Mandatory Minimums

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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.

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.


Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: CA on Verge of Regulating MedMJ, Federal No Mandatory Minimums Drug Bill Filed, More (9/11/15)

Nearly 20 years after the passage of Prop 215, California may finally get statewide medical marijuana regulation; the Illinois governor's veto pen has an impact, but also gets blunted; there's a new report on drug policy and human rights in Latin America, and more.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. (
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Dies… For Now. The bill, House Bill 218, passed out of the legislature, only to be the subject of an amendatory veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), in which he made several changes to the text of the bill. Now, the clock has run out on the legislature approving that language, but a new bill is expected to emerge and the state could still pass decriminalization this year.

Medical Marijuana

California Legislators Set to Pass Historic Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. Before day's end, the legislature is expected to approve bills that would finally bring statewide regulation to the thriving industry. The bills, Assembly Bill 266 and Senate Bill 643, are to be amended and passed today and then signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Passage should create a full-fledged, highly regulated system with licensing for all stages of cultivation, production, distribution, and sales.

Illinois Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Thursday vetoed a measure that would have allowed people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to qualify for medical marijuana. His administration also refused to expand access to medical marijuana for 10 other ailments. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended adding the 11 conditions, but Rauner killed PTSD and the Department of Public Health killed the rest. Rauner said expanding the program was premature.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Senators Call for Review of FDA Decision on Oxycontin for Kids. A bipartisan group of senators have asked the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to investigate the Food and Drug Administration's August decision to approve the use of the powerful pain reliever in pediatric patients. The senators called the FDA move "a step in the wrong direction" in the face of growing levels of opiate dependency and abuse.

Illinois Legislature Overrides Veto of Heroin Treatment Funding. The state Senate Wednesday voted 44-11 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) veto of portions of an omnibus heroin bill that would have mandated Medicaid paying for drug treatment for heroin users. The state House had already voted to override, so now the whole range of House Bill 1 will go into effect.

Asset Forfeiture

California Legislature Kills Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Under heavy lobbying pressure from law enforcement, the state Assembly Wednesday killed Senate Bill 443, which would have reformed civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill had enjoyed bipartisan support and nearly unanimous votes prior to the final Assembly vote. But there is still a chance the bill will be reconsidered and passed today, the last day of the session. Stay tuned.


Senator Kelly Ayotte Introduces Bill to Increase Fentanyl Trafficking Sentences. Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) Thursday filed S. 2027 to increase penalties for the synthetic opioid. There are no particulars on the bill available yet.

Rep. Maxine Waters Introduces Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses. Rep. Waters (D-CA) Thursday filed H.R. 3489, "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." There are no particulars on the bill available yet.


New Report Examines Drug Policy and Human Rights in Latin America. The Argentine Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has released a new report, The Impact of Drug Policy on Human Rights: The Experience of the Americas, covering a wide range of issues, from long prison sentences for minor drug offenses to the way harsh drug policies run counter to international human rights standards. The report also highlights how such policies have a disproportionate effect on the poor, minorities, and other vulnerable members of society.

Chronicle AM: The Case of the Dead ND Student Snitch, Brit Police Force De Facto Decriminalizes, More (7/21/15)

There will be an open container law for weed in Washington state, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) files a bill to expunge some federal marijuana offense records, cops in one British county effectively decriminalize small-time marijuana offenses, there's a mystery surrounding a dead North Dakota student informant, and more.

British police in Durham have decided they have better things to do than go after small-time pot offenders. (
Marijuana Policy

Congressman Introduces Federal Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today introduced a bill designed to expunge federal marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal in a number of states. The Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act of 2015 would clear the records of those federally charged with state-legal marijuana activity and those federally charged with possession of less than an ounce. It's not yet up on the congressional web site. Activists said its effects would be mainly symbolic.

Marijuana Legalization Money Being Raised in Maine. There are two competing legalization campaigns in the state, and both are fundraising. The Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $104,166 so far this year, with $50,000 coming from MPP in June, while Legalize Maine has raised $55,575.

Washington State Has Open Container Law for Marijuana. Effective September 26, drivers will be required to store their weed in the trunks of their vehicles in an unopened container, or in a part of the passenger compartment "not normally occupied or directly accessible by" the driver or passengers. That's a provision of House Bill 1276, which Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law on June 30. Medical Marijuana 

Michigan Panel Defers Decision on Medical Marijuana for Autism. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel postponed action on recommending whether or not autism should be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The panel said it wanted more time to review the evidence.


Federal Prosecutors Really Want Their Mandatory Minimums. Although only a tiny fraction of federal drug crimes involve violence, federal prosecutors are demanding that their mandatory minimum sentences be left unchanged. National Association of Assistant US Attorneys head Steve Cook warns that it would be "a huge mistake" to change federal sentencing laws. "The federal criminal justice system is not broken," he added, claiming that "drug trafficking is inherently violent." Oddly enough, only 142 of more than 20,000 federal drug offenses prosecuted last year involved violence or threats of violence. Cook also wants more prisons, calling them "a good investment."

Law Enforcement

Did a North Dakota Student Get Killed After Campus Cops Turned Him Into a Snitch? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a lengthy piece on the case of Andew Sadek, who went missing two weeks before graduation last year. His body was later found in the Red River with a bullet wound to the head and a backpack full of rocks. He had been busted for small-time marijuana sales on campus and agreed to become an informant for campus police. No one has been charged in his death, and police aren't even certain if it was a homicide or a suicide. Read the whole thing.


British Police Force Quits Trying to Find Small Pot Grows. The police in County Durham and Darlington are giving up on proactively tracking down small marijuana grows in a de facto move toward decriminalization. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said police there will also offer people caught with small amounts of weed to avoid criminal prosecution by entering a program aimed at ending low-level offending. "By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it's blatant or we get complaints, officers will act," Hogg said. "It's about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it's about being more productive with the way we approach things. It's also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison."

Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reforms [FEATURE]

In a 45-minute speech at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia Tuesday, President Obama laid out a far-reaching roadmap for criminal justice reform, including calls for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reviewing the use of solitary confinement, and eliminating barriers to reentry for former prisoners.
The president has touched on many of the themes before, but the Philadelphia speech was the first time he tied them all together into a plan for action. The speech likely signals upcoming executive actions on criminal justice reform.

Obama recited the by now well-known statistics demonstrating American's over-reliance on incarceration: America is home to 5% of world's population but 25% of world's prisons; that African Americans and Latinos make up 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of American inmates; that one out of three black men are now likely to serve time in prison, among others.

While the United States has 2 ½ million people behind bars, only about 200,000 of them are in the federal prison system that Obama has the ability to impact. Of those, 98,000 are doing time for drug offenses.

He used those stats to bolster his case for broad criminal justice reform, calling the criminal justice system an "injustice system."

"Any system that allows us to turn a blind-eye to hopelessness and despair, that's not a justice system, that's an injustice system," Obama said. "Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it's the presence of opportunity."

Washington has seen limited criminal justice reform during the Obama years, particularly with legislation partially undoing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and later actions making it retroactive. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder signaled to federal prosecutors that they should move away from mandatory minimums, and the Obama administration has asked federal drug prisoners to seek sentence commutations.

At the convention, Obama also touted initiatives including the Department of Justice's Smart on Crime program aimed at reducing the impact of our harsh laws, My Brother's Keeper, and the Clemency Project.

The president commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders on Monday, and applications from some 30,000 more are in the pipeline.

Obama said the time was ripe for further reforms, citing bipartisan interest in the issue, and even mentioning the Koch Brothers and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul as allies in the fight. They made "strange bedfellows" with Democrats and the NAACP, he said, but that's what sometimes happens in politics.

"We're at a moment when some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter. To make it work better and I'm determined to do my part, wherever I can," Obama said a day earlier in announcing the sentence commutations.

On Thursday, Obama will continue his criminal justice-themed week with a visit to the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma -- the first visit ever to a federal prison by a sitting president. He is expected to meet with inmates there, and he told the NAACP crowd he met with four former prisoners -- one white, one Latino, and two black -- before taking to the podium there.

Philadelphia, PA
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama Calls for More Criminal Justice Reforms, Israeli Knesset Pot Brouhaha, More (7/15/15)

The president gives a major speech calling for greater criminal justice reform, there's a revised version of a California marijuana legalization initiative, North Carolina is moving to ban new synthetic drugs, the Israeli Knesset squabbles over marijuana policy, and more.

Wisconsin's Republican governor wants to drug test food stamp recipients and is going to court to fight for it. (
Marijuana Policy

Second Version of California Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act Filed. The folks behind the initiative have revised and updated it. This is one of four legalization initiatives already filed. Everyone is still waiting for one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform to drop. To read the latest version of the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act, click on the title link.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Set to Ban N-Bomb, Other New Synthetics. A bill that would make the synthetic drug NBOMe (N-Bomb) and other designer drugs illegal is one vote away from passage. House Bill 341 would add 12 known variants of NBOMe to the state's Schedule I list. It would also add methoxetamine, a synthetic form of ketamine often marketed as Special K, and acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of the opioid fentanyl. Variants of methylphenidate (Ritalin) would also be banned, and some recent synthetic cannabinoids, too. The bill has passed the House and now awaits a final Senate floor vote.

Criminal Justice

President Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reform. In a speech before the NAACP Tuesday, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, reconsidering solitary confinement, increased reentry programs for people leaving prison, and an end to asking about criminal histories on job applications. He also called on Congress to pass sentencing reform legislation by year's end. Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Challenges Federal Ban on Food Stamp Drug Testing. The state attorney general Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to clarify whether federal law would allow the state to drug test food stamp recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) earlier this week signed a measure to do so into law. The US Agriculture Department says that drug testing food stamp recipients is not allowed, but Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) said that policy is contrary to federal law that allows states to test them.


Israeli Knesset Members Boycott Marijuana Policy Meeting to Protest "Pro-Legalization" Views of Panel Head. Most members of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse failed to show up for a committee meeting on "progressive cannabis policies" Tuesday, saying they were protesting the pro-legalization stance of committee chair Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party. Conservative MPs accused Zandberg of "turning [the committee] into the caucus to promote cannabis... instead of the goal for which the committee was formed: to fight drug abuse and drug-related crimes, rehabilitation of users, and public campaigns to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in general and especially among youth." Zandberg was unbowed. "I support legalization and I have never hidden it, and I plan to lead the committee with up-to-date and relevant discussions based on data," she added. "The committee will seriously deal with a long line of topics, including medical marijuana, dealing with alcoholism, and trying to change the policy of criminalizing cannabis." She accused the protesting members of being a "nature reserve of moralizers."

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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.)

Chronicle AM: Court Says Dispensaries Can't Take Biz Expenses, CT Sentencing Reform Becomes Law, More (7/10/15)

Nearly half the country thinks roads will be less safe with pot legalization, researchers debunk the gateway theory... again, applicants pile up for medical marijuana programs in Florida and New York, Connecticut's governor signs a bill doing away with mandatory minimums for drug possession, and more.

A new law should reduce prison overcrowding in Connecticut. (
Marijuana Policy

Gateway Theory Debunked… Again. A new study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse has found that while marijuana use may typically precede the use of other drugs, there is no evidence it causes people to move on to them. Teens smoke pot for specific reasons, the researchers found, and it is those reasons -- not marijuana use itself -- that prompt them to try other drugs as well. Kids who smoke pot because they are bored are more likely to try cocaine, while teens who smoke pot for personal insights are more likely to try psychedelics. "We found that marijuana use within itself wasn't a risk factor for use of other drugs," said lead author Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the New York University Langone Medical Center's department of population health. "People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn't mean marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs." The study was based on data from the annual Monitoring the Future study of American high school students.

Gallup Poll: 47% Say Marijuana Makes Roads Less Safe. Public attitudes toward marijuana and driving are fairly evenly split, with 47% saying it would make the roads less safe and 50% saying it would make no difference, according to a Gallup Poll released today. The poll results present a potential point of attack for legalization opponents, who have increasingly resorted to fears of drugged driving as other arguments against legalization have evaporated. But as Gallup notes, "… these data may defuse arguments that increased legalization across the US will influence driver safety. With just 30% of Americans currently saying that an increase in legal marijuana would make driving a lot less safe, and 50% saying it will not make much difference, the pro-legalization forces may have an advantage." Click on the link for more details and methodological notes.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Trade Group Forms. The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association formally announced its existence Thursday at an Anchorage press conference. The nonprofit group intends to represent marijuana business owners in the state, once those businesses are licensed.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rules Dispensaries Can't Deduct Business Expenses. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that they can't take the deductions because their product is prohibited under federal law. The ruling came in the case of the embattled Vapor Room dispensary, whose owner had claimed $650,000 in business expenses in 2004 and 2005. The IRS balked, and now the appeals court has sided with the IRS.

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Grow Program Gets 24 Applicants. Some 24 commercial plant nurseries have applied for state licenses to grow marijuana and produce CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions. The state is divided into five regions, and only one license will be awarded for each region.

New York Medical Marijuana Program Gets 43 Applicants. Nearly four dozen companies have applied for licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana under a program approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The state Department of Health is expected to decide which applicants will get licenses sometime within the next couple of weeks.


Connecticut Governor Signs Drug Sentencing Reform Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed into law his "Second Chance Society" legislation, which eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug possession and caps those sentences at one year. The measure also speeds up the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders. About 500 people are estimated to be imprisoned in the state solely for drug possession.

Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog.)

Louisiana State Capitol
The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, Louisiana is now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature' House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, they include:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers pause to determine if the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be corrected or ended.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the house Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, but it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana in Louisiana. Hopefully leading to a more inclusive law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell,

"reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare. columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted,

"Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."

The second bill authored by Rep. Austin Badon would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon' bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell' bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

UPDATE: On Thursday Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he would sign the bills if passed by the house and senate. In regards to the sentencing bill he told the Shreveport Times

"We've said all along we're fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. I think this bill does that. That's good for those offenders, that is good for taxpayers. So again, that's another one of those bills that if it got to our desk we'd sign that."

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject:

"Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."


Chronicle AM: Federal Pot Banking Bill, OK Okays CBD Oil, IN Needle Exchange Approved, More (4/30/15)

Seventeen congressmembers introduced a federal marijuana banking bill, CBD cannabis oil gets approved in Oklahoma, medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, Indiana approves needle exchange programs, and more.

Facing an HIV outbreak in one county, Indiana has approved statewide needle exchange programs. (
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors yesterday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act (HR 7076), which would allow marijuana businesses to open bank accounts. The bill would provide banks with a "safe harbor" so they can offer accounts to such businesses without fear of federal retaliation.

Rhode Island House Committee Hears Testimony on Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee yesterday heard testimony on House Bill 5777, the marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization bill from Rep. Thomas Slater. No vote was taken; the bill was held for further study. Click on the title link for more hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) today signed into law House Bill 2154, also known as Katie and Cayman's Law. It allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering from epileptic seizures and sets up a study program.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Only a year after overwhelmingly rejecting a similar bill, the Senate Health Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (R-Parks). The bill is set for a Senate floor vote next week. The bill does not allow for smoked marijuana; only marijuana processed into oils.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina House Votes to Ban New Synthetics. The House voted unanimously today to add more compounds to the state's list of illegal drugs. House Bill 341 adds the NBOMe (N-bomb) compounds to the list. The drugs are described as similar to LSD. The bill now heads before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Texas House Approves Bill Giving Cops More Power to Move Against Synthetics. With no debate and on a voice vote, the House Wednesday approved House Bill 1212, which would give law enforcement greater ability to move against synthetic drug manufacturers. A final vote of approval was expected today, and then the bill moves to the Senate. Similar legislation is already moving in that chamber.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Programs. Faced with an HIV outbreak in one southwestern county, the legislature last night approved a bill allowing for the establishment of needle exchange programs throughout the state. Gov. Mike Pence (R) says he will sign SEA 461.


Canada Supreme Court to Take Up Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing. The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear an appeal of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses in the case of R v. Lloyd. Lloyd was arrested carrying small amounts of heroin, crack, and meth, and was subject to a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, but the Provincial Court found that sentence to be cruel and unusual. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the Provincial Court and increased his sentence. Now, the Supreme Court will decide if the sentence violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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."

Drug War Issues

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