Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

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Chronicle AM: Delaware Decriminalizes, Supremes Make Synthetic Convictions More Difficult, More (6/19/05)

The marijuana reform bandwagon rolls through Delaware, federal bills on opiates and racial profiling get filed, the Supreme Court issues an interesting decision on synthetic drug sales, and more.

The Supreme Court clarifies that criminal intent matters. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults. The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.

Missouri Cannabis Conference Next Weekend. Missouri advocacy groups Show Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are holding a joint conference beginning next Friday in Kansas City. Click on the title link for all the details.

Heroin and Opiates

Federal Bill to Deal With Opiate Use Filed. A bipartisan group of six House members Thursday filed HR 2805 as a multi-pronged effort to grapple with opiate and heroin use. Several other bills on the topic have already been filed. This one would increase prescription monitoring requirements, create an inter-agency task to develop best practices for pain management, create a grant program to increase the number of first responders carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and direct the drug czar's office to establish a public awareness program.

New Synthetic Drugs

Supreme Court Rules People Can't Be Convicted for Selling Synthetic Drugs If It's Not Clear They're Illegal. A unanimous US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people cannot be convicted for selling synthetic drugs unless prosecutors prove they knew the drugs were prohibited by law. Stephen McFadden had been convicted of violating the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement Act for selling "bath salts," and a federal appeals court ruled that trial court jury instructions saying he could be convicted if the jury found he intended the drugs for human consumption. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying prosecutors must prove the defendant knew the substance was either a controlled substance or an analog. The case is McFadden v. United States.

Law Enforcement

Federal Racial Profiling Bill Introduced. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Thursday filed S 1610, which would eliminate racial profiling by police officers and promote accountability for state and local law enforcement. The bill also has provisions to eliminate sentencing disparities and promote reentry programs. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Chronicle AM: Puerto Rico Okays MedMJ, TX Pot Bills Killed, NV Harm Reduction Bill Moves (5/4/15)

The Supreme Court wants to know what the Obama administration thinks about that lawsuit over Colorado's pot law, a Hawaii dispensary bill is back from the dead and being considered today, a Nevada harm reduction bill advances, a federal drug defelonization bill is introduced, and more.

The high court is considering that lawsuit against Colorado. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Asks For Obama Administration Position on Suit Over Colorado Pot Law. The US Supreme Court today asked for the administration's views on the lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. This signals that the high court is taking an interest in the case.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording of Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge last Friday rejected the proposed popular name and ballot title of a proposed legalization initiative. "The Arkansas Industrial Hemp and Medical Cannabis Amendment" did not mention any limits on industrial hemp or medical marijuana use, Rutledge said. Petitioners can submit a revised initiative.

Puerto Rico Governor Signs Executive Order Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla Sunday signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana. The move comes after years of discussion in the US island territory.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Back from the Dead. Negotiations over the dispensary bill, House Bill 321, collapsed last Friday, but after drama over the weekend, a Senate and House conference committee is set to reconsider the bill today. Sixteen of 25 senators had asked for reconsideration after conference committee chair Sen. Josh Green refused to agree to a final version of the bill. Senate President Donna Mercado then threw him off the committee, and Kim and House Speaker Joseph Souki sent out a letter late Friday saying the bill would be reconsidered today. Click on the link for all the juicy details.

Illinois Advisory Board Votes Against Adding Anxiety and Diabetes. The board has rejected adding anxiety and diabetes to the list of qualifying conditions and diseases, but is still considering whether to add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

ACLU to Sue Over Firing of Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Patient. The ACLU of Rhode Island says it plans to file a complaint against an employer who refuses to hire medical marijuana patients, even though it is legal in the state. Lawsuits challenging the firing of medical marijuana users have been turned away in California and Michigan.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Assembly Approves Bill With 911 Good Samaritan, Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Provisions. The lower house voted last Friday to approve Senate Bill 459, a harm reduction bill containing both provisions allowing greater access to the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and provisions that would reduce -- but not remove -- penalties for those who report drug overdoses. The Senate has already approved it, but it needs one last vote there after changes in the Assembly. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) supports the bill.

Sentencing

Federal Drug Defelonization Bill Filed. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has filed HR 2153, which would make certain federal drug offenses misdemeanors and eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, the House Energy Committee, and the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Including Eight Lifers

President Obama today commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal drug offenders. With that action, he has doubled the number of commutations he has issued since taking office in January 2009.

President Obama commuted 22 drug sentences today. (whitehouse.gov)
The prisoners who got their sentences cut were all convicted of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Fourteen of the cases involved cocaine.

Many of those were convicted under harsh crack cocaine sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and at least partially rolled back during the Obama administration. The sentences were typically 20 years or longer, with most of the prisoners having already served more than a decade behind bars.

In eight cases, the defendants were serving life sentences for drug crimes. Among the life sentences, six were for crack cocaine offenses (one included heroin, too), one was for a meth offense, and one was for a Kentucky man convicted of growing more than a thousand marijuana plants.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement announcing the commutations. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years -- in some cases more than a decade -- longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

In a first, the president also sent letters to each of the prisoners whose sentences he commuted urging them to take full advantage of any post-release opportunities.

"I wanted to personally inform you that I have granted your application for commutation," President Obama told Terry Barnes at the Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Barnes was only halfway through a 20 year sentence for crack cocaine distribution.

The same letter went out to the other 21 commutees as well.

The prisoners will see their sentences end on July 28. For a complete list, click on the link at the top of this article.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA "Cold Consent" Searches, NYC Calls for Pot Legalization, KY Heroin Bills Collide, More (3/20/15)

An Ohio legalization initiative heads for signature-gathering, the NYC city council calls for decrim and legalization, the DEA's "cold consent" searches get critiqued, Kentucky pols can't agree on how to deal with heroin, and more.

A Justice Department OIG report criticizes the DEA's "cold consent" seaches. (justice.gov)
Marijuana

Louisiana Legalization Bill Pre-Filed. State Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill. He submitted House Bill 117 yesterday. To go into effect, it would have to both pass the legislature and be approved by the electorate in the November 2016 election. Louisiana has some of the country's harshest marijuana laws.

Ohio Ballot Board Clears ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative. Backers of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have cleared the final hurdle before beginning signature-gathering. The state Ballot Board agreed that the proposal amounts to a single constitutional amendment, so it's good to go. Backers will now need to gather more than 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for the ballot. The amendment would allow only 10 growing sites already promised to investors.

NYC City Council Calls for Decriminalizing and Legalizing Marijuana. This week, the New York City Council called for the state to pass legislation to both decriminalize and to tax and regulate marijuana. As part of the Council's State Budget and Legislative Agenda for the 2015-2016 legislative session, the council urged the state legislature to pass two marijuana policy reforms -- the Fairness and Equity Act and the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA). The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito had previously announced her support for marijuana legalization in November, but this marks the first time that decriminalization and legalization have been part of the Council's official legislative agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 1 yesterday. The measure has passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Methamphetamine

New York Senate Approves Bill to Increase Meth Penalties. The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1150, which would increase penalties for meth possession and sale. Meth would be treated similarly to heroin and cocaine under the bill. The bill is now in the Assembly Codes Committee as Assembly Bill 5577.

Opiates

Kentucky Legislators Still Can't Agree on Heroin Bills. House and Senate negotiators met yesterday to try to reach a compromise on competing bills that address heroin use in the state, but mainly agreed to disagree. There are differences over increasing penalties for heroin dealers, whether to allow needle exchanges, and on how to protect people who report overdoses. There is now a chance legislators could agree on a compromise that simply omits the sentencing and overdose reporting provisions.

Asset Forfeiture

Sen. Chuck Grassley Investigating Asset Forfeiture Abuses in US Marshals Service. The Iowa Republican sent a letter Wednesday to the agency demanding documents after he received whistleblower allegations that the service's Asset Forfeiture Division had used asset forfeiture monies "to purchase extravagant office decorations such as custom wall paper and window treatments." He is also looking into allegations of favoritism in hiring at the agency.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Report Criticizes DEA's "Cold Consent" Searches. In a new report, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General details how the DEA's use of "cold consent" searches, where agents confront travelers at airports, bus, and rail stations and "ask" for consent to search them, may be racially profiling passengers and unjustly seizing their money. Click on the title link or read the report for lots more detail.

Reentry and Rehabilitation

Ex-Felon Federal Voting Rights Bills Filed. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has filed S 772 to secure the federal voting rights of people who have served their time. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has filed a companion bill, HR 1459, in the House.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More Cosponsors. The Senate version, S 502, now has nine cosponsors, with the latest being Sen. John Isaakson (R-GA). The House version, HR 920, now has 22 cosponsors, with six signing on in the past week. The bills would retroactively apply provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act and would reduce mandatory minimum sentences.

International

Canada Supreme Court Takes Up Medical Marijuana Edibles. The high court is hearing a case where plaintiffs charge that Health Canada violated medical marijuana patients' constitutional rights to life, liberty, and safety by barring any form of marijuana except dried plants. The government has lost at every step of the legal process so far, but continues to argue the case.

Zambia Opposition Party Joins Green Call for Marijuana Legalization. Zambia's second largest opposition party, the United Party for National Development, has joined the Greens in calling for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. "There is nothing wrong with cannabis. Just like you and me 'dear reader' Cannabis Sativa, the plant, was also created by God," wrote party vice-president for political affairs Canisius Banda. "Cannabis is a resource. Cannabis must be decriminalized the world over. Nonetheless, regulation, albeit wise, just as it exists for many other things ought to remain. Just like Zambia boasts of Copper, California boasts of Cannabis, the biggest cash crop, responsible for US$14 billion a year in sales. Zambia would do well, under decriminalized but controlled conditions, to start growing Cannabis, and at least, for now until we are a bit more civilized, only for export to countries that have made it legal."

Chronicle AM:MT MedMJ Court Victory, DC Mayor Will Fight for Legalization, Thai Drug Sentences, More (1/5/15)

DC's mayor will fight for legalization, a Montana judge blocks most of a restrictive medical marijuana law, a New York county's misdemeanor drug bust asset forfeiture law gets vetoed, Thailand will review drug sentences, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Says She Will "Explore Every Option" to Get Legalization Enforced. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, new Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser stuck up for the District's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. In the face of opposition in the Republican Congress, Bowser said the city will "explore every option," up to and including a lawsuit against Congress, to ensure that the will of the voters is respected. She said the city would send the measure to Congress this month.

Washington State Bill Would Make Old Pot Convictions Go Away. People convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the past could have a chance to clear their records under a bill pre-filed for this year's legislative session. House Bill 1041, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Vashon Island), would allow for the vacating of past pot offenses, but only if there are no pending criminal charges or any new charges since the misdemeanor pot conviction. Neither would people with a history of DUI charges, violent or obscene offenses, or domestic violence charges be eligible.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Billboard Go Up. Billboards pushing for medical marijuana and paid for by the Sioux Falls Free Thinkers are going up this week in South Dakota's largest city. The move comes as advocacy groups, including South Dakota Against Prohibition, work to get a medical marijuana bill through the legislature this session. South Dakota legislators have consistently rejected medical marijuana, and so have the state's voters. Past efforts to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box failed in 2006 and 2010.

Montana Judge Blocks Some Restrictions on Medical Marijuana. A state district court judge last Friday dealt a death blow to provisions of a restrictive state medical marijuana law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature seven years after Big Sky voters approved a more open initiative allowing for medicinal use and a wide open dispensary scene. District Judge James Reynolds in Helena permanently enjoined the implementation of certain key provisions in the law. Those provisions have never actually taken effect because Reynolds blocked them with a temporary injunction back in 2011. Click on the title link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Orange County, NY, County Exec Vetoes Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus has vetoed an asset forfeiture law that would have allowed for the seizure of cash and property from people arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses. "While the legislation's concept to punish criminals who threaten public safety is something I am supportive of; still, the measure's final result leaves open the possibility of affecting innocent individuals," he said last Friday. "Moreover, the fact that revenue would largely go toward the general cost of government, rather than exclusively preventing future criminal activity is troubling to many."

Sentencing

Obama's Plan for Mass Commutations of Drug Sentences Hitting Roadblocks. President Obama's announced goal of commuting thousands of federal drug sentences is running into problems. Although some 25,000 prisoners have applied for sentence cuts, only eight were handed out last month when Obama announced Christmas pardons and commutations. The Justice Department is struggling to determine which sentences have been influenced by the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and it lacks the lawyers to make a significant dent in the backlog. Advocacy groups have formed the Clemency Project 2014 to recruit private attorneys to help, but that is creating its own sets of issues. Much, much more at the link.

Methamphetamine

Meth Pouring Across California-Mexico Border. US Customs and Border Protection reports that meth is coming across the Mexican border into California at unprecedented levels. Agents seized more than 14,000 pounds of the drug in FY 2014, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all meth seizures at the US border or points of entry. Seizures in California have increased nearly five-fold since 2009, when a US federal law made the procurement of precursor chemicals in this country more difficult.

International

Thailand to Review Drug Sentencing. The country's Narcotics Control Board is meeting this week to consider revising drug sentences. Board Secretary-General Pempong Koomchaya said the laws are too stiff in many instances. "The imprisonment term for drug smugglers across the board is between 10-20 years although many smugglers are found with only 12 pills in their possession. About 60-70% of the arrested drug offenders have in possession less than 50 pills. Jailing them causes overcrowding at prisons also," he said. Pempong said some sentences must be made more lenient and that revisions in the law should be ready by the end of the month.

Israeli Farmers Eye Expanded Medical Marijuana Opportunities. The Health Ministry is expected to announce later this month it will open bids for additional medical marijuana providers. The tender is set to be published January 31, with results expected in March. Some farmers see new opportunities for profit—and for lower prices for patients. Click on the link for more. 

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Tax Battle, MA Mandatory Minimums Under Fire, More (11/19/14)

Oregon cities will fight to be allowed to tax marijuana, the CRS says state-level legalization leaves the US vulnerable to criticism on international drug treaties, federal reform bills pick up more sponsors, Hawaii medical marijuana patients get some rental protections, Iran is fine with executing drug traffickers, and more. Let's get to it:

Iran says drug traffickers deserve to be executed. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Research Service Says Legalization Leaves US Vulnerable to Charges It Violates International Drug Treaties. In a report released this week, the Congressional Research Service said state-level marijuana legalization challenges the international drug treaties, but that legalization in the District of Columbia would be the most direct affront because Congress has oversight over DC laws and the ability to void them. "This line of reasoning suggests that if Initiative 71 is permitted to take effect, this inaction by the federal government may strengthen the [International Narcotics Control] Board's argument that the United States has not fulfilled its commitments under the Single Convention," the report said. Congress could challenge DC legalization, but it appears there is little interest in doing so.

Oregon Cities Seek to Tax Marijuana. The League of Oregon Cities says it will ask the legislature to amend the voter-approved Measure 91 legalization initiative to explicitly allow local taxes imposed before the measure was approved earlier this month. Measure 91 sponsors say they will oppose the move because it could drive prices up high enough to encourage users to continue to resort to the black market. The legislature is considering forming a joint committee to consider this and regulatory issues in the wake of Measure 91's passage. Measure 91 allows for the state to tax marijuana, but not localities. Some 70 Oregon localities passed tax measures before Measure 91 was approved.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapuetic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Hawaii Law Protecting Medical Marijuana Patient Housing Rights Goes Into Effect. As of this month, a new law voids provisions in state rental agreements that previously allowed for tenants to be evicted based on their status as registered medical marijuana patients. The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii fought for and now applauds this step toward protecting patient rights. The law does not, however, protect people living in government-subsidized housing.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 5212, would strengthen protections against asset forfeiture and require that seizures be proportional to the offense. It was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walhberg (R-MI) and now has 20 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and five Democrats. The latest is Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA). The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, S 2389, was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It would provide grants to community-based anti-drug coalitions, create treatment instead of incarceration programs, and provide for evidence-based opioid treatment interventions, among other provisions. It now has six cosponsors -- four Democrats and two Republicans. The latest are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN). It is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 3383, was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and would allow federal judges to sentence most drug offenders without regard to mandatory minimum sentences. It would also allow crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010 to seek sentence reductions. It now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans, and is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 3465, was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and would expand federal grants to aid former prisoners reentering society. It has 45 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest is Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Massachusetts Chief Justice Renews Call for End to Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. After a visit to Worcester Trial Court to meet with local court officials and employees, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants reiterated an earlier call to abolish mandatory minimums for drug offenders. He said he wants "individualized, evidence-based" sentencing. "Everybody sort of feels that the drug problem is not getting any better. I think everybody recognizes that we're not going to incarcerate ourselves out of the problem," he said.

Massachusetts Criminal Justice Panel Recommends Eliminating Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. The Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth's Criminal Justice System has recommended ending mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses in the state. It is also calling for parole eligibility for all inmates who have served at least two-thirds of the lower end of their sentences, except for those convicted of murder or manslaughter. The commission is working on a report for incoming Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Baker signaled support for ending mandatory minimums for drug offenders during the campaign.

International

Iran Rejects Criticism of Its Resort to the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers. Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi Tuesday rejected criticism from human rights campaigners and UN human rights bodies over its frequent executions of drug traffickers. "We do not accept the statements made by the UN human rights bodies that drug-related convicts should not be executed," he said. He added that anyone who smuggles or deals drugs deserves to be executed.

Report on Drug Policy Progress in Asia. The Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program has published "Moving the Needle on Drug Policy in Asia," which examines innovations in drug policy in an area that boasts some of the world's harshest drug policies. The report looks at harm reduction programs in Taiwan and drug treatment programs in Malaysia. Click on the title link to read it.

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "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 was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Policy in Senate Races, CA Fair Sentencing Act, Stanton Peele on Disease Model, More (9/29/14)

Marijuana politics is popping up in some US Senate races, pot arrests are still going up in some states, the Guam medical marijuana initiative faces a legal challenge, Stanton Peele takes on the disease model of addiction and liberals who love it, Jerry Brown signs the California Fair Sentencing Act, and more. Let's get to it:

Addiction psychologist Stanton Peele rips into liberals who embrace the disease model of addiction. (YouTube.com)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy in the Kentucky US Senate Race. Pot politics is playing a role in the Kentucky Senate race. Both incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Grimes agree that industrial hemp is a good thing, but Grimes said last Thursday she wants to have a discussion on legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. McConnell retorted last Friday that he opposes legalizing marijuana for any reason because the state has a heroin problem and it would send the wrong message.

Nebraska Democratic US Senate Candidate Open to Legalization. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate from Nebraska is open to marijuana legalization. "I think we should give very serious consideration to legalization of marijuana," Dave Domina said Thursday. "If I were a philosopher king, we wouldn't have it, but I'm not and we need to spend our law enforcement dollars as intelligently as we can. That's not on marijuana enforcement. "What we should do is to make safe and dispense responsibly the drugs that are the most common, the least dangerous," he said. "I'm not saying they are desirable. I don’t think cigarettes are desirable, frankly. But nonetheless, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to methodically make marijuana available to people on a rational basis. It needs to be safely distributed and it needs to be taken away from crime as a profit center." The Republican nominee, Ben Sasse, didn't take a firm stand on the issue.

Marijuana Arrests Up in 17 States. Marijuana legalization may be inevitable, but some states haven't gotten the message. According to a new report from marijuana researcher Dr. Jon Gettman, even though national marijuana arrests peaked in 2007, marijuana arrests increased in 17 states between 2008 and 2012. Those states and their rates of annual increase are: South Carolina (11.6%), Washington, DC (7.7%) South Dakota (7.7%), North Dakota (5.5%), Utah (4.5%), Illinois (4.3%), Montana (3.5%), Idaho (3.2%), Virginia (2.6%), New York (2.4%), New Jersey (2.4%), Oregon (2.1%), Tennessee (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.2%), Vermont (1%), Michigan (1%), and West Virginia (1%). The report is Marijuana in the States 2012.

Overblown Analogy Department. The Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Office is sounding the alarm over high-THC cannabis oil, popularly known as "wax" or "dabs," but its spokesperson is relying on an old bogeyman to get her message across. "This particular drug is to marijuana the way crack is to cocaine," Donna Wood said.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Attorney Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney has asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

First Illinois Patients Get Their Cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York Governor Asks Justice Department to Allow State to Acquire Medical Marijuana from Other States. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Drug Policy

Dr. Stanton Peele on the Disease Theory of Addiction. Drug war critic and iconoclastic addiction psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele has penned a provocative screed critical of the disease theory of addiction and political liberals who embrace it. The article is "Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law. California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement. The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

International

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Says Pot Smoker Registry Could Be Used to Identify People Needing Drug Treatment. Former President Tabare Vazquez, who is running to return to the office, has proposed using the state's registry of marijuana users to expose them to drug treatment. He was attempting to frame the law as a rehabilitative measure, but critics say it could dissuade users from registering with the state. Vazquez's remarks also run afoul of provisions in the law that limit revealing such data "without the individual's express written consent."

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California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement.

CA state Sen. Holly Mitchell's bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has been signed into law.
The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

"Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody," said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of California's Legislative Black Caucus. "My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest," Mitchell went on to say. "The law isn't supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness."

Although crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, legislation in the 1980s, driven by fear, misinformation, and political posturing, created much harsher penalties for crack cocaine offenses.

The racial impact of those laws was dramatic. In California, 77% of people imprisoned for crack offenses are black, 18% are Hispanic, and less than 2% are non-Hispanic whites. With blacks making up only 6.6% of the state's population, they are clearly being hit disproportionately by the crack sentencing disparity.

"The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980's drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men," said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California's action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes."

The bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform groups. It also won the support of the district attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- August 14, 2014

A bill to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is close to becoming law in California, the US Sentencing Commission still has work to do on mandatory minimums, the 50th anniversary of America's first pot protest will be commemorated this weekend, and more. Let's get to it:

There's action on sentencing on a couple of fronts today. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

50th Anniversary of First Pot Protest to Be Commemorated at Seattle Hempfest This Weekend. On August 16, 1964, a lone crusader named Lowell Eggemeier marched into the San Francisco Hall of Justice, fired up a joint, and puffed it in the presence of the police inspector. "I am starting a campaign to legalize marijuana smoking," he announced, "I wish to be arrested." He was promptly hauled off to jail for marijuana possession, at that time a felony. California NORML will lead a commemoration of Eggemeir's historic first step Saturday at the Hempfest in Seattle.

National Council of State Legislatures to Consider Marijuana Reform Resolution Next Week. The council's Law and Criminal Justice Committee will consider a resolution encouraging prohibiting the federal government from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have authorized either medical marijuana or adult marijuana sales and use. Click on the link to read the resolution.

Medical Marijuana

Public Hearings Set for Iowa's New CBD Cannabis Oil Law. Iowans who have something to say about the state's new law decriminalizing the possession of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptics will get a chance at a series of public hearings. They will be held in six cities: Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Mason City, Ottumwa, and Sioux City. Click on the link for times and dates, as well information on submitting comment via email or snail mail.

Harm Reduction

Federal Overdose Prevention Act Text Now Available Online. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) filed the bill, Senate Bill 2755, on July 31, and the text is now available online. The bill would create a task force to come up with ways to reduce overdose deaths. Click on the link to read the bill.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Includes More Work on Mandatory Minimums As Part of Next Year's Priorities. The Commission today approved its list of priorities for the coming year and includes "continued work on addressing concerns with mandatory minimum penalties." The Commission said it would "once again set as its top priority continuing to work with Congress to implement the recommendations in its 2011 report on federal mandatory minimum penalties, which included recommendations that Congress reduce the severity and scope of some mandatory minimum penalties and consider expanding the 'safety valve' statute which exempts certain low-level non-violent offenders from mandatory minimum penalties.

California Fair Sentencing Act Passes Assembly. The California Assembly today approved the Fair Sentencing Act, which would remove the legal disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenders under state law. The measure, Senate Bill 1010, has already passed the state Senate. It goes back to the Senate for a pro forma concurrence vote, and then on to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill would remove not only sentencing disparities, but also disparities in the guidelines for probation and asset forfeiture in cases of possession of cocaine for sale. The disparities have resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and imprisonment in the state.

International

British Drug Minister Calls for Legalizing Medical Marijuana. British Drug Minister Norman Baker is calling for new drug laws that allow the use of marijuana to treatment certain medical conditions in a letter he will send to Health Minister Jeremy Hunt. Baker is a Liberal Democrat, the junior partner in the Conservative-led government. Lib Dems have a significantly softer drug policy line than the Tories, as was evidenced yet again when the Tories immediately slapped down Baker's proposal.

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