Mandatory Minimums

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Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, Fallout from Florida SWAT Killing, Bolivia Top Narc Busted, More (3/6/15)

Decrim is moving in New Hampshire, Georgia families rally for medical marijuana, Louisianans will rally for Bernard Noble (13 years for two joints), roommates of a Florida man killed in a SWAT pot raid cry "murder," and more. 

Roommates of unarmed Florida man shot in a SWAT pot raid call it "murder." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Northern California Counties Seek Unified Position on Pot Policy. As the state legislature again grapples with regulating medical marijuana, and with an almost certain legalization initiative in 2016 looming on the horizon, policymakers from Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Sonoma, and Trinity counties gathered in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) Thursday to begin trying to reach a unified position on possible reforms. Click on the link for more detail.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Moves. The legislature's Committee on Criminal Justice voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve a bill that would decriminalize the possession of a half-ounce of pot or less. The measure is House Bill 0618. Although recent polling shows 71% of Granite Staters want either decriminalization or full legalization, the bill still faces opposition as it heads for House and Senate floor votes.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Families Swarm State Capitol in Support of Strong Medical Marijuana Bill. Dozens of Georgia families streamed into the state capitol in Atlanta yesterday to crank up the pressure on the Senate to pass a medical marijuana bill. House Bill 1has already passed the House, but the Senate is now considering an alternate bill, Senate Bill 185, which would only set up a limited trial program for children with epilepsy. The families want House Bill 1.

Sentencing

Rally Saturday in New Orleans for Bernard Noble, Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years without parole in state prison, are holding a rally in New Orleans Saturday to call for clemency for the non-violent offender and family man. Click on the link for event details and more information.

Law Enforcement

Roommates of Unarmed Florida Man Killed By SWAT Team in Pot Raid Call it Murder. Roommates of Derek Cruice, the 26-year-old Deltona man shot in the face and killed by a Volusia County deputy during a drug raid, described his killing as "murder" and strongly challenged the police version of events. See them describe what happened here. Supporters of Cruice held a rally this morning to decry his killing. A memorial event for Cruice is set for tomorrow morning at a local park. Click the title link for event details.  

International

Bolivia's Former Top Narc Arrested for Drug Links. General Oscar Nina, head of the national police in 2010 and 2011, has been arrested by Bolivian authorities on suspicion of illegal enrichment and links to drug trafficking. His wife, daughter, and son were also arrested on similar charges. Another former Bolivian top narc, General Rene Sanabria, is doing a 15-year sentence in the US for drug trafficking. President Evo Morales has vowed to wipe out "the cancer of corruption," but it seems to be a perpetual problem. 

Chronicle AM: More CO Lawsuits, 2016 MI Inits, New Paid Med Rules a Pain for Vets, More (2/19/15)

An anti-crime group has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Colorado's legal marijuana law, a decrim bill is moving in Hawaii, 2016 initiative plans are getting underway in Michigan, DEA rules on pain pills are causing problems for vets and others, and more. Let's get to it:

Recent DEA rules tightening access to prescription opiates are causing problems for veterans and others.
Marijuana Policy

Revised Alaska Marijuana Bill Removes It From Controlled Substances List; Adds New Misdemeanors. The legislature's effort to regulate legal marijuana has been revised to remove pot from the controlled substances list, according to an updated draft of Senate Bill 30. The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana, including selling it without a license, possessing more than six plants, transporting more than an ounce, providing it to minors, and making hash oil with a volatile or explosive gas. The bill got a hearing in committee yesterday.

California's Attorney General Not Opposed to Legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law enforcement officer and Democratic front-runner for a 2016 US Senate seat has said she has no moral objection to legalizing marijuana, but worries about impacts on children and public safety. "I don't have any moral opposition to legalization," she said, "but I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details... to make sure that if it were legalized... that vulnerable people are safe."

Private Group Sues Colorado Over Legalization. Two months ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's legal marijuana law, and now, two more lawsuits are being filed by a private group, Safe Streets Alliance, an anti-crime organization led by a former Reagan administration official. In one suit, two Colorado property owners are suing a handful of marijuana industry participants under federal racketeering laws and state and local officials under the charge that they are violating the constitution's supremacy clause by not enforcing federal law. In the other suit, Safe Streets joined with the Holiday Inn in Frisco to sue a number of marijuana industry participants on racketeering charges. That suit claims that a planned legal marijuana store is causing the hotel to "suffer injuries to its business and property." Pot supporters say the lawsuits are unlikely to go anywhere.

Hawaii Senate Committee Passes Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Health Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 596, which would decriminalize up to an ounce, replacing a petty misdemeanor with a civil infraction and a $100 fine.

Two Michigan 2016 Legalization Initiative Efforts Getting Underway. At least two different groups are eyeing a legalization initiative effort next year. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank filed paperwork Tuesday for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, while East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, a marijuana industry advocacy group, filed paperwork last month to create the Michigan Responsibility Council, which says it will soon transform itself into a ballot committee for 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Bill Would Free Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzanskey. Rep. Shamed Dogan this week filed House Bill 978, which would require the release of anyone serving life without parole for marijuana offenses. That means Jeff Mirzanskey, who is 21 years into his life sentence. Efforts have been afoot to persuade Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to commute his sentence, but he has yet to do so.

Medical Marijuana

Activists Target Wasserman Schultz Over Medical Marijuana Stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

Colorado Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Gets Stripped Down. The bill, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crackdown on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Defeated. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was defeated in the House Wednesday on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Ruidoso) has introduced a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance. It does not yet have a bill number and is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Wyoming Legislators Prepare to Try to Override Governor's Veto of Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state Tuesday, but the bill passed by a veto-proof margin, and now legislators and bill supporters are angling for an override vote. The measure, Senate File 14, passed the Senate 26-3 and the House 54-6.

Undertreatment of Pain

New Federal Opiate Prescription Rules Are Causing Problems for Veterans. Restrictions on prescription opiates adopted last summer by the DEA are causing hardships for veterans, the Washington Post reports in a lengthy piece. And it's not just veterans, but they're being hit particularly hard. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Sentence for Pot Dealer. Utah resident Weldon Angelos has already spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of three marijuana sales while he had a pistol in his sock. That pistol led to consecutive mandatory minimum sentences resulting in a whopping 55 years in prison for the aspiring rapper. Now, Paul Cassell, the then federal judge who sentenced him, wishes he had a do over. "I do think about Angelos," he said. "I sometimes drive near the prison where he's held, and I think, 'Gosh he shouldn't be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there... That wasn't the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it. I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds," Cassell continued. "But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that. I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer," Cassell pointed out. "I think it's just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don't really think anyone believes that's an appropriate sentence."

Utah Ready for Drug Defelonization, Poll Finds. Strong majorities of Utahns favor defelonizing drug possession offenses, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Some 58% support defelonization, while 59% said probation and community-based drug treatment were more appropriate than jail for being caught with small amounts of drugs. The poll comes as a defelonization bill, House Bill 348, is introduced today.

International

UK Liberal Democrat Leader Supports Medical Marijuana. Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, has said people should be able to use marijuana to alleviate medical problems. "I strongly agree that where there is a proven medicinal use for cannabis for instance we should make that easier for those to have access to it in a straightforward legal way in order to alleviate the symptoms that you clearly have that you know as a user are alleviated by the use of cannabis," he said. "Let's take a more intelligent approach -- where there is a clear medicinal use, make sure you have access to that in a regulated way." This is yet one more way that the Lib Dems and the Tories are at odds on drug policy.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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: VT MJ Legalization Bill, Texas Pot Lobby Day, Federal Sentencing Softens, More (2/17/15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter called for Congress to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

New Synthetics

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

Drug Testing

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Hemp

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

Sentencing

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Treatment

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

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