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Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, ME Pot Opponents Give Up on Recount, More... (12/19/16)

President Obama has just commuted the sentences of another 153 drug offenders, Maine legalization foes concede their recount isn't going anywhere, Marc Emery's Montreal pot shops get raided in a hurry, and more.

Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Guam Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Guamanian Gov. Eddie Calvo (R) says it's time to legalize it. "I want us to look at how states navigated into recreational marijuana," Calvo, a Republican, said in a Facebook post on Monday. "Let's figure it out and then tax the heck out of it and use those taxes to help fund our hospital, public safety and education." The comments come just days after Calvo vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own, saying it would "impose new and different duties upon our health and law enforcement agencies that will deplete their already strained resources."

Maine Legalization Opponents Give Up on Recount. The anti-legalization group that challenged the narrow victory of Question 1 in last month's elections has given up the ghost. No on 1 said Saturday it was apparent that the recount would not change the outcome. "We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,"said Newell Augur, legal counsel for the No on 1 campaign. "We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate." Now, the election result can be certified by the secretary of state, and legalization should go into effect sometime next month.

Medical Marijuana

Imprisoned California Dispensary Operators Seek Presidential Commutation. Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, California, until their arrest by federal drug agents 10 years ago. They were prosecuted and convicted of federal drug crimes for their efforts and sentenced to 21 years 10 months and 20 years, respectively. Now, they are formally seeking sentence commutations from President Obama, who has cut the sentences of more than a thousand other federal drug prisoners so far this year. The pair point out that they would not have been prosecuted under current federal policies largely turning a blind eye to marijuana in states where it is legal, whether recreationally or merely for medical purposes.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Another Round of Sentence Commutations. The White House announced Monday that President Obama has commuted the sentences of another 153 federal prisoners, bringing the total this year to more than 1,100. A list of the prisoners and their offenses is not yet available, but Obama's earlier commutations had been directed almost entirely at people serving draconian drug sentences.

International

Marc Emery's Montreal Pot Shops Raided One Day After Opening. Long-time Canadian pot gadfly Emery and nine others were arrested after a series of raids Friday on his chain of Cannabis Culture pot shops. While Canada is moving to legalize marijuana, it hasn't done so yet, and authorities are working to keep the lid on the bubbling industry. Emery slammed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for the raids. "The mayor's behavior is despicable," he said. "If the mayor of Montreal wants to keep his city backward, behind and full of oppression, then that is the statement he just made to the world." As conditions of his bond, Emery cannot consume marijuana, communicate with anyone involved in the Cannabis Culture shops, or be in the province of Quebec except to show up for court dates.

China Denies Being Source of New Synthetic Drugs. Chinese officials have called assertions that China is the source of synthetic opioids linked to the deaths of thousands of drug users "unsubstantiated." Such statements "lack the support of sufficient numbers of actual, confirmed cases," China's National Narcotics Control Commission told DEA's Beijing office in a fax dated Friday. The DEA has said that China is the predominant source of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin, which has been implicated in thousands of drug overdose deaths.

Chronicle AM: US Cuts Philippines Aid Over Killings, Montreal Pot Shops Open, More... (12/16/16)

The US moves -- again -- to signal its displeasure with Philippines drug war killings, a marijuana descheduling petition could use your help, easy-access naloxone comes to Georgia, and more.

Standing in line to buy weed at Cannabis Culture in Montreal. Marc and Jodie Emery aren't waiting for the government. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Petition to Deschedule Marijuana Needs Your Signature. The medical marijuana group Patients Out of Time has organized a Change.org petition urging President Obama to direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to immediately deschedule marijuana. If the petition garners 100,000 signatures by January 9, the White House will respond. The petition currently has slightly more than 6,000 signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Pharmacy Board Issues Draft Rules for Dispensaries. The board has issued proposed rules governing medical marijuana distribution in the state. The rules envision up to 40 dispensaries operating, with applicants having to show they have at least $250,000 in liquid assets. Applicants would have to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee, and if approved, would have to pay an $80,000 annual fee. Dispensaries would also have to pay a $100 fee for each advertisement, which would have to be approved by the board. The rules are open for comment until January 13. The Board of Pharmacy is one of three state agencies tasked with regulating the nascent industry. The State Medical Board has already released rules for doctors, and the Commerce Department is charged with regulating growers and processors.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Governor Clears Path for Over-the-Counter Naloxone. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) Wednesday asked the state Department of Public Health to deregulate the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), which would allow pharmacies to distribute the life-saving medication without a prescription. The state Board of Pharmacy has already removed naloxone from its dangerous drugs list. "Naloxone is a powerful weapon in the fight against the increasing epidemic of opioid abuse that poses a threat to public health in Georgia," DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., said in a statement. "The governor's decisive action to make this drug accessible to anyone in a position to assist persons at risk of overdose will save countless lives."

International

US Defers Economic Aid to Philippines Over Drug War Killings. The US Embassy in Manila announced Thursday that it is holding up foreign economic assistance to the country because of "significant concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines" related to President Duterte's ongoing murderous campaign against alleged drug users and sellers. So far, some 6,000 have reportedly been killed in the purge since Duterte took office six months ago. The US had previously halted anti-drug training assistance and blocked the planned sale of some 26,000 assault rifles to the country.

Saudis Order Foreigners Wanting to Marry Saudi Women to Undergo Drug Tests. Under a newly announced law, foreigners wanting to marry Saudi women will have to pass a drug test before being married. "A drug test has been added to the compulsory marital medical test for foreigners seeking marriage with Saudi women," Mishaal Al-Rabian, head of communications and PR at the Ministry of Health explained. "The drug test is only for foreigners and, the test has been applied since the issuance of the circular a few months back." The move is being taken to discourage marriage with foreigners, to repress drug use, and to reduce divorce rates, officials said.

Marc and Jodie Emery Aren't Waiting to Open Montreal Pot Shops. Even though marijuana is still illegal in Canada, activists Marc "Prince of Pot" Emery and wife Jodie opened six retail marijuana outlets in Montreal Thursday. The stores carry the Emerys' Cannabis Culture brand. Local officials are vowing to shut them down, but in the meantime, business is brisk.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in MA, DEA Says Even Low-THC CBD Still Illegal, More... (12/15/16)

New England marijuana policy is in flux, as Massachusetts legalizes it, Connecticut's governor disses it, and a key New Hampshire politician says "let's do it," the DEA clarifies that CBD cannabis oils are still illegal under federal law, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Doesn't Want to Legalize It. Stopping just short of saying he would veto a legalization bill, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said Thursday the legislature shouldn't waste its time on considering the issue. "First of all, I think it's a mistake what Massachusetts has done and other states have done,'' Malloy told reporters in Hartford. "I think we should hit the pause button and watch how it works in the region... I think it's a mistake.''

Massachusetts Legalization Now in Effect. State officials have certified the results of the November 8 election, and that means Bay State residents can now legally possess up to an ounce of pot in public and 10 ounces at home, and they can start growing up to six pot plants per person, with a limit of 12 per house. Marijuana retail and related businesses will not be licensed, though, until January 2018 -- if there are no delays.

New Hampshire Democratic Leader Says It's Time to Create a Path to Legalization. State Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton), the Senate Minority Leader, said Wednesday he plans to file a marijuana legalization bill. "I think it's important New Hampshire recognize what's going on around us, but also listen to what the people are asking for. It's important -- I'm a civics teacher by background -- that we have a legitimate government. That means the people have been asking in overwhelming surveys that they support marijuana being legalized and it's important that our elected officials listen to and respond to their desires," he said. New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not even decriminalized possession.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Clarifies That, Yes, It Still Considers CBD to Be Illegal. The DEA Wednesday added a new code for marijuana extracts, including low-THC CBD cannabis oils, in the Federal Register. The code defines marijuana extracts as "an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant." That means that marijuana extracts, even those derived from low-THC industrial hemp, are considered marijuana and are placed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Maine Governor Says State Should "Get Rid Of" Medical Marijuana After Legalization. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage called for an end to the state's medical marijuana program Thursday. "If you've got recreational marijuana, it's over the counter," he said. "Why do we need medical marijuana?" But initiative backers said the intent of the legalization initiative was to respect medical marijuana and have "dual programs running side by side."

Tennessee Republicans Roll Out Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and state Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) held a press conference Wednesday to introduce their "conservative proposal" to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Their draft bill would set a limit of 50 grow houses statewide, with each allowed to operate one on-site and two storefront dispensaries. It appears to make no provision for patient or caregiver grows. And it limits medical marijuana eligibility to a small list of specified conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, PTSD, and Alzheimer's.

Medical Marijuana Update

Advocates file a petition to rein in DEA misinformation about medical marijuana, Arkansas regulators are moving to implement the new law there, Minnesota adds PTSD, and more.

National

On Monday, ASA filed a petition with the DOJ to make DEA stop lying about marijuana. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a petition under the Information Quality Act with the Justice Department "demanding that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) immediately update misinformation about cannabis." Under the Information Quality Act, federal administrative agencies are required to ensure that the information they disseminate is accurate and objective. ASA says the DEA has violated the act at least 25 times.

Arizona

Last Friday, a pair of patients sued the state over fees. Attorneys for patients Yolanda Daniels and Lisa Becker filed suit last Friday to force a reduction in the annual fee for registration cards that patients are legally required to obtain. The state health department is charging $150 a year, even though it has nearly $11.5 million in its medical marijuana account. "In a time when medication is more expensive than ever, the state should be helping to make it cheaper for Arizonans," the patients' attorney argued. "The state is deliberately squatting on the excess fund instead of refunding it to patients or using it in furtherance of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, such as to help patients."

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, regulators released draft medical marijuana rules. The state Department of Health Wednesday released proposed draft rules for the voter-approved medical marijuana program. The rules include provisions about labeling, obtaining medical marijuana registry cards, lab testing requirements, and the process for adding new qualifying conditions. The department said it hopes to present the draft rules to the Board of Health next month and then open them to public comment. The department has not completed draft rules for regulation of and applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses. The state is supposed to be ready to license growers and sellers by June 1.

Michigan

Last Friday, protestors gathered to denounce Kent County dispensary raids. A couple of dozen people gathered outside the Plainfield Township Hall last Friday to protest a series of raids last Monday that shuttered three dispensaries in Plainfield. Demonstrators said they have nowhere to go to get their medicine, but Plainfield officials countered that dispensaries had been banned there since 2011.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, Minnesota okayed medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Department of Health has decided to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana. It had been weighing requests to add PTSD, autism, arthritis, depression, and other conditions. "While the process of reviewing these potential additions was difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence, PTSD presented the strongest case for potential benefits," Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "PTSD also has few effective treatment alternatives available for some patients with the condition," he added. The decision means that patients certified with PTSD will be eligible for medical cannabis starting August 2017.

Texas

On Tuesday, a lawmaker filed a medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana in the Lone Star State. The bill lists qualifying conditions and would allow for private dispensaries, but would not set amount limits. Menendez said that should be left between the doctor and the patient. The bill is not yet available on the state legislative website.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Organic Foods Group Disses Kratom, DPA Releases Opioids Plan, More... (12/7/16)

An organic foods group says allowing kratom would be "dangerous," the Drug Policy Alliance comes out with a plan for heroin and prescription opioids, Iowa shuts down its asset forfeiture unit, and more.

The Natural Products Association says allowing kratom would be "dangerous." (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Plummet. Marijuana arrests have dropped 14% in the state over the past two years, the largest decline this century, and they appear headed for further declines this year. Changes in prosecutorial priorities appear to be behind the fall, with some prosecutors saying they need to husband their resources for felony prosecutions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Policy Alliance Releases Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of US drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose. The plan has 20 specific recommendations, including establishing safe injection sites, moving ahead with prescription heroin (heroin-assisted treatment), and embracing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to keep people out of the criminal justice system and bring them in contact with social services.

Kratom

Natural Products Association Says Allowing Kratom Would Be "Dangerous." The largest trade group representing the organic and natural foods industry and dietary supplements makers has commented on the DEA's proposed ban on kratom, saying that "adding kratom to the US food supply could likely be dangerous and lead to serious unintended consequences." Kratom products have not met the strict standards for new items to be marketed to the public or undergone FDA approval, the group said. "Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal," said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA's CEO and executive director. "It could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Disbands State Asset Forfeiture Team, Returns $60,000 Taken From Travelers. Under increasing fire over asset forfeiture practices that saw a thousand seizures a year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday that the Department of Public Safety had disbanded its Interstate 80 drug interdiction and forfeiture team. The move came because of increased personnel demands and the need to focus on reducing traffic deaths, the office said, and had nothing to do with the recently announced settlement of a lawsuit brought by a pair of California gamblers who had $100,000 seized after they were stopped and a small amount of marijuana was found. That settlement resulted in the men getting most of their money back.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Probing Possible Criminal Charges Over Atlanta DEA Informants. A DEA official told a congressional committee last week that the agency has referred "potential criminal charges" to the Justice Department over an Atlanta DEA supervisor who allegedly was in sexual relationships with two informants, one of whom was paid $212,000 for helping to bust four St. Louis drug traffickers. There are allegations of false documentation of payments to the snitch, who got $2,500 a month for two years, along with two "bonuses" of $55,000 and $80,750. The monthly payments apparently covered the rent for apartment near the DEA supervisor's home in the Atlanta metro area.

Chronicle AM: Petition to Make DEA Stop Lying, New DEA National Threat Assessment, More... (12/6/16)

Medical marijuana advocates want the DEA to quit fibbing about weed, Massachusetts pols say they may delay implementation of legal pot commerce, a medical marijuana bill gets filed in Texas, and more.

DEA marijuana prosecutions are trending down. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

California Roadside Drug Testing Bill Filed. After being defeated last session over concerns that field drug testing devices are not reliable, Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) is back with a new roadside drug testing bill for the next session, Assembly Bill 6. Lackey says it's all about pot: "The ballot initiative passed this year to legalize marijuana will result in more marijuana consumers on our state's highways and roads," Lackey said in a statement. "It is imperative that we invest in a broad spectrum of technologies and research to best identify marijuana-impaired drivers."

Massachusetts Senate President Says Legal Marijuana Commerce Could Be Delayed. The successful Question 4 marijuana legalization initiative means pot possession, use, and home cultivation is legal as of December 15 and authorizes stores to start selling it in January 2018, but now, key legislators are saying that might not happen on time. Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D) said Monday there is "a strong feeling that we ought to be looking at the later dates, rather than the earlier dates."

Medical Marijuana

ASA Files Petition With DOJ to Make DEA Stop Lying About Marijuana. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Monday filed a petition under the Information Quality Act with the Justice Department "demanding that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) immediately update misinformation about cannabis." Under the Information Quality Act, federal administrative agencies are required to ensure that the information they disseminate is accurate and objective. ASA says the DEA has violated the act at least 25 times.

Texas Lawmaker Files Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana in the Lonestar State. The bill lists qualifying conditions and would allow for private dispensaries, but would not set amount limits. Menendez said that should be left between the doctor and the patient. The bill is not yet available on the state legislative website.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2016 Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA has released its 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, which emphasizes issues around the use of prescription opioids and heroin and warns about rising opioid overdose rates. The assessment also notes that DEA marijuana prosecutions are declining, but that more of the cases that are prosecuted are domestic, as opposed to Mexican marijuana imports. The assessment also reports declines in Mexican marijuana seizures in every border district but one.

Chronicle AM: CA Eyeing Billion in MJ Taxes, SF Safe Injection Site Support, More... (12/2/16)

A battle over safe injection sites looms in San Francisco, California could score a billion bucks a year in marijuana taxes, kratom gets massive support during the DEA's public comment period on its proposed ban, and more.

San Francisco's top health official is down with safe injection sites, but the mayor isn't. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Could Generate a Billion Dollars a Year in California Marijuana Taxes. State analysts estimate legal marijuana tax revenues could provide a $1 billion a year boost in state and local tax revenues. In anticipation of dollars to come, the state Board of Equalization Tuesday approved a proposal to fund staffing to administer the state's legalization bureaucracy, saying it needs $20 million by 2021 to support a staff of 114.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Release Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health Wednesday released proposed draft rules for the voter-approved medical marijuana program. The rules include provisions about labeling, obtaining medical marijuana registry cards, lab testing requirements, and the process for adding new qualifying conditions. The department said it hopes to present the draft rules to the Board of Health next month and then open them to public comment. The department has not completed draft rules for regulation of and applications for dispensary and cultivation licenses. The state is supposed to be ready to license growers and sellers by June 1.

Minnesota Will Allow Medical Marijuana For PTSD. The state Department of Health has decided to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana. It had been weighing requests to add PTSD, autism, arthritis, depression, and other conditions. "While the process of reviewing these potential additions was difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence, PTSD presented the strongest case for potential benefits," Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "PTSD also has few effective treatment alternatives available for some patients with the condition," he added. The decision means that patients certified with PTSD will be eligible for medical cannabis starting August 2017.

Kratom

Kratom Comment Period is Over; Massive Response to DEA Ban Move. The time to comment on the DEA's proposed move to ban kratom has ended, but more than 22,000 comments came in before the deadline, overwhelmingly against restrictive scheduling of the Southeast Asian tree and the psychoactive chemicals it contains. Commenters noted its lack of lethality, its use as a pain reliever, and its utility in substituting for more dangerous opioids. Addiction specialist Dr. Jack Henningfield wrote a 127-page analysis that concluded that scheduling kratom "is not warranted from a public health perspective and is more likely to cause public health problems that do not presently exist." It should be regulated like a health supplement, Henningfield recommended.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Health Chief Supports Safe Injection Sites. Barbara Garcia, director of the city's Department of Public Health, strongly endorsed safe injection sites, she told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday. "I think if we were going to open one, it would be very successful," she told the supes, but added that the city needed a half-dozen to make a real difference. That puts her at odds with Mayor Ed Lee, who has come out strongly against the harm reduction measure.

Chronicle AM: Obama Says Treat Weed Like Cigs or Booze, FDA Phase 3 MDMA Trials, More... (11/30/16)

On his way out of office, President Obama makes his most pro-legalization remarks yet, the FDA gives a green light for Phase 3 MDMA clinical trials, Bolivia ignores UN anti-drug treaties and signs an agreement to export coca to Ecuador, and more.

Ecstasy -- from party drug to prescription drug? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Should Be Treated Like Cigarettes and Alcohol. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said marijuana should be treated as a public health matter and regulated like cigarettes and alcohol. "I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it." Obama added that: "In light of these referenda passing, including in California, I've already said... that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states being laboratories of democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal."

Kratom

Researchers Suggest Kratom Could Have Benefits as Opioid Alternative. A special report published Monday in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association says a proposed DEA ban on kratom would stifle scientific understanding of the herb's chemical components and pharmaceutical properties. The researchers also say that both anecdotal evidence and scientific research suggest kratom may be safer and less addictive than opioids. "There's no question kratom compounds have complex and potential useful pharmacologic activities and they produce chemically different actions from opioids," said author Walter Prozialeck, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. "Kratom doesn't produce an intense euphoria and, even at very high doses, it doesn't depress respiration, which could make it safer for users."

MDMA

FDA Approves Phase 3 Clinical Trials of MDMA for PTSD. The Food and Drug Administration has given permission for large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA to treat PTSD, the final step before possible approval of Ecstasy as a prescription drug. The move comes after the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) sponsored six Phase 2 studies with 130 PTSD patients. MAPS is also funding this current research.

Drug Testing

Michigan Pilot Welfare Drug Testing Program Comes Up With Squat. A pilot program to submit welfare recipients to drug abuse screening found only one person identified as needing a drug test out of 443 people screened -- and that person had his case closed before he submitted a drug test. The screening for drug abuse identified 27 people as possibly needing a drug test, but ten were already getting drug treatment, three had their cases closed for other reasons, and 14 others were cleared after screening. The tests themselves cost the state $700, but the main costs undoubtedly were from "increased staffing, administrative costs, administrative hearings, and program changes to the electronic benefits application system."

International

Bolivia to Ignore UN Ban, Begin Coca Exports to Ecuador. Bolivia and Ecuador have signed an agreement to export legal Bolivian coca products to the Ecuadorian market. The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs bans the export of coca because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador appear to care.

As Clock Ticks Down, Pressure Mounts on Obama to Free More Drug War Prisoners

President Obama has commuted the sentences of more than a thousand federal drug war prisoners, but thousands more have applications in the pipeline. With an incoming Trump administration exceedingly unlikely to act on those petitions, scholars, activists, and at least one US congressman are calling on Obama to expedite clemency efforts while he still can.

Obama still has work to do on sentence commutations. (whitehouse.gov)
In a Tuesday letter, more than 50 scholars and advocates, including Van Jones and performer John Legend, as well as representatives from the NAACP and the Southern Center for Human Rights, not only called on Obama to ramp up the pace of commutations, but also to consider granting clemency to entire categories of drug war prisoners without case-by-case review.

In a 2014 Justice Department move, the Obama administration called on prisoners still doing time for offenses whose sentences were reduced under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to seek sentence cuts and set out criteria spelling out who was eligible. While thousands have applied, a strict vetting process and problems in the Office of the Pardons Attorney means that thousands of clemency requests have yet to be acted on.

Time is too tight to just continue as before, the advocates said, especially given the "law and order" proclivities of the next administration.

"While your administration continues to review individual petitions, we urge you to also determine that nonviolent offenders in certain extremely low-risk categories either deserve expedited review or should be granted clemency absent an individualized review," the group wrote.

"We do not know whether the next president will support clemency efforts or criminal justice reform," the letter concluded. "But we do know that until January 20, you alone have the power to deliver both mercy and justice to those who deserve it."

The group suggested that instead of a time-consuming individualized assessment of inmates' prison behavior, the administration use "prison placement (to a minimum security camp or a low- or medium-security facility) as a surrogate for how an individual has behaved in prison" in order to speed up the process. Another suggestion was to grant clemency to those labeled "career offenders" based solely on drug convictions. And the group suggested that Obama need not "commute entire sentences," but could instead provide partial "tiered relief" to reduce some sentences.

The scholars and advocates weren't the only ones putting Obama on notice that the clock is ticking. US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice also sent the president a Tuesday letter urging expedited action on commutations.

"I would urge you to summon the maximum manpower at your disposal to vet commutations and pardons so that as many sentencing wrongs as possible may be corrected as thousands of incarcerated Americans who are serving unjust sentences may receive justice," wrote Cohen.

While much of the attention has been focused on people sentenced to decades in prison over small amounts of crack cocaine -- an injustice only partially redressed in the Fair Sentencing Act -- Cohen also recently urged Obama not to forget marijuana prisoners.

"President Obama should be commuting the prison sentences of those serving time for nonviolent marijuana-related convictions," said Cohen. "Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states as well as the District of Columbia, and more than 63 million Americans live in states that have now approved recreational marijuana. The President should increase clemency review staff and work overtime to free as many of these individuals as possible before he leaves office. Every day that someone continues to serve an unjust sentence is a day justice is denied. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so rightly noted, 'Justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

The clock is ticking.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Calls for Obama to Cut More Sentences, Iran Drug Death Penalty Moves, More... (11/29/16)

Scholars, advocates, and a US congressman are calling on Obama to ramp up the commutation process in the final weeks of his term, the CDC issues a report calling for expanded syringe exchange, Maryland moves to address racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in the medical marijuana business, and more.

There are new calls for Obama to ramp up the commutation process as the clock ticks down on his term. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Victory Faces Certification Delay. Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that the November 8 election results may not be certified in time for marijuana legalization to go into effect on December 15, that date it is supposed to become legal. Ballot initiatives in the state do not become law until they are officially certified, and a December 14 meeting is the earliest date voting tallies on the initiative are likely to presented, Galvin said. But if not by December 15, certainly by early next year, he added: "All those tokers can hold their breath a little longer, but they'll be able to exhale" by early 2017, Galvin quipped.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Moving to Improve Diversity in Medical Marijuana Industry. The state Cannabis Commission announced Monday that it is hiring a consultant to advise it on steps it can take to improve racial diversity in the nascent industry. The consultant will decide whether a study can be conducted to determine whether minorities have been unfairly excluded. If such a finding is made, that would allow the state to consider race when awarding medical marijuana licenses.

Harm Reduction

Groundbreaking Report from CDC Calls for Expansion of Syringe Access Programs. In a report on HIV and injection drug use released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls strongly for expanding needle exchange programs. "Syringe services programs (SSPs) can play a role in preventing HIV and other health problems among people who inject drugs (PWID)," the report found. "They provide access to sterile syringes and should also provide comprehensive services such as help with stopping substance misuse; testing and linkage to treatment for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; education on what to do for an overdose; and other prevention services. State and local health departments can work with their lawmakers and law enforcement to make SSPs more available to PWID."

Sentencing

Calls Mount For Obama to Ramp Up Commutations as Term Nears End. A coalition of scholars and activists as well as a US congressman are calling on President Obama to expand clemency efforts in the final weeks of his administration -- including considering granting clemency to entire groups of people without case-by-case review. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than a thousand people sentenced under draconian drug war sentencing laws, but thousands more have applied for commutations without those applications yet being acted on.

International

Iran Keeps Moving Toward Ending the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Iranian parliament last week agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors." Iran is one of the world's leading drug executioners, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed last year.

Drug War Issues

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