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Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.


Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Sweeping Bipartisan Federal Sentencing Reform Legislation Filed [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive sentencing reform legislation Thursday. The bill aims at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering reentry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents "small government" conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates -- a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves "cooperation incentives" to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.

In addition to reducing prison terms for some offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant's criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a bill cosponsor (wikimedia/Bbsrock)
"This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade," Grassley said. "This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused."

"The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth," said Durbin. "Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

"Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik's cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference," said Schumer. "This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for nonviolent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I'm hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs."

"For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential," said Booker. "Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong."

Although the bill doesn't move completely away from the resort to mandatory minimums, it is still garnering general support among the civil rights, drug reform, and criminal justice reform communities.

The bill aims to reduce federal prison populations. (
"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences -- especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."

"In an age of intense partisan conflict, it's heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was also on board.

"Today marks a unique moment in our history and an important step forward in making long overdue reforms to our justice system," said Wade Henderson, the group's CEO. "This bill represents the most robust bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform in years. "This harmonic convergence of left and right -- of civil rights and small government advocates -- represents a coalition of conscience that can carry this legislation to the White House. We applaud the effort and look forward to working with the cosponsors on this legislation."

Now, the bill has to actually get through Congress. Given the high-powered and bipartisan support in the Senate, prospects look good there, but whether the House will be willing to sign on remains to be seen.

Obama Commutes Sentences for 46 Drug Offenders [FEATURE]

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

President Obama announced today he has granted clemency to dozens of federal inmates, the vast majority of them sentenced under draconian crack cocaine laws. More than 30,000 federal prisoners have applied for clemency since the Obama administration issued a call for them to do so last year.

President Obama (
The remaining clemency applications are still being processed, but many more could be released before Obama's term expires in January 2017. The Justice Department says it prioritizes applications from low-level, nonviolent offenders who have already serve at least 10 years behind bars and who would have been sentenced to much less time if convicted for those same offenses today.

"We spend over $80 billion incarcerating people, often times who've only been engaged in nonviolent drug offenses," Obama said in his announcement of the commutations. "I'm commuting the sentences of 46 prisoners who were convicted many years or in some cases decades ago. These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses so their punishments didn't fit the crime. I believe there's a lot more we can do to restore the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system and to make sure our tax dollars are well spent even as we are keeping our streets safe."

Drug offenders account for nearly half of the more than 200,000 doing time in federal prisons. That is a more than 20-fold increase in the number of federal drug prisoners in 1980, just before the start of the Reagan-era war on drugs.

The federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, (
Today's commutations of 46 sentences bring to 90 the number of people to whom Obama has granted clemency during his administration. While more are expected, administration spokesmen made clear that merely wielding the clemency power is not enough.

"While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term, it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies," said White House counsel Neil Eggleston.

This is just the beginning of a week heavy on criminal justice issues for the president. Tomorrow, Obama is expected to make a major speech on criminal justice reform before the NAACP, and on Thursday, he is scheduled to visit a federal prison, which would make him the first president to ever do so.

"I am elated that President Obama continues to use his executive powers to grant freedom to those drug offenders who have served draconian sentences," said Anthony Papa, media relations manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. "I hope this sends a message to governors of states that have the power to grant clemencies to those who deserve a chance to be reunited with their families."

The United States remains the world leader in incarceration. (
The president sent a letter to the prisoners whose sentences he commuted: "I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," he wrote. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances."

He urged the soon-to-be-freed prisoners to lead by example.

"Remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so, you will affect not only your life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better."

Washington, DC
United States

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. (
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. (
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.


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. (
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. (

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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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. (
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.


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.


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? (
"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. (
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

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