Sentencing Guidelines

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Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

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

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Sentencing Commission Makes Drug Sentencing Reductions Retroactive

The US Sentencing Commission Friday voted unanimously to make previously agreed upon federal drug sentencing reductions retroactive. That means tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could see sentence cuts beginning in November 2015.

The move comes after the Commission's April decision to amend federal sentencing guidelines by lowering base offense levels in the guidelines' Drug Quantity Table across all drug types, which should lead to lower sentences for most federal drug offenders. Today's vote means that sentencing judges can extend that reduction to people currently serving drug sentences.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

"We did it! We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment," an elated Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), wrote to supporters. "Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. The average sentence reduction for those who qualify will be two years!"

The Sentencing Commission had asked for public input on its pending decision and was swamped with some 65,000 letters. FAMM took credit for much of that.

"I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," Stewart wrote. "With your help, we generated most of the 65,000 letters the US Sentencing Commission received about this issue. And more than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 to reject the amendment to reduce drug guidelines. If it fails to act by then, federal courts could begin considering petitions for sentence reductions, but no prisoners would be released under the reductions until November 15, 2015.

"The delay will help to protect public safety by enabling appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges, ensuring effective supervision of offenders upon release, and allowing for effective reentry plans," Saris said.

Look for a Chronicle feature article on this ground-breaking move early next week.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.

International

Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Chronicle AM -- June 10, 2014

New York City residents are still getting arrested for marijuana at the rate of 80 a day, New York state residents face another year without medical marijuana passing, Philly heads for decriminalization of a sort, the Justice Department supports retroactivity for recent sentencing reforms, the Sinaloa cartel has apparently lost another key leader, and more. Let's get to it:

NYC marijuana arrests just keep on coming. (www.nyc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Claims Marijuana Taxes Violate Fifth Amendment. Denver attorney Robert Corry Jr. has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed marijuana retailer arguing that paying pot taxes violates a citizen's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the state from collecting taxes and the return of all taxes collected. A similar lawsuit has been filed in Washington state by attorney Douglas Hiatt.

New York City Marijuana Arrests So Far This Year at Same Pace as Last Year. New Yorkers are still being arrested for small-time pot possession in high numbers under new Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). According to the Marijuana Arrest Project, so far this year, NYPD is arresting an average of 80 people a day for pot possession, compared to 78 a day throughout 2013 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). Another constant is that blacks and Latinos continue to make up the vast majority of marijuana possession busts. They accounted for 87% of pot arrests last year and 86% so far this year. Click on the title link for more details.

Philadelphia City Council Committee Approves Decriminalization Measure. A city council committee yesterday approved a bill that would make possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a code violation punishable by a $25 fine -- but would still give police officers the discretion to arrest. But Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill. His Public Safety Director, Mike Resnick, said the opposition stems the discretional arrest provision, which he said could create unfair situations. A final vote is likely next week.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina "March Against Fear" Aims to Generate Support for Medical Marijuana. North Carolinian Todd Stimson is leading a 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Key New York GOP Legislator Says He Will Not Allow Vote on Medical Marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

Clark County, Nevada, Commissioners Approve 18 Dispensary Licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. County commissioners approved the licenses yesterday. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

Drug Testing

Repeated School Drug Tests of Pennsylvania 10-Year-Old Provoke Scorching Editorial. The editorial board at the Pennsylvania news website PennLive has penned a strong editorial condemning the drug testing policy at the Susquenita Middle School, which has resulted in a 10-year-old girl be tested three times so far. The editorial notes that state law requires that school districts actually show there is problem and show that drug testing helps, but that Susquenita has failed to do either. "Repeatedly drug testing a trouble-free 10-year-old student like Natalie Cassell shows how ridiculous this kind of random snooping is. Innocent students are treated like criminals, while drug-using students can dodge the tests simply by deciding not to join after-school activities," PennLive noted. "At a time when school districts across the state are pleading for more state funding, surely Susquenita schools can find a better uses of money than an unproven, highly invasive program that randomly tests innocent 10-year olds.

Sentencing

Justice Department Supports Making Drug Sentence Cuts Retroactive. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Smarter Sentencing Act Gains Four More Sponsors. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 picked up four more cosponsors Monday, three Democrats and one Republican. They are Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rep. Tony Cardenas (D), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The measure now has 37 cosponsors, 24 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It has been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since January.

Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Governor Unveils Plan to Fight Opiate Use. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) today released a $20 package of proposals to deal with "the opioid addiction epidemic" in his state. He is calling for a summit of regional governors, as well as streamlined access to treatment, better prevention measures, and "strengthening safe prescribing and dispensing practices" to "minimize diversion and misuse." That last bit is likely to raise concerns among people worried about adequate access to prescription opiates. But unlike some other state-level responses to rising levels of opiate use, Patrick's did not contain a law enforcement component. The link leads to the full press release.

International

Key Sinaloa Cartel Figure Reported Dead. Reports are emerging from Mexico that Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, a key figure in the Sinaloa cartel, has died of natural causes. After the capture of cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman by Mexican authorities earlier this year, Esparragoza and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada were viewed as the effective leaders of the cartel.

Spanish Authorities Close Down Barcelona Cannabis Club for Selling… Cannabis. A Barcelona cannabis club has been closed after police spotted a man approaching tourists and taking them to the club to score. Under Spanish law, one can grow marijuana for personal use, but not sell it. The cannabis clubs have sprung up as a way for consumers to pool their growing resources. Members pay an annual membership fee for a chance to share in the proceeds of the collectively cultivated cannabis, but they're not supposed to sell it.

AG Holder Supports Making Federal Drug Sentence Reductions Retroactive

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.

Attorney General Holder keeps pushing on sentencing reform (justice.gov)
Earlier this year, the Sentencing Commission approved sentencing reforms that adjust sentencing guidelines by lowering the base offense levels associated with various quantities of drugs. The change is expected to cut many federal drug sentences by an average of nearly two years. The commission will be voting on whether to make the cuts retroactive next month.

The Justice Department is supporting retroactivity, but only for prisoners "who lack significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence."

"Under the department's proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the Commission in April," Holder said in a statement. "Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences."

Holder's stance was reiterated by Sally Yates, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels during a formal hearing of the Commission.

"We believe that the federal drug sentencing structure in place before the amendment resulted in unnecessarily long sentences for some offenders that has resulted in significant prison overcrowding, and that imprisonment terms for those sentenced pursuant to the old guideline should be moderated to the extent possible consistent with other policy considerations," Yates said.

As of late April, there were 100,888 people serving federal time for drug offenses, according the federal Bureau of Prisons. They account for 49.9% of all federal prisoners.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 7, 2014

A reform rollback in New Zealand, a hearing on DC decrim in Congress tomorrow, a medical marijuana trial becomes a travesty, the DEA makes another change-nothing drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

New synthetic drugs are going back to the black market after New Zealand rolls back its effort to regulate them. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

ACLU DC Branch Will Testify on District Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Tomorrow. The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital will testify before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Operations about the District of Columbia's marijuana decriminalization bill tomorrow. The legislation would remove the criminal penalties under District of Columbia law for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana within the District. The bill passed the DC council overwhelmingly and was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray. It cannot become law until Congress and the president have had 60 days to review it. The Subcommittee on Government Operations called the hearing to discuss the enforcement in the District of local and federal marijuana laws. The ACLU will testify that nothing in the bill would prevent federal law enforcement officers from enforcing federal law throughout the District.

Colorado Legislature Approves Bills on Hashish, Edibles. House Bill 1361, which limits hash sales, and House Bill 1366, which further regulates edibles, both passed the Senate Wednesday, the last day of the session. Under current law, consumers can purchase up to an ounce of hash at a time, but that will be reduced by some as yet unspecified amount. The edibles bill would ban manufacturers from making edibles that "a reasonable consumer would confuse with a trademarked food product" (goodbye, Reefers Cups) or that are "primarily marketed to children." Both bills await the governor's signature.

MPP Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Marijuana Convictions in New Hampshire. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has just released a new report, Marked for Life, that shows how the lifelong stigma associated with a marijuana conviction can derail dreams by making it difficult to obtain jobs, an education, and even housing. The moves two weeks after the state Senate refused to consider a marijuana reform bill, but the session isn't over yet, and MPP and its allies say they are not giving up for the year.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Denies Medical Marijuana Defense to Family Accused of Growing Medical Marijuana. A federal judge won't allow a family of a medical marijuana patients from Washington state to defend themselves against drug trafficking charges by arguing their pot plants were for medical purposes. US District Judge Fred Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington on Tuesday rejected the planned medical marijuana defense of Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, and three others facing trial next week, saying they could not argue that growing marijuana was for medical purposes and legal under Washington state law. "The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues," Van Sickle said. "There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either." Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, federal courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes, even when medical marijuana is legal under a state's law, as it is in Washington. The Harveys, their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; Gregg's wife Michelle, 35; and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, sought to describe their doctor-recommended medical marijuana cultivation at their upcoming trial on federal drug charges.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gains First Republican Sponsor. Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester) added his name this week to the Compassionate Care Act, joining 17 other Democratic senators who have cosponsored the measure. The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. Republican Senate leaders have held up the bill. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday there was a "good possibility" some sort of bill would be approved this session, but that he would only support a limited CBD bill.

Minnesota Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Tuesday approved Senate File 1641, which would allow for up to 55 dispensaries statewide and allow patients suffering from a list of approved medical conditions to use the plant -- but not to smoke it. A companion measure in the House is even more restrictive. It could be up for debate as early as Friday.

Law Enforcement

Courts, Legislators Moving to Curb Police Access to Prescription Drug Databases. For years, police across the country have had easy access to databases of prescriptions for controlled substances used by individuals they suspect of committing a crime. Not anymore. Some courts and legislators are now starting to restrict the data, amid concerns by privacy advocates and defense lawyers who say warrantless searches of these databases violate privacy rights, The Wall Street Journal reports. In February, a federal court in Oregon ruled for the first time that federal agents need a warrant to search that state's prescription-drug database. Last year, Rhode Island raised the barrier of entry to its database, and legislators in Florida and Pennsylvania are considering new limits on law-enforcement access to the records in those states.

DEA in Nationwide Raids on Synthetic Drugs, Sellers. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday broadened its national crackdown on synthetic drug manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers as federal agents served hundreds of search and arrest warrants in at least 25 states. Agents served warrants at homes, warehouses and smoke shops beginning early morning. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama. Agents also were active in Florida and New Mexico, among other states. Wednesday's crackdown was focused strictly on US targets and involved 66 DEA cases, seven investigations led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents and several others led by Customs and Border Protection that focused on express consignment shipments. Last year, the DEA and Customs and Border Protection wrapped up a 7-month investigation that ended in 150 arrests and the seizure of about a ton of drugs. And now it's rinse and repeat.

Sentencing Reform

Harry Reid Says Sentencing Reform Debate Could Hit Senate Floor Soon. CQ Roll Call (behind a pay wall; no link, sorry) reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was asked whether he intended to bring Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-IL) sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 1410, to the floor for debate soon. "The answer is yes," Reid said, adding that he has been consulting with Durbin about it. The bill would slash mandatory minimums for some drug crimes and give judges more discretion to impose sentences beneath federal guidelines.

International

New Zealand Reverses Course on Regulating Synthetic Drugs. In a disappointing about-face, New Zealand reversed course on allowing some synthetic drugs to be legally sold after a rising public clamor about them. A law change effective Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. That ends the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year. The country last year gained international attention after enacting a novel new law that allowed those synthetic drugs thought to be low-risk to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing. The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove them low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. And manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers on Wednesday also banned the use of animals in testing the products.

Tunisia Activists Urge Reform of Harsh Marijuana Laws.Tunisia's tough law on cannabis use, laying down jail terms of at least one year, is "destroying lives" and overcrowding prisons, according to a group of activists urging reform. Since the law was passed more than 20 years ago, "tens of thousands of Tunisians have been convicted," the group said in an open letter to the government. "But the number of people sentenced and the number of users continue to grow, proving that this law is not a deterrent. It has failed," said the group, named Al Sajin 52 (or Prisoner 52) as the law is called. Health ministry director general Nabil Ben Salah said the health and justice ministries are trying to "humanize" the marijuana law, but that decriminalization is not an option.

Drug War Violence Flares in Northeast Mexico. Federal security forces killed five gunmen in separate shootouts in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, Monday. Army troops, meanwhile, detained 15 suspected criminals in different operations across the state. The Gulf and Zetas drug cartels have been fighting for control of Tamaulipas and smuggling routes into the United States for years, and now Gulf cartel factions are also fighting among themselves. The violence has spiked in recent weeks, but federal officials have not taken any additional measures to deal with the situation in the border state.

Chronicle AM -- May 1, 2014

Asset forfeiture gone wild is in the news, so is a Delaware drug lab scandal, there's a major report on imprisonment from the National Academy of Sciences, Silk Road is back, and more. Let's get to it:

Silk Road is back and as busy as ever.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Seal Old Marijuana Convictions Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan sponsored bill that would allow someone to have their marijuana conviction sealed, if the conviction is now legal under Amendment 64. The committee heard nearly two hours of public comment before approving the measure, Senate Bill 14-218. The bill passed on a 3-2 vote and is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Dies in Committee. There will be no medical marijuana legislation passing through the Louisiana legislature this year. Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia) was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a vote of 6-2.

Iowa Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy to be able to access cannabis oil as a treatment option. After an emotion-charged debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass Senate File 2360, a bill that legalizes the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is the sponsor.

US House Narrowly Defeats Amendment to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Nearly 200 members of Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment Wednesday intended to allow physicians within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that allow it. The bipartisan-sponsored amendment failed 195-222. The amendment, sponsored by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), was the first of its kind to be introduced on the House floor. It would have become part of House Resolution 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Sheriff on Asset Forfeiture Rampage. Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair is seizing criminal suspects' assets like never before, according to this report from The Ocala Star Banner. Prior to Blair taking office in 2012, asset forfeiture cases averaged 38 a year, but jumped to 57 last year, and there are already 33 so far this year. Now, Blair is expanding the practice beyond drug cases to include common crimes. Suspects face being stripped of their property after being arrested by officers for DUI, shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended or revoked license, or grand theft. One woman had her 2008 Chevy seized after being caught with a few oxycodone pills. Here's the money quote (so to speak), as Blair's office explains the increase in seizures: "It shows the difference between a sheriff with 35 years of law enforcement experience and a sheriff who came from the business world," Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre explained. The whole article is worth the read; click the link.

Class Action Lawsuit Coming Over Nevada County's Highway Robbery Asset Forfeiture Program. Humboldt County already had to give back the money it stole from driver Tan Nguyen under the guise of its highway asset forfeiture program -- and pay his lawyer's fees -- but now the county faces a class action lawsuit from other victims of its overzealous law enforcement practices. After Ngyuen won his case against the Humboldt County Sherff's Department, 20 more people have come forward to say that they too had been stopped in Humboldt County and forced to give up money without any charges or even being accused of a crime. In many cases, they weren't even slapped with a speeding ticket. "What they're doing is profiling. They think they're stopping people who are on their way to California to buy drugs, and then bring them back to the Midwest or the Eastern states, and then sell them," said John Ohlson, he attorney for the cash seizure victims.

Drugged Driving

"Impaired" Driving Bill Wins Vermont Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a drugged driving bill, House Bill 501, but not before amending it to remove the zero tolerance language in the version passed by the House. Instead, the Senate version now says the amount of drugs in your system has to actually impair your ability to drive. While the distinction between the two bills seems small, it may be a tough fight to hammer out a compromise by next Friday, when the session adjourns. The version of the bill cited here is the original; the amended version is not yet available.

Law Enforcement

Delaware Drug Lab Scandal Could See Thousands of Drug Cases Thrown Out. The Delaware Public Defender's Office on Wednesday filed "the first wave" of legal challenges to try and overturn 9,500 drug convictions because of tampering and thefts at the state's drug testing lab. This is on top of the more than 3,700 pending drug prosecutions in Delaware courts that are at risk of being dismissed due to the scandal at the Controlled Substances Lab inside the Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. And on the same day that public defenders delivered five archive boxes containing 112 motions for post-conviction relief to prosecutors and the court, state officials revealed that an employee at the Medical Examiner's Office has been suspended with pay as an investigation into the missing drug evidence continues. Click on the link for all the sleazy details.

Georgia Narc Denied Immunity in Killing of Innocent Pastor in Drug Investigation. A narcotics officer who fatally shot a Baptist pastor in Georgia persuaded a federal judge to partly reduce the jury-imposed $2.3 million verdict, but failed in his bid to claim qualified immunity because he was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer. Billy Shane Harrison shot and killed Pastor Jonathan Ayers after Ayers attempted to flee in his car from undercover officers attempting to question him in a drug investigation. The judge in the case ruled that "defendant could not have reasonably believed that Ayers posed an imminent threat of serious harm or that deadly force was necessary to prevent his escape," the 11-page ruling states. "And because it is clearly established that it is unreasonable for a police officer to use deadly force under such circumstances, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on qualified immunity is denied." No criminal charges were ever filed against Harrison for the killing.

Maine Governor Says He Found Money to Pay for More Drug War. Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced Wednesday that his administration has found $2.5 million to pay for a drug enforcement bill that would add agents, judges and prosecutors and increase funding for addiction treatment programs. The bill was enacted with broad bipartisan support, but the Legislature's budget committee did not fund it. On Wednesday, the LePage administration said it has found a projected surplus in the state's unclaimed-property fund, which is overseen by the State Treasurer's Office and consists of money and personal assets that are considered lost or abandoned. The governor said he will propose emergency legislation today to allocate the surplus to the drug enforcement initiative. But it's unclear whether the Legislature will consider it. The ACLU of Maine, which has consistently opposed the bill, urged lawmakers to reject LePage's proposal. "The governor continues to push a proposal that would scale up an already bloated criminal justice system while giving a back seat to more effective treatment programs," the group said. "Plenty has been said about the need for a balanced approach, but this proposal is nothing of the sort... A truly balanced approach would mean scaling back law enforcement while increasing treatment and prevention."

Sentencing

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Big Cuts in Imprisonment. A groundbreaking report released yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of US incarceration rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in US history. America's prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years. The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the US prison population is "not serving the country well." It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the US should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Sentencing Commission Submits Federal Sentencing Guideline Amendments to Cut Drug Sentences. On Wednesday, the US Sentencing Commission submitted its proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines to Congress. In addition to recommending reductions in some drug sentences, the Commission is also seeking public comment on the issue of whether to apply the amendment to the drug quantity table retroactively. Comments can be made through July 7 and can be emailed to public_comment@ussc.gov.

Federal Judge Calls for Clemency for Convicted Cocaine Dealer. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Court Judge Paul Friedman urged President Obama to commute the sentence of Byron McDade, who was convicted following a jury trial in 2002 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Friedman sentenced McDade to 27 years in prison, the shortest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory at the time. Prior to his conviction in the drug case, McDade had only a single misdemeanor on his record, for which he paid a $10 fine. "The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is 'out of line' with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today," Friedman wrote in his opinion dismissing McDade's latest bid to overturn his conviction. "While the Court is powerless to reduce the sentence it was required by then-existing law to impose, the President is not. The Court urges Mr. McDade's appointed counsel to pursue executive clemency on Mr. McDade's behalf so that justice may be done in this case." The administration recently called on federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

International

Silk Road Internet Drug Sales Web Site Still As Busy As Ever. Eight months after federal agents brought down the man alleged to be running an underground Web site called Silk Road that had become a thriving venue for drug trafficking, not only is the site up and running again but the new version is more vibrant than ever. Busted Not Broken, a report from watchdog group the Digital Citizens Alliance claims the "online black market economy has done a complete somersault in the six months since the fall of the original Silk Road. New players have arisen, including a second incarnation of 'Dread Pirate Roberts' and a revived Silk Road (which seems to be thriving, even after law enforcement arrested and charged some of the new site's prominent figures) has replaced the original."

Jakarta Drug Crackdown An Exercise in Futility. The vice governor of Jakarta, commonly known as Ahok, has announced a crackdown on drugs in the Indonesian capital, but a thoughtful analysis from asiancorrespondent.com's Patrick Tibke shows how it is in exercise in both futility and hypocrisy. Click on the link; the read is worth it.

Lebanese Druse Leader Walid Jumblatt Says Legalize Marijuana. Walid Jumblatt, stalwart of the Lebanon's Druse community and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Thursday he supported marijuana legalization, for both medical and economic reasons. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north and the Bekaa Valley," Jumblatt told Al-Jadeed TV. "Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation," the politician said. Crop substitution programs in the Bekaa Valley, which once saw a multi-billion marijuana trade, have been a failure, he added.

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Cut Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted unanimously Thursday to reduce sentences for most federal drug trafficking defendants. The move comes as the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by drug offenders, even as prison populations in the states are on the decline.

In the past decade, in many states, the harsh Reagan-era war on drugs approach to drug use and trafficking has given way to smarter approaches geared toward diversion and treatment of drug offenders, but when it comes to reforms, the federal system has lagged behind.

Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders, was a step in the right direction. And passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410), which has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is pending in the House, would be another.

That bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduce mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and apply the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed. It also calls on USSC to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

But in the meantime, USSC has now, with the administration's support, acted on its own. The commission voted to reduce sentences by amending the federal sentencing guidelines to lower the base offense guidelines in the Drug Quantity Table across various drug types.

The quantity tables place specific quantities of each controlled substance in corresponding sentencing "levels," which in turn contain a range of recommended sentences based on a defendant's criminal history. For instance, under the current guidelines, a drug offense involving at least 10 grams of methamphetamine, but not more than 20 grams, is in sentencing level 18, where the recommended sentence range for an offender with one or no criminal history points is 27-33 months. Under the new guidelines, the same quantity of methamphetamine will be a level 16 offense, which means the recommended sentence range for a first-time offense will be 21-27 months.

The example above is on the low end for federal drug sentences. USSC said the changes would affect about 70% of federal drug trafficking defendants and would result in an average sentence decrease of 11 months. That means the average federal drug trafficking sentence will drop from just over five years to just over four years.

The USSC move could cut the federal prison population by 6,500 over five years. (supremecourt.gov)
This commission has concentrated this year of addressing federal prison costs and capacity. It estimates that the changes it approved Thursday will reduce the federal prison population by more than 6,500 over the next five years and have an even greater impact over the long run.

"This modest reduction in drug penalties is an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner," said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991."

There are currently more than 216,000 federal prisoners, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Slightly more than half (50.1%) are doing time for drug offenses.

Attorney General Holder welcomed the move, calling it "a milestone" in reshaping the way the system deals with drug offenders. He called for Congress to take the next steps.

"It is now time for Congress to pick up the baton and advance legislation that would take further steps to reduce our overburdened prison system," Holder said. "Proposals like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act would enhance the fairness of our criminal justice system while empowering law enforcement to focus limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety. I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on these types of common-sense reforms."

Attorney General Holder approves -- and wants more. (usdoj.gov)
Civil liberties and sentencing reform advocates also pronounced themselves pleased at a step in the right direction.

"We commend the Sentencing Commission for taking this important step toward reforming federal drug sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "This change will save taxpayers money, help to rein in federal prison spending, and bolster the spirits of tens of thousands of federal defendants who are facing impractical and disproportionately long sentences."

"Our country is slowly but steadily reversing the damage done by the failed, racially biased war on drugs," said Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The actions taken by the Sentencing Commission today are another positive move toward reducing unnecessarily long sentences that have led to bloated, overcrowded prisons. Our criminal justice system is smarter, fairer, and more humane than it was a year ago, and we need to make sure momentum continues in the right direction."

"This is a terrific, if modest, first step toward genuine sentencing reform for drug offenders," said Mary Price, legal counsel for FAMM and an expert on the Sentencing Commission. "The next step is for Congress to pick up where the Commission left off by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act."

But first, Congress must allow the USSC recommendations to become law. The drug quantity table amendment, along with others approved by the commission, will go to Congress in May. Barring legislative objections, the new guidelines will become law on November 1, 2014.

Unless USSC votes to make the new guidelines retroactive, they will impact only those defendants sentenced after November 1. The commission voted Thursday to conduct a prison impact study before voting on retroactivity.

Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

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