Sentencing

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Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Blocked, AL Life Sentence for Pot, Ominous Afghan Opium News, More (2/18/15)

A New Jersey coalition for marijuana reform has formed, an Alabama judge sentences a man to life in prison over 2 1/2 pounds of pot, the Hawaii legislature advances a dispensary bill, asset forfeiture reform gets slapped down in Virginia and Wyoming, the opium trade is expanding in western Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Coalition Forms, Includes Prosecutors. Representatives from a number of groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association held a news conference in Newark today to announce the formation of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Cannabis Chamber Supports Tightened Regulations on Caregivers. The chamber, which represents recreational marijuana business interests, has come out in support of Senate Bill 14, which would require medical marijuana caregivers to be licensed and registered with the state. The measure would help law enforcement maintain a tighter control on who is growing how much marijuana for whom. The chamber said the "caregivers system is being abused" by people who don't want to abide by the same regulations as the rest of the industry. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins House Committee Vote. Fourteen years after the legislature approved medical marijuana, it may finally get around to approving dispensaries. A bill that would do that, House Bill 321, was approved by the House Committee on Health and the Judiciary Tuesday. It now goes before the House Committee on Finance. A similar proposal in the Senate was slated for a decision in a joint committee hearing today.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Senate Committee Vote. An asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week has been killed in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure, House Bill 1287, was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James County) said the bill will now be studied by the State Crime Commission.

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have made it more difficult for police and prosecutors to seize property from people they believe are involved in drug crimes. The bill, Senate File 14, would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. Mead, a former US attorney, said he didn't believe asset forfeiture had been abused in the state. The measure passed both houses by a veto-proof margin, so stay tuned.

Harm Reduction

Virginia 911 Good Samaritan Bill Awaits Final Senate Vote. A bill that would provide protection from prosecution to people who report drug overdoses has passed the Senate and House of Delegates, but was amended in the House and now requires a final Senate concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The measure is Senate Bill 892.

Sentencing

Alabama Man Gets Life in Prison for Marijuana Distribution. A Houston County judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to life in prison Tuesday for trafficking 2 ½ pounds of pot. Richard Bolden was also hit with another eight years for bail-jumping -- to be served consecutively. Bolden had one prior federal drug conviction and was out on bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, but had not been convicted of that. He had also been arrested 37 times, but never actually convicted in any of those arrests. But prosecutors said he was "a habitual and dangerous criminal offender" and the judge agreed.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Man Jailed on Three Meth Charges Freed After Tests Showed Powder Was Vitamins, Not Amphetamines. Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, spent three months in jail on meth charges after a Mankato police officer mistook his vitamins for meth. Burrell tried to tell the cops what the powder was, but they didn't believe him and jailed him on $250,000 bail. He was set for trial February 4, but test results came back two days before, and police were forced to admit he was telling the truth. The charges were dropped and Burrell was released. No mention of restitution.

International

Opium Booms in Western Afghanistan; Taliban, ISIS, Corrupt Officials Benefit. A weak government in Kabul is unable or unwilling to reign in rampant opium production and trafficking in remote western Farah province bordering Iran. Taliban insurgents control half the region, a former Taliban commander who has pledged allegiance to ISIS is roaming the area with a band of dozens of gunmen, and police and local government officials seem more interested in profiting off the crop than suppressing it. That bodes ill for the Kabul government. Much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: VT MJ Legalization Bill, Texas Pot Lobby Day, Federal Sentencing Softens, More (2/17/15)

There's now a marijuana lhttp://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/iowans-plead-for-expanded-medical-marijuana-program-20150216egalization bill in Vermont, an Ohio initiative decides to allow home cultivation, Attorney General holder touts a softening in federal charging and sentencing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

It's marijuana lobby day at the Texas capitol in Austin Wednesday. (texasmarijuanapolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

Responsible Ohio Revises Initiative, Will Allow for Home Grows. "After extensive conversations with experts and concerned citizens across the state and nation, Responsible Ohio has decided to include regulated and limited home growing as a part of our amendment," Responsible Ohio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander said in a press release Monday. "Combined with a lower tax rate for consumers, these changes will make our communities safer by smothering the black market." The group's original proposal had called for only 10 grow sites in the state. At least one other group, Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, has a competing initiative campaign underway.

Texans to Lobby for Marijuana Reforms in Austin Wednesday. Texans will gather at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to urge elected officials to support House Bill 507, which reduces the penalties for possession, and for establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. The lobbying effort is being led by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Click on the title link for event details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed. Sen. David Zuckerman has filed Senate Bill 95, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults, establish a regulatory system for marijuana commerce, and impose a $40 an ounce excise tax on marijuana sold in the state. Whether the bill will go anywhere remains to be seen; key legislative leaders said they did not plan to hold hearings on it this year.

Wyoming Legalization Study Bill Killed. A bill to study the impact of legalization in neighboring states was killed on the House floor late last week. House Bill 187 was defeated on a vote of 39-19. The governor's office has the money to do a study, and that may still happen, but it won't be tied to finishing before the next legislative session, as was the case with this bill.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Plead for Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. A small number of Iowa patients and family members appeared before state legislators Monday to ask for expansion of the state's medical marijuana program, which they say is effectively useless as is. Each speaker called on legislators to expand the law to allow them to legally produce and obtain the high-CBD cannabis oils that could aid them. A law passed last year allows Iowans to use the cannabis oils, but not to produce or import them.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Touts More Flexible Federal Sentencing. The attorney general today said federal prosecutors are changing the way drug defendants are charged and sentenced, and he cited US Sentencing Commission statistics to back himself up. The new figures show prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum sentences in only 51% of their cases, the lowest rate on record, and down from 64% last year. Federal drug trafficking cases also declined by 6%. Holder said that showed prosecutors are being more selective in which cases they bring.

International

Uruguay's Medical Marijuana Will Be More Expensive Than Recreational Marijuana. As the country moves slowly towards rolling out its legal marijuana program, officials there are saying that medical marijuana will be more expensive than recreational because it will have to be grown separately from recreational, it will be grown by different companies, and it will be grown under stricter -- more expensive -- controls than pot for the recreational market.

Chronicle AM: CO 2014 Legal Pot Sales at $700 Million, Kettle Falls 5 Will Go to Trial, More (2/13/15)

Final marijuana sales figures are in for Colorado, twin legalization bills are filed in Maryland, a second Ohio legalization initiative campaign gets underway, a federal judge orders the Kettle Falls Five to trial, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

$700 Million in Legal Weed Sales for Colorado Last Year. According to the state Department of Revenue, total legal marijuana sales in 2014 amounted to $699,198,805. That's $385.9 million for medical marijuana and $313.2 million for recreational weed. Since 2014 was the rollout year for legal recreational marijuana sales in the state, look for that figure to increase next year.

Maryland Legalization Bills Introduced. Identical bills to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana were filed in the state House and Senate last week. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) filed the bills, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow six plants at their homes and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce. The Senate version is Senate Bill 531; the House version is House Bill 911.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing Tuesday. There will be a public hearing on House Bill 618 Tuesday, as well as pre-hearing press conference. The press conference is at 1:30pm and the hearing is at 2:30pm. The bill would decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less and make growing six or fewer plants a misdemeanor.

Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Coming. A second Ohio group wants to put legalization on the 2016 ballot. Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis is turning in a ballot petition and 1,000 preliminary signatures today for its proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The amendment would legalize marijuana for those 18 and older, allow for marijuana commerce, and allow non-commercial grows of up to 99 plants and possession of up to 99 pounds. Another group, Responsible Ohio, is also in the early stages of its petition drive. The Responsible Ohio measure would set up 10 designated commercial grows and has no provision for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Rejects "Kettle Falls 5" Request to Throw Out Charges. Five Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted by federal authorities will have to go to trial. A federal judge Thursday refused to dismiss the criminal case against them, even though the prosecution appears to violate Justice Department guidelines for medical marijuana prosecutions and even though marijuana is now legal in their state.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. After a month of deliberations, the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources has announced a bill that would create a one-year pilot program in which food stamp applicants in three counties would be subject to screening for drug use and some would be required to take and pass drug tests at their own expense. The measure is House Bill 2021.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Hike Penalties for School Zone Drug Sales. State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) has filed Senate Bill 212, which would add three, four, or five years to sentences for drug sales or manufacturing within 1,000 feet of a school or preschool. The bill would also extend existing school zone law to include private property within the zone.

International

Massive Raid on Liverpool Nightclub. Garlands nightclub, one of the city's oldest and most popular, has been shut down after a massive police raid Thursday night. More than 140 officers stormed the club after a months-long investigation into drug sales at the venue. Police were seeking a court hearing today to shut it down permanently. More than 300 revelers were evicted from the club before police searched it. Police said they found large quantities of drugs on the scene, but only arrested two men.

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress [FEATURE]

(This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, last week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

"We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system," the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

  • restore proportionality to drug sentencing;
  • promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming;
  • make sentencing reductions retroactive;
  • expand BOP's Compassionate Release Program; and
  • expand time credits for good behavior.

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as the Obama administration and members of both parties have all shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth. Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I've expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing," he said earlier this year. "White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there's an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity."

"It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration," said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. "To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry."

"It's clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "It's important that legislation doesn't just paper over the cracks."

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Refiled, CT Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization, More (2/4/15)

There's Florida medical marijuana news, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act is reintroduced, Connecticut's governor wants to defelonize drug possession, an Oregon bill would let localities opt out of legal marijuana commerce, and more. Let's get to it:

At both the federal and the state level, efforts to reduce the prison population are underway. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill That Would Let Localities Ban Pot Businesses Filed. A bill that would repeal parts of the Measure 91 legalization initiative to give local governments the power to regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses was filed Monday. The bill is Senate Bill 542. It is part of a package of bills before the Senate Implementing Measure 91 Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Continued Medical Marijuana System Passes Senate. The bill would allow residents with medical marijuana cards to continue to use dispensaries until at least 2019. That means people with cards could continue to buy marijuana for a lower price than in the adult retail market because medical marijuana has lower taxes. The bill is Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill (R- Colorado Springs).

Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Doing Well. A new Gravis Insights poll has support for medical marijuana at 64% in the Sunshine State. The poll comes as the legislature prepares to take up a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 528, and with the prospect of another initiative in 2016 looming. Last year's medical marijuana initiative won 57% of the vote, but was defeated because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass.

Florida Sheriffs Object to Medical Marijuana Bill. The Florida Sheriffs Association has come out against Senate Bill 528 while meeting at their winter conference in Tallahassee. The sheriffs, with all their medical expertise, say that "smoked marijuana is not medicine" and list the medical conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. They have other demands, too; click on the link to read their press release.

Ohio CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) has filed House Bill 33, which would allow doctors to prescribe high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. The bill would make the oil available at a limited number of hospitals in the state.

New Synthetics

Indiana Bill Seeks to Punish New Synthetics Like Other Drugs. After the Court of Appeals threw out the state's law banning synthetic drugs as overly broad and too complicated to be unconstitutional, lawmakers are responding by filing a bill that would increase the penalties for "dealing in a counterfeit substance if the person represents the substance to be cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD or a schedule I or II narcotic drug." The bill is Senate Bill 278, sponsored by state Sens. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) and Randall Head (R-Logansport).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Makes it Official -- He Wants to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled his budget proposal Tuesday, and it includes plans to require drug testing for those seeking a variety of public benefits. Walker would drug test not only people seeking food stamps, but also people seeking unemployment payments and people seeking Medicaid.

Sentencing

Federal Justice Safety Valve Act Reintroduced. A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced Senate Bill 353 (the House version is HR 706), the Justice Safety Valve Act. The Senate bill was filed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT); the House version was filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors.

Federal Drug Manufacturing Sentencing Enhancement Bill Filed. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Tuesday filed Senate Bill 348, which would "impose enhanced penalties for conduct relating to unlawful production of a controlled substance on Federal property or... while intentionally trespassing on the property of another that causes environmental damage." That language is from the bill summary; the actual text is not yet available.

Connecticut Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization. Gov. Dannell Malloy Tuesday proposed rewriting the state's criminal law to make all simple drug possession arrests misdemeanors. Possession with intent to distribute would not be included. He would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and expand the state's pardon system. Under current state law, all drug possession arrests except for small amounts of marijuana are felonies, with sentences of up to seven years.

International

Senior British Cop Says Give Addicts Free Heroin. Mike Barton, chief constable for Durham, has called for an end to arresting heroin addicts and said it would be better to supply addicts with pharmaceutical heroin in a controlled setting. Targeting drug users is counterproductive, he said. "Their entrapment in criminal justice is a waste of police time and the state's money and dissuades addicts from revealing themselves for treatment for fear of criminal consequences," Barton said.

Chronicle AM: More Decrim & MedMJ Bills, Obama Budget Lets DC Legalize, WI Drug Test Opposition, More (2/3/15)

The president's budget adds one word that allows DC to move ahead with legalization, the marijuana and medical marijuana bills keep coming, hemp is coming to Oregon (get your permits now!), opposition is mounting to public aid benefits drug testing in Wisconsin, and more. Let's get to it:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to impose drug testing on public aid benificiaries is drawing opposition. (wi.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Budget Leaves DC Free to Legalize. Tucked inside the president's just-released 2016 budget proposal is a subtle language change that would let DC legalize and regulate marijuana sales any way it sees fit. It does so by adding a single word. The Obama budget bars the use of any federal funds, while the congressional budget language bars the use of funds. By adding the word "federal," the Obama budget language leaves DC free to use its own funds to implement the legalization measure approved by voters in November.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, with violators paying a fine of no more than $100. The measure is House Bill 218.

Maryland Paraphernalia Decriminalization Bill Filed. Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) has filed legislation that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Maryland decriminalized pot -- but not paraphernalia -- last year, and this bill seeks to rectify that oversight. The bill is House Bill 105.

Wyoming Marijuana Study Bill No Longer Blocks Consideration of Other Pot Bills. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would study marijuana legalization in other states, but not before amending it to remove language that would have blocked consideration of other marijuana-related bills. The measure is House Bill 187.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Questions Attempt to Shut Down Oakland Dispensary. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today challenged federal prosecutors over their attempt to shut down Oakland's Harborside dispensary. The judges wanted to know why the effort was continuing given recent policy pronouncements from the Justice Department that it would not go after dispensaries where they are legal.

Federal Bill to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana Filed. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors have introduced a bill that would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. The Veterans Equal Access Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Illinois Issues Medical Marijuana Licenses. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Monday issued medical marijuana licenses and permits to qualifying growers and sellers. The move came after former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) failed to act on the permits before his term expired. See the full list of licenses and permits here.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair) has filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces and would require that the medicine be grown in the state. The measure is House Bill 800.

Virginia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that would allow epilepsy patients to use low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana won a committee vote Monday. Senate Bill 1235 passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on an 11-2 vote.

Hemp

Oregon Now Accepting Industrial Hemp Applications. The state Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for licenses and permits for industrial hemp. Click here for license and permit applications.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Public Aid Drug Testing Scheme Will Be Opposed By Dane County. Dane County (Madison) executive Joe Parisi (D) said Monday he might sue Gov. Scott Walker over his plans to drug test recipients of public aid benefits. "People who fall on hard times should not be treated like criminals; they should be treated like people who have fallen on hard times: with dignity and respect. Requiring someone who has just been laid off from their job to pee in a cup is not treating people in a dignified manner; it is degrading and insulting," Parisi said in a statement.

Wisconsin Governor's Public Aid Drug Testing Scheme Challenged by Coalition. A coalition of 15 groups are challenging Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to require applicants for and recipients of public assistance and unemployment insurance to pass drug tests. The groups all signed onto a letter criticizing the plan. The coalition includes advocates for Wisconsin's poor and women, members of the state's faith community, organized labor, and more.

International

Indonesia Set to Execute Eight More Drug Offenders, Including Seven Foreigners. A spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general's office said today that the country is preparing to execute eight drug smugglers, including citizens of Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Philippines. It executed six others just two weeks ago, despite international condemnation.

Chronicle AM: VA Forfeiture Reform, Jamaica to Decriminalize, Supreme Court Drug Dog Case, More (1/22/15)

There's medical marijuana action in the states, the Supreme Court hears a case about drug dogs, Jamaica is about to decriminalize ganja, an asset forfeiture reform bill is moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

South Dakota Highway Patrol drug dog and trainer. How long can you be detained waiting for them to show up? (dps.sd.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State "Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act" Filed. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is filing this week legislation designed to bring the state's existing medical and recreational marijuana systems into agreement. "The main intent of my bill is to simplify and unify the two systems so that complex gray areas and dangerous illicit markets will eventually cease to exist," she said. The bill would eliminate unregulated dispensaries and collective gardens, but it would also direct the state Liquor Control Board to increase the number of retail outlets by adopting a competitive, merit- and experience-based licensing application system.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Parents Get Senate Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard Wednesday from parents of chronically ill children were speaking in support of pending medical marijuana legislation, SB 9, introduced by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City). Click on the title link for hearing details.

Maine Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana in Hospitals. State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) has filed LD 35, which would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals. It does so by adding hospitals to list of eligible primary caregivers, the list of places where patients can store and use medical marijuana, and barring hospitals from prohibiting the use of smokeless marijuana by patients.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Tommy Garrett (D-Bellevue) has filed LB 643, a full-blown medical marijuana bill that allows patients or caregivers to grow up to 12 plants and possess up to six ounces, envisions a dispensary system, and allows the plant to be used for a specified list of diseases and conditions.

Opiates

New Jersey Legislators Tackle Package of Heroin and Pain Pill Bills. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodridge), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, announced Wednesday that legislators from both parties had introduced a package of 21 bills aimed at confronting widespread heroin and prescription pill use. The bills are designed to increase access to treatment and recovery. Click on the link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia House Panel Approves Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has passed the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Committee for Courts of Justice. HB 1287, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) now heads for a full committee vote.

Criminal Justice

Vera Institute for Justice DC Event Next Week Features Sen. Cory Booker. The Vera Institute is hosting "Justice in Focus: The Path Forward," in Washington, DC, next Tuesday. The event will feature a keynote interview with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as panels with other major figures in criminal justice reform. Click on either link for more information and event details.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Public Benefits Drug Testing Scheme. Republican Gov. Scott Walker today announced more details of his plan to require drug screening and testing of people seeking public benefits, including food stamps and unemployment benefits. He said that those who fail the drug test would get a chance for free drug treatment and receive job training. More details will come when he unveils his budget proposal on February 3.

Search and Seizure

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Roadside Detentions While Awaiting Drug Dogs. How long can a police officer detain you on the side of the highway while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to come sniff your vehicle? That was the question before the Supreme Court Wednesday. The case is that of a man pulled over in Nebraska. He was issued a warning ticket and asked to consent to a search of his vehicle. He refused, but rather than allow him to go on his way, the officer detained him for eight more minutes until a drug dog arrived. From their questions, it doesn't appear the justices are inclined to side with the defendant; click the link to get the flavor of their comments. The case is Rodriguez v. US.

International

Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja. The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries. The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday. It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

Chronicle AM: DEA Settles Facebook Suit, WY Decrim Bill Advances, More (1/21/15)

The DEA will pay for using a woman's identity (and photos) to make a fake Facebook page, a Wyoming decrim bill is moving, Virginia is seeing CBD and medical marijuana bills, there's a hemp bill in Florida, the Vera Institute releases a report on New York sentencing reforms, and more. Let's get to it:

A faked Facebook page will cost the DEA $134,000. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 29, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot. Fines would be $250 for less than a half ounce and $500 for more. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Defendant Seeks Dismissal in Federal Medical Marijuana Case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "cromnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

Hawaii Health Department Takes Charges of Medical Marijuana Program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Virginia Legislature Sees CBD, Medical Marijuana Bills. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington State Law Banning Medical Marijuana Advertising Unconstitutional, Court Rules. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

Hemp

Florida Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasalinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state. The bill is House Bill 363. Activists with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN) are seeking a Senate sponsor.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on New York Sentencing Reforms. The report examines 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that removed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and expanded eligibility for treatment instead of incarceration. The report found a 35% percent increase in the rate of diversion to treatment; lower rates of re-arrest in such cases; which was associated with lower rates of rearrest, and fewer defendants sentenced to jail, time served, or "split sentence" -- a combination of jail and probation. However, most drug arrests still did not lead to diversion, and implementation varied widely across boroughs.

Law Enforcement

DEA Will Pay $134,000 to Woman It Used in Fake Facebook Page. The Justice Department has settled a civil suit brought against the DEA by a Watertown, New York, woman whose identity and photos were used by a DEA agent to create a fake Facebook page in her name to catch drug fugitives. Sondra Arquiett's phone had by seized by the Agenty Tim Sinnigen during a 2010 drug arrest, and the agent posed as her on Facebook without her consent. "The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of (Arquiett), including photographs of (her) in her bra and panties. Sinnigen also posted photographs of (Arquiett's) minor child and her minor niece to the Facebook page." The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to make this go away.

International

Vietnam Sentences Eight to Death for Heroin Trafficking. Eight people have been sentenced to die for trafficking 416 pounds of heroin in Vietnam. The trial in People's Court in Ho Binh province ended Monday. Six other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and 17 others jailed for terms ranging from six to 20 years. Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws.

Stratfor's Mexico Cartel Map. The private, Austin-based intelligence concern has released its latest map of Mexican cartel activity. Despite constant changes in the organized crime scene, Stratfor says, cartel activity remains based in three geographic locations: Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and the Tierra Caliente in Michoacan and Guerrero. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: ME Mj Bills, OH Mj Init, VA Heroin Bills, WY Drug & Asset Forfeiture; More (1/20/15)

State legislative sessions are getting underway, and drug policy-related bills are popping up all over. There's good, bad, and ugly. Let's get to it:

Heroin is on the legislative agenda in a number of states, including Virginia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Delay Regulations for Marijuana Concentrates. Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) last Friday filed House Bill 59, which would delay regulations for concentrates by up to a year. That conflicts with the language of the marijuana legalization initiative, and has legalization supporters unhappy. Click on the story link for more details.

A Big Batch of Pot Bills in Maine. There are at least 15 marijuana-related bills pending before the state legislature, including one that would legalize, tax, and regulate the weed. Rep. Dianne Russell (D-Portland), sponsor of the legalization bill, is also sponsoring four medical marijuana bills. Another bill, sponsored by the Department of Public Safety, would set a limit on the amount of THC drivers could have in their systems. Click on the link for more detail.

Nebraska Bill Would Make Pot Concentrates a Felony. The state decriminalized pot possession in the 1970s, but a bill being pushed by the state attorney general's office, LB 326, would begin to undo that by making possession of marijuana concentrates not just a misdemeanor, but a felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison. It's been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Responsible Ohio Lays Out its Vision for Legalization. The group wants to put a constitutional amendment to legalize pot on the November 2015 ballot, and today announced details of its proposal. The initiative would create a Marijuana Control Commission, allow for 10 licensed commercial grows, allow for marijuana manufacturing facilities that would sell only to retailers, allow for nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, and would tax marijuana at a 15% rate. Click on either link for more.

Heroin

Virginia Legislature Sees Heroin Bills Filed. At least four bills have been filed that seek to address the toll of heroin addiction and overdoses. House Bill 1638 would make people who provided drugs that resulted in a fatal overdose liable for a second degree murder charge; House Bill 1500 is a limited 911 Good Samaritan bill; House Bill 1458 would expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and Senate Bill 817 would expand the state's prescription monitoring program to allow probation and parole officers to access the database.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances to Senate Floor. A bill that would bar police from seizing people's property unless they are charged with a felony drug crime passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and now awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate File 14 drew late opposition from the offices of Gov. Matt Mead (R) and Attorney General Peter Michael (R), which claimed they would have to charge more people with felonies if they couldn't just take their money, but legislators expressed irritation at the late objections when the bill has been in process for months.

Drug Policy

Wyoming Bill Would Lighten Up on Repeated Drug Possession Punishments. Under current law, people convicted a third time in their lives for misdemeanor drug possession face felony penalties. House Bill 109 would change state law to make the felony penalties apply on the forth conviction, and the previous convictions would have to have happened in the past five years, instead of throughout the convict's lifetime, which is current law. There are at least three other bills relating to drug possession before the legislature; click on the title link to read more.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Randy Pinocci (R-Sun River) Monday filed House Bill 200, which would require all applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamps program) to be screened for evidence of drug abuse. Those whose screening suggests a possible issue would be required to undergo a drug test. People who test positive for drugs wouldn't be allowed to receive benefits unless they agreed to complete a 30-day drug treatment program.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Cops Start Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Deputies in Oakland County have begun carrying naloxone opioid overdose reversal kits in a bid to reduce overdoses. That was made possible by the passage last year of Senate Bill 1049, which allowed law enforcement agencies to distribute the drug to police who have been trained to use it.

International

German Cops Tired of Messing Around With Small Time Drug Crimes. The country's police union is calling for "soft" drug offenses and other minor crimes to be decriminalized so police can focus on serious crime and terrorism. German police are also faced with shrinking numbers due to mandatory retirement of officers.

Drug War Issues

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