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Senators' False Claims Pave Way for Dangerous Drug Bill [FEATURE]

The two octogenarian senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are up to one of their favorite pastimes again this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have reintroduced a perennial bill that would increase penalties for drug dealers who sell products designed to entice children.

"Ecstasy bracelets" (non-edible) (Pinterest)
If the bill were to become law, anyone who knew or "had reasonable cause to believe" that a "modified controlled substance would be distributed to a minor" would be looking at a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.

But the bill, the "Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017" (Senate Bill 739), is seemingly justified more by urban myths than facts and, critics say, both unnecessary and more likely to be used against real-life sellers of marijuana edibles than mythical strawberry-flavored meth dealers.

"There are many instances of of drug dealers altering flavor and packaging of cocaine or methamphetamines to appeal to children," Feinstein tweeted as the bill rolled out late last month.

"Law enforcement reports that drug dealers frequently combine drugs with chocolate or fruit flavors or package the drugs to look like candy or soda to attract youth," the senators claimed in a joint statement. "For example, there are reports of candy bracelets containing ecstasy; gummy bears laced with Xanax; and candy laced with THC."

"Cynical criminals take advantage of drug trends in the general population to market dangerous illicit drugs specifically to kids," Grassley added in a separate press release. "It could be marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or something else. The criminals are innovative, and the law should keep up with them. Federal law should make crystal clear that marketing potentially lethal drugs to kids will have steep consequences."

The problem for Feinstein and Grassley, who have unsuccessfully filed the bill three times before, is that the crisis they wish to solve largely doesn't exist. The first time around, they were inspired by media reports of strawberry-flavored meth, but those have been roundly debunked as myths.

Some of their other claims are even more ludicrous. "Gummy bears laced with Xanax" seem only to be found on the furthest fringes of the web (a Reddit user subforum, to be precise) dedicated to bored drug hobbyists with too much time on their hands.

And the "candy bracelets containing ecstasy" claim appears to be based on a misreading of raver culture percolated through a concerned parents group.

"People (especially at Raves) have started wearing bracelets lined with ecstasy as opposed to the old candy bracelets kids used to wear," warned something called Careful Parents. "Much like the candy bracelets of old, people can eat the drug right off the bracelets. Google images of these bracelets for a better idea of what they look like and be on the lookout if your kids like to go to Raves."

But that warning was based on a 10-year-old story about rave culture in the Seattle Times -- a story that indeed mentioned bracelets and ecstasy and "candy kisses" (the sharing of beaded bracelets), but did not claim that the bracelets were made of ecstasy. The wearing of colorful bracelets is part of rave culture, but ecstasy bracelets are a myth based on misunderstanding.

The idea of drug dealers peddling candy-flavored drugs to kids may be an old bugaboo, but it just doesn't make much economic sense, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

"Those are not popular commodities to sell to children," he told ATTN:. "Why risk already severe penalties for some kid's lunch money?"

"This reminds me of the horror stories that you hear every Halloween -- where you have people handing out these infused products to children," Daniel Shortt, an attorney who focuses on cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:. "There's really no data supporting that that happens."

While candy-flavored meth or ecstasy bracelets are mythical, marijuana edibles and beverages are not. They are sold legally under state laws in medical and adult legal marijuana states, but the text of the bill could certainly be interpreted as aiming at them as well. It specifies that it would apply to people who sell federally illegal drugs to minors that are:

Combined with a beverage or candy product,
Marketed or packaged to appear similar to a beverage or candy product, or

Modified by flavoring or coloring to appear similar to a candy or beverage product.

"That's broad," Shortt said. "I worry about how that could applied to marijuana-infused edibles."

Edibles are often infused in candies, cookies, and chocolates, as well as brightly packaged beverages. It's not strawberry-flavored meth dealers who are likely to be caught up if this bill ever passes -- since they don't exist -- but people selling pot brownies and the like, in the black market or in the legal pot shop, who sell to minors, either knowingly or inadvertently.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Filed, WV MedMJ Bill Fast Tracked, More... (3/31/17)

A marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Delaware, a medical marijuana bill gets fast tracked in West Virginia, a South African court rules to free the weed, the Argentine Senate okays CBD cannabis oil, and more.

It looks like West Virginia is about to hop on the medical marijuana bandwagon. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Lawmakers Filed Legalization Bill. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Dover) and cosponsors filed House Bill 110 on Thursday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and to purchase it from state-regulated stores. The bill does not allow people to grow their own. It imposes a $50 an ounce tax on buds and a $15 an ounce tax on other parts of the plant. It now heads to the House Finance and Revenue Committee, which must hold a hearing within 12 days.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislators Propose Using Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. A House of Delegates committee has added "opioid use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. The bill was set to be heard by the House Friday.

West Virginia House Fast Tracks Medical Marijuana Bill. Less than a day after the Senate approved a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, the House has put it on path to quick consideration. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House voted to allow the bill to skip consideration by committees there and proceed directly to House floor debate. The move came in response to constituent pressure. "Like every member of this body, I can't count the number of emails and phone calls I received on this subject today," said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

New Psychoactive Substances

Federal Bill Would Add New "Designer Drugs" to CSA's Schedule I. US Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) has filed House Resolution 1732, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2017. It adds dozens of substances to Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, including phenylalkylamines, cannabimimetic agents, arylcyclohexamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines, benzylpiperidines, piperazines, and opioids and opioid-like substances. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Would Create Program to Divert Low-Level Drug Offenders. US Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY has filed House Resolution 1763, the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act of 2017. The bill directs the Justice Department to create a pilot program to provide grants to localities to divert people with low-level drug offenses into treatment programs before they are booked. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

Argentine Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons and setting up a regulatory framework for state-run cultivation, processing, and distribution. Until the state-run system is up and running, CBD imports will be allowed.

South Africa High Court Rules Adults Can Possess Marijuana at Home. The Western Cape High Court ruled on Friday that it's legal for adults to use, possess, and grow marijuana at home. The court also ruled that sections of the Drug Trafficking act and the Medicines Control Act must be amended to comply with the decision. The decision isn't final yet, though -- it must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal MJ Bill Filed, CA Bill Bars Helping Feds Attack Legal MJ, More... (3/23/17)

Illinois lawmakers want to see marijuana legalization; California lawmakers want to protect marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Block Cops From Aiding Federal Pot Crackdown. Six Democratic legislators have filed Assembly Bill 1578, which would bar state and local law enforcement from cooperating in any federal enforcement activities aimed at state-legal marijuana operations. "Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces… the will of our state's voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.

Illinois Lawmakers File Legalization Bill. A group of Chicago Democratic legislators have filed a marijuana legalization bill by amending an existing bill, House Bill 2353. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults (a half-ounce for non-residents), set up a system of legal marijuana manufacture and distribution $50 per 28 grams on all cannabis flowers, and give state regulators 180 days to get a system up and running.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Rules Lawsuit From Man Jailed Over Bottle of Vitamins Can Advance. An Illinois man jailed for two months after police claimed the pills in his vitamin bottle were ecstasy despite lab tests that showed they weren't can continue to pursue his federal civil rights claim, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Elijah Manuel, who is black, said officers pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding, falsely claimed they smelled marijuana, screamed racial slurs, then claimed their field drug test indicated his vitamins were ecstasy. Police continued to hold him in jail even after other tests verified the pills were not ecstasy until prosecutors eventually dropped the case. "No evidence of Manuel's criminality had come to light in between the roadside arrest and the county court proceeding initiating legal process; to the contrary, yet another test of Manuel's pills had come back negative in that period," according to the opinion. "All that the judge had before him were police fabrications about the pills' content. The judge's order holding Manuel for trial therefore lacked any proper basis. And that means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

International

Vietnam Sentenced Nine to Death for Drug Trafficking. A court in Hoa Binh province sentenced nine men to death for trafficking more than a thousand pounds of heroin in a trial that ended Tuesday. Vietnam sentences dozens of people to death each year; about a third of them for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Pot SWAT Raids Kill More People Than Pot, Aussie Bigwigs Call for Decrim, More... (3/21/17)

The New York Times reports on fatal SWAT drug raids, Australian former premiers and police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, medical marijuana keeps statehouses busy, and more.

Medical marijuana is keeping state legislatures busy. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Poll Shows Support for Plant Limits. A new Keating Research poll has support for limiting home marijuana grows to 12 plants at 57%, with only 36% opposed. The poll comes as lawmakers consider House Bill 1220, which originally imposed a 12-plant limit, but was amended to up the limit to 16 plants. That bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Votes to Kill Bill Banning Edibles. The House voted 52-40 Monday to kill House Bill 1991, which would have banned the commercial production of medical marijuana edibles in the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) argued that patients could make their own and that medical marijuana is medicine, not candy, but her arguments failed to sway her peers.

Nevada Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Carry Guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351 Monday. That measure would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a concealed carry permit. Current state law requires sheriffs to deny such permits for medical marijuana users.

New Hampshire Senate Committee Approves Use of Medical Marijuana for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Elderly Committee has approved a bill that would add Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The measure now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, the House will take it up.

Utah 2018 Medical Marijuana Initiative Drive Gearing Up. Medical marijuana advocates are gearing up to try to put an initiative on the state's 2018 ballot. They said they would begin the process of signature gathering next month, and they cite promising polling. The state legislature has so far thwarted efforts to create a robust medical marijuana program.

Law Enforcement

Marijuana Raids Kill More People Than Pot Ever Did. According to data compiled by the New York Times, since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have resulted in deaths, including those of four police officers. The toll for all drug SWAT raid deaths is, of course, higher, with 81 people killed, including 13 cops.

International

Australian Police Chiefs, Former Premiers Call for Drug Decriminalization. A group of former premiers, police commissioners, and legal advocates have called for an end to the criminalization of drug users. The call comes in the Australia 21 report, which was released Monday. The report, titled "Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely," makes 13 recommendations for reducing drug-related harms, such as supervised drug use rooms and other harm reduction measures, but also called for eliminating penalties for possession and drug use.

Chronicle AM: US Senate Okays Unemployment Drug Testing, NM Decrim Advances, More... (3/15/17)

The US Congress has voted to allow states to force drug tests on people seeking unemployment benefits, decriminalization bills get filed in Florida and advance in New Mexico, another mass grave is uncovered in Old Mexico, and more.

A bill that would decriminalize small-time marijuana possession is moving in Santa Fe. (irin.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of lawmakers have filed identical decriminalization bills. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill1403, while Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill1662. Under the bills, possession of up to an ounce would be decriminalized, with a maximum $100 fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana has passed out of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and now faces only one more vote in the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the House floor. The measure, Senate Bill 258, has already passed the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington State Bill Would Force Heroin and Opioid Users into Treatment. State Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) has filed a bill that could force opioid users into involuntary drug treatment by declaring them "gravely disabled" under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The measure, Senate Bill 5811, had a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health, and Housing, but no vote was taken, and O'Ban said he didn't think the bill was going anywhere this year.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 812, under which state law enforcement agencies will have to report their seizures, create a searchable website for seizure information, and submit civil seizure warrants to judges within 72 hours. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture in the state, but advocates said "it's a start."

Drug Testing

Senate Votes to Allow States to Drug Test People Seeking Unemployment Benefits. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to roll back an Obama-era regulation that blocks states from demanding drug tests of people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs that could be included under the law. The measure has already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.

International

Mass Grave Discovered in Mexico's Veracruz. Searchers have uncovered a series of mass graves on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz where scores, if not hundreds, of people believed to have been killed in drug gang violence have been buried. On Tuesday, local prosecutor Jorge Winkler told reporters that 250 human skulls had been found at the sites. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade, and tens of thousands more have gone missing.

Colombia Coca Cultivation at Two-Decade High, US Says. The US estimates that coca production in Colombia increased 18% last year over 2015, with nearly half a million acres under production. The spike in production comes as the country begins implementing a peace accord with FARC rebels, and be the result of a "perverse incentive" for farmers to grow coca last year in order to qualify for subsidies for switching to substitute crops.

Attorney General Sessions Won't Rule Out Using Mafia Law to Go After Legal Marijuana

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

On conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt's program Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to bad mouth marijuana and suggested he might use laws enacted to go after the Mafia against the legal marijuana industry.

"I think it's a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don#39;t think we're going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store," the attorney general told Hewitt.

The conservative talker then helpfully suggested that one way Washington could go after legal pot was by bringing racketeering charges against marijuana businesses.

"One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?" Hewitt asked Sessions.

Sessions didn't exactly jump on the idea, but neither did he reject it.

"We will um… marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws," Sessions said in response. "So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It's not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that's legalized it."

But Hewitt was not done chewing on that bone, asking Sessions if he couldn't just make an example out of somebody.

"I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you're going to send it?" he asked.

Sessions had to clue in Hewitt about the difficulty of reining in the burgeoning the legal marijuana industry.

"Well, we'll be evaluating how we want to handle that," he said. "I think it's a little more complicated than one RICO case, I've got to tell you. This, places like Colorado, it's just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it's also being moved interstate, not just in the home state," he added.

Sessions has been a staunch foe of marijuana legalization, and the industry has been on tenterhooks since he was nominated as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. He attempted to soft-shoe his views during his confirmation hearings, suggesting that he wasn't going to aggressively go after the legal pot industry, but his comments with Hewitt may suggest otherwise.

Taken together with a memo on violent crime Sessions sent to federal prosecutors Wednesday in which he hinted at at rolling back Obama Justice Department policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences, his comments to Hewitt Thursday suggest that the Trump administration is about to head resolutely backwards on drug policy in general and marijuana policy in particular.

Listen to the Hewitt interview below:

Chronicle AM: Ominous Sessions Hint on Sentencing, RI AG Anti-Pot Campaign, More... (3/9/17)

Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.

It looks like the new attorney general is going old school with harsher drug sentencing. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."

International

Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Decrim, FL GOP Files Restrictive MedMJ Bill, More... (3/8/17)

Marijuana policy continues to play out in state legislatures across the land, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Iowa, the Ohio Supreme Court reverses itself on cocaine sentencing, and more.

The bud is keeping state legislatures busy. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Cannabis Cafes Are Back Under Consideration. The Marijuana Control Board met Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage and agreed to try again to come up with rules for on-site marijuana consumption at businesses. The notion was shot down at the last board meeting, but revived on a 4-1 vote.

Connecticut Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Lawmakers went into the evening hours Tuesday as they engaged in heated debate over several bills before the General Assembly that would legalize marijuana. Click the link to get the flavor of the dewbate.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Overwhelmingly Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The House voted 318-36 Wednesday to approve House Bill 640, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Similar bills have failed in years past, but opposition seems to have largely evaporated this year. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Los Angeles Voters Approved Marijuana Regulation Initiative. Voters in Los Angeles approved Measure M with nearly 80% voting in favor. The measure would allow the city to regulate legal marijuana businesses when the legal recreational commerce comes on line next year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill Would Ban Smoking and Edibles. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative in November, but now Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) has filed a medical marijuana regulation bill that would ban people from smoking it or using it in edible form. The measure, House Bill 1397, is not yet available on the legislative website. Rodrigues is a member of the Republican House leadership, and the bill represents the Republican approach to expanding medical marijuana access in the state. "It goes further than the current statute in terms of restricting medical marijuana," says Ben Pollara, the medical marijuana initiative's campaign director. "There was unanimous agreement that the new amendment would expand use."

Utah Lawmakers Pass Medical Marijuana Study Bill; Advocates Call it a Trojan Horse. The House voted Wednesday to concur with earlier Senate amendments to House Bill 130 and sent it to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R). The bill allows state universities to study cannabinoid products for their medicinal potential, but doesn't allow for any actual use. Medical marijuana advocates called the bill "a Trojan horse," saying it is merely a delaying tactic.

Wisconsin Legislature Passes CBD Bill. The Assembly voted Tuesday night to approve Senate Bill 10, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering seizures. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is expected to sign it.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Committee Passes Bill Taking on Asset Forfeiture; Closes Federal Loophole. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to approve Senate File 446, which would severely limit asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and which would bar prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court Reverses Itself, Declares Filler Must Be Included in Drug Weights. Two months after ruling that prosecutors must prove the actual amount of pure cocaine possessed -- not inert filler -- to secure longer sentences, the state Supreme Court has done a U-turn. In a ruling Monday, the court sided with prosecutors and held that the total weight of drug plus filler must be used when determining sentences. The reversal comes after two new judges were named to the court earlier this year, and dissenting Justice Bill O'Neill said that was the only thing that changed. "The logic is unassailable. The possession of baby formula, talcum powder, or baking soda does not pose the same risk to the public's health and safety as possession of cocaine does," O'Neill wrote.

Blunting Trump's Mass Deportation Plans With Drug Reform [FEATURE]

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

As President Trump ratchets up the machinery of mass deportation, supporters of a humane, comprehensive approach to immigration are seeking ways to throw sand in its gears. When mass deportation is touted because of the "criminality" of those targeted, one solution is to reduce criminalization, which is not to turn a blind eye to violent or dangerous criminals, but to recognize that we live in an over-criminalized society. That means school kids can now be arrested for behavior that would have sent them to the principal's office in years past (especially if they're a certain color). The US also generates the world's largest prison-industrial complex, and has criminalized tens of millions of people for the offense of simply possessing a certain plant, and millions more for possessing other proscribed substances.

ICE arrests an immigrant in San Jose. (dhs.gov)
While Trump talks about "bad hombres" as he ramps up the immigration crackdown, data shows that the net of criminality used to deport not just undocumented workers, but also legal immigrants and permanent resident aliens, is cast exceedingly wide. It's overwhelmingly not gang members or drug lords who are getting deported, but people whose crimes include crossing the border without papers, as well as traffic and minor drug offenses.

The report Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program , which examined Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation records, found that the top three "most serious" criminal charges used to deport people and which accounted for roughly half of all deportations were illegal entry, followed by DWI and unspecified traffic violations.

The fourth "most serious" criminal charge used to deport people was simple marijuana possession, with more than 6,000 people being thrown out of the country in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the years the study covered. Right behind that was simple cocaine possession, accounting for another 6,000 in each of those years. "Other" drug possession charges accounted for nearly 2,500 deportations each of those years.

Nearly 3,000 people a year were deported for selling pot, and more than 4,000 for selling cocaine, but only about 2,000 a year for the more serious offense of drug trafficking, accounting for a mere 1% of all deportations in those years.

ICE raid in Atlanta. (dhs.gov)
This has been going on for years. In the same report, researchers estimated that some 250,000 people had been deported for drug offenses during the Obama administration, accounting for one-fifth of all criminal deportations. Now, the Trump administration gives every indication it intends to be even tougher.

In light of the massive use of drug charges to deport non-citizens, drug reform takes on a whole new aspect. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization may not generally be viewed through the lens of immigrant protection, but they shield millions of people from drug deportation in those states that have enacted such laws. Similarly, efforts to decriminalize drug possession in general are also moves that would protect immigrants.

Now, legislators and activists in vanguard states are adopting prophylactic measures, such as sealing marijuana arrest records, rejiggering the way drug possession cases are handled, and, more fundamentally, moving to decriminalize pot and/or drug possession. In doing so, they are building alliances with other communities, especially those of color, that have been hard hit by the mass criminalization of the war on drugs.

In California, first decriminalization in 2011 and then outright legalization last year removed pot possession from the realm of the criminal, offering protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But the California legalization initiative, Proposition 64, also made the reduction or elimination of marijuana-related criminal penalties retroactive,meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated can be reclassified on a criminal record for free. Having old marijuana offenses reduced to infractions or dismissed outright can remove that criminal cause for removal from any California immigrant's record.

Across the county in New York, with a charge led by the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the state assembly voted in January to approve AB 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who had been unjustly arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, a charge police used to still bust people for marijuana after it was decriminalized in 1977. Like the Prop 64 provision in California, this measure would protect not only minority community members in general -- who make up 80% of those arrested on the public possession charge -- from the collateral consequences of a drug conviction, but immigrants in particular from being expelled from their homes.

"A marijuana conviction can lead to devastating consequences for immigrants, including detention and deportation," said Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project. "This bill will provide some important protections for green card holders and undocumented New Yorkers targeted by Trump's aggressive deportation agenda."

"Sealing past illegitimate marijuana convictions is not only right, it is most urgent as the country moves toward legalization and immigrant families are put at risk under our new federal administration," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies and invest in building healthier and safer communities, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Muslim and Christian, US-born and green card-holding."

Companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 3809 awaits action in the Senate, but activists are also pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include similar language as part of his decriminalization proposal in state budget legislation, opening another possible path forward.

One-way street? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"In New York State 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016. The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, leading to a potential inability to provide for their families," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, author of the Senate bill.

"Furthermore, and even more problematic, there exist significant racial disparities in the manner that marijuana possession policy is enforced. Blacks and Latinos are arrested at higher rates despite the fact that white people use marijuana at higher rates than people of color. Responsible and fair policy is what we need here," Bailey added. "We must act now, with proactive legislation, for the future of many young men and women of our state are at stake here."

Meanwhile, back in California, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has reintroduced legislation explicitly designed to shield immigrants from deportation for drug possession charges, as long as they undergo treatment or counseling. Under her bill, Assembly Bill 208, people arrested for simple possession would be able to enroll in a drug treatment for six months to a year before formally entering a guilty plea, and if they successfully completed treatment, the courts would wipe the charges from their records.

The bill would address a discrepancy between state law and federal immigration law. Under state drug diversion programs, defendants are required to first plead guilty before opting for treatment. But although successful completion of treatment sees the charges dropped under state law, the charges still stand under federal law, triggering deportation proceedings even if the person has completed treatment and had charges dismissed.

"For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," Eggman said.

Eggman authored a similar bill in 2015 that got all the way through the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who worried that it eliminated "the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that the judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

In the Trump era, the need for such measures has become even more critical, Eggman said.

"It might be a more complex discussion this year, and it's a discussion we should have," she said. "If our laws are meant to treat everyone the same, then why wouldn't we want that opportunity for treatment available to anyone without risk for deportation?"

Reforming drug laws to reduce criminalization benefits all of us, but in the time of Trump, reforming drug laws is also a means of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents from the knock in the night and expulsion from the country they call home.

Chronicle AM: Israel Cabinet Approves MJ Decrim, NM Senate Approves MJ Decrim, More... (3/6/17)

Legalization bills are getting hearings on the East Coast, decriminalization advances in New Mexico and Israel, a Wyoming edibles penalty bill is dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow. The General Assembly's Public Health Committee has a hearing set for House Bill 5314, cosponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam). The bill would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, set up a regulatory system for marijuana cultivation and sales, and set up a tax system for marijuana commerce. Other legalization bills proposed by Democrats are awaiting action.

Maryland Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Supporters and foes of marijuana legalization testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last Thursday on Senate Bill 927, which would tax and regulate legal marijuana sales, and on Senate Bill 891, which would set up a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants. No votes were taken.

New Mexico Senate Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate voted last Thursday to approve Senate Bill 258, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Between a half-ounce and eight ounces would remain a misdemeanor. The move comes after the legislature rejected outright legalization. The bill is now before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Supporters Will Try Again. Initiative campaigners gave up a few months ago on signature gathering, but now say they will try again and are aiming at getting a measure on the 2018 ballot. Campaigners said they would have a new petition later this spring or summer.

Wyoming Bill to Set Edibles Penalties Dies Amidst Discord. A conference committee of House and Senate members was unable to reach agreement on how to punish the possession of marijuana edibles, killing House Bill 197. The bill had sought to close a loophole in state law that left it unclear how to punish edibles possession, but originally also included sentencing reductions for marijuana in its plant form. That provision was intended to make the bill palatable to Democratic lawmakers, but it was stripped out of the bill in the Senate. The bill died when the House rejected the Senate version.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Are Moving. The Senate sent two medical marijuana bills to the governor's desk last Thursday, while the House passed three more bills and sent them to the Senate. Winning final legislative approval were House Bill 1556, which bars the use of teleconferencing to certify a patient for medical marijuana, and House Bill 1402, which would allow the state to reschedule marijuana if the federal government does it first. Meanwhile, the Senate will now take up House Bill 1580, which imposes a 4% sales tax on cultivation facilities and a 4% sales tax on dispensary sales; House Bill 1436, which sets an expiration date for dispensary licenses, and House Bill 1584, which would led regulators issue temporary dispensary or cultivation licenses when the original owner ceases to be in control of the business.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) and 11 cosponsors have filed Senate Bill 386 and companion legislation in the House that would allow for the medical use of marijuana by patients with one of a list of qualifying disorders.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate voted unanimously last Thursday to approve House Bill 812, which will require law enforcement to report on all forfeitures and creates a new asset forfeiture warrant system under which a judge would have to authorize seizures. The bill had already passed both houses, but had to go back to the Senate for a housekeeping vote. It now head to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

International

Israeli Cabinet Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The cabinet has approved the public safety minister's proposal to decriminalize pot possession. Under the proposal, people caught with marijuana would face only administrative fines for their first three offenses, but criminal charges for a fourth. The measure must still be approved by the Knesset.

Durham Police Will Become First in England to Implement Prescription Heroin and Supervised Injection Sites. Police in Durham are set to begin buying pharmaceutical heroin and providing it to addicts, who will inject it twice a day at a supervised injection site. The plan is currently being studied by public health authorities in the region.

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