Miami-Dade SWAT team during a drug house robbery sting. Four men, including an informant for the police, were gunned down when they appeared on the scene of a home they had been told was stuffed with drugs for them to rob. The informant's family didn't join the settlement; it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. Police video of the raid shows officers firing dozens of shots into the body of a man already on the ground. It also shows the informant surrendering to police moments before they shot and killed him, too. Prosecutors suspect police officers of misconduct but were unable to develop enough evidence to charge any of them.

Almost All US Wiretaps Are for Suspected Drug Deals. A new Administrative Office of US Courts report reveals that not only did wiretaps hit an all time high last year, but that nearly 90% of them were for drug investigations. Of the 3,576 wiretaps sought by federal law enforcement agencies, 3,115 were for drug investigations.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Releases Report on 2013 State Sentencing Reforms. The report, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends, finds that 35 states passed at least 85 bills to reform sentencing and corrections last year. The legislation generally focused on reducing prison populations, strengthening community-based corrections, supporting reentry, and creating better research and analysis to drive policy decision-making.

International

Dutch Border Town Cannabis Café Owner Cleared of Most Charges. The owner of the Checkpoint Café in the in the town of Ternuezen near the Belgian border has been cleared of most charges against him by an Amsterdam appeals court. The café was closed in 2007 for violating government rules on soft drug sales, and the owner was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. But the appeals court ruled that the state had not proven Checkpoint knowingly broke the rules. It was the second such decision in the past month.

Chronicle AM -- July 15, 2014

The Obama administration comes out against congressional interference with the District of Columbia's decriminalization law, Dana Rohrabacher comes out as the first Republican congressman to support marijuana legalization, the Smarter Sentencing Act picks up more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the first sitting Republican congressman to endorse marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

White House Comes Out Against Congress Blocking DC Decriminalization Law. In a statement of administration policy on pending appropriations bills, the White House Monday came out "strongly" against a congressional move to bar the District from spending money to implement its new decriminalization law. "The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District," the statement said.

DC City Council Passes Emergency Resolutions Condemning Congressional Interference. The council Monday approved two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by US House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform. Read more on DC marijuana politics in a feature article here later today.

Dana Rohrabacher, First Republican Congressman to Back Marijuana Legalization. California Republican US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Christian Science Monitor Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana and would "probably" endorse a 2016 California legalization initiative if it qualifies for the ballot. Rohrabacher is the first sitting Republican congressman to explicitly endorse legalization. About 40 congressional Democrats have expressed support for legalization.

National Press Club Newsmakers Event Next Week Centers on Marijuana Policy. The National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC, will host a news conference next Thursday on medical and recreational marijuana legalization. The news conference will feature Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Dr. Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana). The event is open to all credentialed journalists and National Press Club members. Click on the link for event details.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) yesterday signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

Los Angeles Moves to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has said he will today seek a restraining order to block a Boyle Heights medical marijuana farmers' market from doing it again. The farmers' market occurred two weekends ago. It isn't clear if there are plans to do it again.

Prescription Opiates

University of Wisconsin Pain Policy Study Group Releases Two Reports. The reports are Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013) and Achieving Balance in State and Federal Pain Policies: A Guide to Evaluation (CY 2013). The first report contains a grade for each state and the District of Columbia, which represents the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The second report explains PPSG's evaluation method and criteria as well as its "principle of balance," which says that "efforts to prevent drug diversion and abuse are essential and should avoid interfering with healthcare practice and patient care."

Law Enforcement

Oklahoma Narcs on the Lookout for Kratom. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is worried about kratom, a Southeast Asian shrub whose leaves are mildly psychoactive and who some users claim is useful as a means of breaking opiate addictions. The OBN says it is not a "major problem" yet, but that it has received worried phone calls from a half-dozen parents. Kratom is on the DEA's list of drugs to watch, but the federal agency has made no move to ban it.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Two More Cosponsors. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are the latest to sign onto the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce some federal drug sentences by retroactively adjusting crack and powder cocaine sentences and allowing judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases. The act now has 44 cosponsors -- 30 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

Dutch Senate Wants Justice Minister to Explain What He's Doing About Illegal Marijuana Production. The Senate has summoned Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to explain what he is doing about "the backdoor problem" -- the fact that while cannabis coffee shops can sell marijuana without legal penalty, there is no legal source for the marijuana they sell. Opstelten and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk will appear before the Senate in September. Despite the pleas of numerous mayors, Opstelten has refused to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

The 2014 National Drug Control Strategy: Baby Steps in the Right Direction [FEATURE]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its 2014 National Drug Control Strategy Wednesday. While in general, it is remarkable for its similarities to drug control strategies going back more than a decade, it does include some signals suggesting that the Obama administration is ready for a shift in emphasis in the drug war -- from a criminal justice approach to a more public health-oriented approach.

But even that rhetorical positioning is somewhat undercut by the strategy's continuing commitment to the criminalization of drug users and the people who supply them, as well as particular policy prescriptions, such as its support for expansion of drug courts -- the use of the criminal justice system to enforce therapeutic health goals like abstinence from drug use, as opposed to measures that don't involve criminal justice intervention.

The 2014 strategy also continues the roughly 3:2 funding ratio between law enforcement and treatment and prevention spending that has marked federal anti-drug spending since at least the Clinton administration in the 1990s. And it does so somewhat deceptively.

"In support of this Strategy," ONDCP wrote in a press release, "the President has requested $25.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. Federal funding for public health programs that address substance use has increased every year, and the portion of the Nation's drug budget spent on drug treatment and prevention efforts -- 43% -- has grown to its highest level in over 12 years. The $10.9 billion request for treatment and prevention is now nearly 20% higher than the $9.2 billion requested for Federally-funded domestic drug law enforcement and incarceration."

What the press release doesn't mention when claiming that treatment and prevention spending now exceeds spending on law enforcement is that it did not include figures for drug interdiction and international spending on the law enforcement side of the ledger. The White House's proposed federal drug budget for 2015, however, shows that those drug prohibition-enforcement costs add up to another $5.4 billion, or $14.6 billion for enforcing drug prohibition versus $10.9 billion for treatment and prevention.

The strategy does, however, provide a sharper focus than in the past on reducing the harms associated with drug use, such as overdoses and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. It calls for greater access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone and supports needle exchange and state laws that provide limited immunity from prosecution for people suffering overdoses and the people who seek help for them -- the so-called 911 Good Samaritan laws. The strategy also sets a five-year goal for reducing overdose deaths, something drug reform advocates had been seeking.

The strategy also acknowledges the need to reduce mandatory minimum drug sentencing and recognizes that the US has the world's largest prison population, but in absolute terms and per capita. And, implicitly acknowledging that Americans increasingly see the war on drugs as a failed policy, the 2014 strategy has adjusted its rhetoric to emphasize public health over the drug war.

Acting ONDCP head or "drug czar" Michael Botticelli (ONDCP)
But, despite polls now consistently showing majority support for marijuana legalization, and despite the reality of legal marijuana in two states, with two more and the District of Columbia likely to embrace it later this year, the 2014 strategy appears not only wedded to marijuana prohibition, but even disturbed that Americans now think pot is safer than booze.

That puts ONDCP at odds not only with the American public, but with the president. In an interview published in January by the New Yorker, Obama said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

Noting that about three-quarters of a million people are arrested on marijuana charges each year, and nearly nine out of ten of those for simple possession, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) pronounced itself unimpressed with the new national drug strategy.

The drug czar's office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy. It appears to be addicted to marijuana prohibition. Why stay the course when the current policy has utterly failed to accomplish its goals?" asked MPP communications director Mason Tvert.

"The strategy even goes so far as to lament the public's growing recognition that marijuana is not as harmful as we were once led to believe. President Obama finally acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, yet his administration is going to maintain a policy of punishing adults who make the safer choice," Tvert continued. "Most Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and even the Justice Department has acknowledged that regulating marijuana could be a better approach than prohibition. Legalizing and regulating marijuana is not a panacea, but it is sound policy."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), with a wider policy remit than MPP, had a nuanced response to the release of the drug strategy. It was critical of some aspects of the strategy, but had kind words for others.

"The administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better."

Still, said Piper, the drug czar's office deserves some credit for addressing serious issues associated with drug use under prohibition.

"Director Botticelli should be applauded for taking strong steps to reduce drug overdose fatalities and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases," he said. "His leadership on these issues, and his work overall to reduce the stigma associated with substance misuse, are encouraging."

But when it comes to marijuana policy, DPA found itself pretty much on the same page as MPP.

"The Administration continues to keep its head in the sand when it comes to marijuana law reform," said Piper. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being arrested each year for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Once arrested they can be discriminated against in employment and housing for life. The administration can't ignore the destructive impact of mass arrests forever."

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