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Chronicle AM -- February 12, 2014

Overdose prevention is big news today as the drug czar chimes in in favor, more than a dozen congressmen call on Obama to re- or de-schedule marijuana, the Italian Supreme Court undoes a bad drug law, and more. Let's get to it:

Eighteen Congressmen Call for Marijuana Rescheduling or Descheduling. In a Wednesday letter to the White House, 18 congressmen urged President Obama to tell Attorney General Holder to ease up on marijuana. "We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter," said the letter signed by 17 Democrats and one Republican. The letter's lead author is Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Texas Governor Candidate Wendy Davis Says She Would Consider Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis told the Dallas Morning News editorial board she would consider decriminalizing marijuana possession and she supports medical marijuana. "We as a state need to think about the cost of that incarceration and, obviously, the cost to the taxpayers as a consequence of it, and whether we're really solving any problem for the state by virtue of incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession," Davis said. "I personally believe that medical marijuana should be allowed for. Certainly as governor I think it's important to be deferential to whether the state of Texas feels that it's ready for that."

Pennsylvania Governor Candidate Allyson Schwartz Calls for Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Leading contender for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination US Rep. Allyson Schwartz told the Philadelphia Weekly Monday she favors decriminalization and medical marijuana. "I do believe that marijuana is over-criminalized. And what we should do is decriminalize possession," she said. She also said she would sign a pending medical marijuana bill. "If it came to my desk, I would be supportive," she said.

New Mexico Senate Rules Committee Stalls Marijuana Legalization Resolution. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernallillo) saw his Senate Joint Resolution 10 stalled on a tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. The bill would have legalized possession for those 21 and over and set up a regulated system of marijuana commerce.

New Mexico House Committee Approves Study of Legalization Effects. A measure that asks the Legislative Finance Committee to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Tuesday. House Memorial 38, filed by Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), should now be headed for a House floor vote.

Arizona Decriminalization Bill for Small-Time Possession With Intent Filed. Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) has introduced a bill that decriminalizes possession with intent to sell of less than an ounce of pot, make possession of less than two pounds with intent to sell a petty offense, and make possession of more than two pounds with intent to sell a misdemeanor. The measure would also decriminalize growing if the yield is less than two pounds. The bill is House Bill 2474; it has been assigned to the House Judiciary and Rules committees.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Oklahoma City. Supporters of medical marijuana led by Oklahoma NORML rallied at Oklahoma State Capitol today, and also did lobbying and training.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Calls for Overdose Antidote Drug to Be More Widely Available. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) called Tuesday for making the overdose antidote drug naloxone (Narcan) more widely available. "The Obama Administration is encouraging first responders to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone," ONDCP said in a blog post. "When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone immediately restores breathing to a victim in the throes of an opioid overdose. Because police are often the first on the scene of an overdose, the administration strongly encourages local law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with this lifesaving drug… Used in concert with "Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, it can and will save lives."

Boston Mayor Calls for All First Responders to Carry Overdose Antidote. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh Tuesday responded to a spike in drug overdoses in the city by calling on all first responders to carry naloxone (Narcan), a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. Both heroin and prescription opioid overdoses have jumped since 2009. Walsh announced a series of community workshops on the issue.

Indianapolis Police to Carry Overdose Antidote. Beginning next month, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police will begin a pilot program where police officers are trained in the use of and will carry with them naloxone (Narcan) to reverse overdoses. Heroin overdose deaths have doubled in the city since 2011.

Maine Governor Opposes Bill to Increase Access to Overdose Antidote. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) opposes a bill to make the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) more widely available, saying it would encourage drug use. The sponsor of the bill, Legislative Document 1209, Rep. Sara Gideon (D), said the governor's health policy advisor told her he would oppose the bill. "His main objection is his belief -- and I have to emphasize 'his belief' because there is no evidence that supports this at all -- his belief that increasing the availability of Narcan or naloxone will lead the drug user or drug abuser to have this feeling of invincibility," Gideon said. The Tea Party Republican governor last year vetoed bills to increase naloxone availability and create a Good Samaritan 911 law. Fatal heroin overdoses in the state quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

Drugged Driving

New Mexico Drugged Driving Bill Advances. A drugged driving bill passed out of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee Tuesday. House Bill 190, filed by Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), would make driving with any detectable level of controlled substances, including marijuana and prescribed drugs evidence of driving under the influence of drugs. Such evidence would not automatically guarantee a conviction, but could be used to shore up prosecutions. The bill ran into opposition from, among others, the Drug Policy Alliance, which said it was likely to entrap regular users of marijuana or medical marijuana. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

Synthetic Drugs

Missouri Synthetic Drugs Bill Advances. A bill that adds several specific substances to the state's list of banned synthetic cannabinoids advanced on a voice vote in the House Tuesday. House Bill 1051 is designed "basically to stay ahead of or try to keep up with new chemicals as they come out," said bill sponsor Rep. Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains). The bill needs one more House vote before moving to the Senate.

International

Italian Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Equating Marijuana With Heroin. The Italian Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, stiffening prison sentences for marijuana and hash offenders, and filling the country's prisons with low-level pot offenders. The expectation is that thousands of them will soon be freed.

Groups Call for UN to Freeze Vietnam Anti-Drug Aid Over Death Penalty. Harm Reduction International and the anti-death penalty groups Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the United Nations to freeze anti-drug aid for Vietnam after it sentencing 30 people to die for heroin trafficking. In a letter to the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), they said they had raised concern for several years about UN support for countries that impose the death penalty for drug offenses and that UNODC had internal human rights guidance that required it "to cease support for a country if it is feared the support may facilitate executions." UNODC had not replied as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marijuana Seeds Dropped from Slovak Controlled Substances List, New Drugs Added. President Ivan Gasparovic Tuesday signed legislation that will drop marijuana seeds from the list of illegal drugs in Slovakia because they do not contain cannabinoids. But the updated list will now include eight new drugs, including buphedrone, desoxypipradrol and 4-methylamphetamine, and it down-schedules GHB to allow doctors to prescribe drugs containing it.

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

Hemp Amendment Becomes Law as Prez Signs Farm Bill

President Obama this afternoon signed into law the omnibus farm bill, which includes an amendment allowing for research into hemp production in states that have authorized it.

The sun rises on industrial hemp in America (votehemp.com)
Hempsters are happy as history is made.

“With the U.S. hemp industry estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal law to allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research means that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past fifty years,” says Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra. “This is the first time in American history that industrial hemp has been legally defined by our federal government as distinct from drug varieties of Cannabis. The market opportunities for hemp are incredibly promising—ranging from textiles and health foods to home construction and even automobile manufacturing. This is not just a boon to U.S. farmers, this is a boon to U.S. manufacturing industries as well.”

Read Vote Hemp's press release here.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 5, 2014

Alaska will vote on marijuana legalization this summer, the DC council gives preliminary approval to a decriminalization bill, the farm bill with the hemp amendment intact passes Congress, advocates urge India's parliament to act on access to pain medications, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Patients in India need access to opioid pain medications, too. (cansupport.org)
Alaska Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. State election officials said Tuesday that a marijuana legalization initiative has enough signatures to qualify for the August ballot. The measure isn't officially certified yet, but it's all but a done deal.

DC Council Gives Preliminary Approval to Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, Council Bill 20-409, but only after first accepting amendments that would criminalize the public use of marijuana and allow police to search vehicles if they encounter the odor of marijuana. A second and final vote will most probably happen next month, and efforts are underway to strip out the bad amendments. Meanwhile, a legalization bill and a legalization initiative are pending.

Deputy Drug Czar Forced to Admit Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol. Deputy ONDCP head Michael Botticelli had a rough hearing Tuesday at the House Government Oversight Committee. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) got him to admit that marijuana is safer than alcohol, but it was a painful process. Click on the link for the dialog.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Finalizes Regulations for a Single Medical Marijuana Compassion Center. The Marijuana Policy Project complains that its limit of 150 plants will be too few to meet patients' needs, but says its efforts to get the cap lifted have been blocked. Maybe the regs can be changed later, the group said.

Project CBD Responds to Attacks from Project SAM. Project CBD's Martin Lee has penned a lengthy rebuttal of a recent Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) "fact sheet" that seeks to justify continued marijuana prohibition "by misinforming the public about cannabidiol and THC." Check it out at the title link.

Hemp

Farm Bill With Hemp Amendment Passes Congress. The Senate Tuesday passed the omnibus farm bill with the hemp amendment intact. The amendment will allow universities and agriculture departments that have approved hemp production to undertake research. The president is expected to sign the bill any day now.

Drug Testing

Farm Bill Passes Congress Without Drug Testing Amendment. The same Farm Bill package that passed the Senate did not include language passed in a version of the bill last summer that would have encouraged states to drug test recipients of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, also known as food stamps.

South Dakota Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Dies. A bill that would have required drug screening and testing for public benefits recipients died Tuesday in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 5-2 vote. The bill had been fiercely opposed by the administration of Republican Gov. Dennis Daugard.

Law Enforcement

Silk Road Mastermind Indicted By Feds. Ross Ulbricht, the suspected mastermind behind the dark web's Silk Road web site, has been indicted by federal prosecutors for allegedly trafficking drugs through the site. The indictment supersedes the original complaint from October 2013. Meanwhile, another version of Silk Road is back online, and so are competitors.

Prescription Drugs

Florida Prescription Drug Database Overhaul With Privacy Protections Passes Senate Committee. A bill that amends the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to require investigators to get court orders to access the database passed the Senate Health Policy Committee Tuesday. The move came over the objection of law enforcement, which said it would hamper its ability to curb the abuse of controlled substances. The bill is Senate Bill 7106.

Students

South Dakota Bill to Reduce Collateral Student Drug Punishments Advances. The Senate Education Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would reduce the collateral penalties for high school students convicted of drug offenses. Under current state law, students convicted of drug offenses are suspended from school activities for a year, but can get that reduced to 60 days if they attend treatment or counseling. The bill approved by the committee would reduce that to 30 days if the student undergoes treatment.

International

British PM Rejects Junior Partner's Call to End "Unwinnable" Drug War. British Prime Minister David Cameron flatly rejected Deputy PM Nick Clegg's call to end the war on drugs and explore alternative approaches. Clegg made his comments in over the weekend on a trip to Colombia, but Cameron was having none of it, according to a spokesman: "No. The PM's views are well-known and unchanged," when asked if Cameron agreed. "He thinks that we have the right approach. The government has a good record in this area, with drug usage at the lowest level since records began." [Ed: Actually, the prime minister's views are changed, or at least the public version of them. Prior to becoming prime minister, Cameron favored legalization.]

Indian Doctors, Advocates Call for Parliament to Quit Dithering, Pass Opioid Medication Law. Indian doctors and pain patient advocates are calling on parliament to pass an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill that would increase the availability of opioid pain medications. They say millions of Indians are suffering from untreated pain because of lack of access to such substances. Among the groups calling for action on the bill are Pallium India, the Indian Association of Palliative Care, and CanSupport, which provides home care and palliative care for patients with cancer.

Farm Bill Passes Second Chamber, With Hemp, Without Drug Testing

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
The Senate has passed the version of the Farm Bill sent to it last week by the House of Representatives, meaning that the legislation, which includes a section authorizing industrial hemp growing by universities for research will now go to President Obama for his signature.

Also positive is that drug testing legislation for food stamp recipients, included in the House's first Farm Bill passed last summer, is absent. Two victories!

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

The president makes some delphic comments on marijuana policy, some of his congressional critics get ready to go after him for such comments next week, Dutch cities want legal marijuana growing, the Welsh government funds a harm reduction drug testing program, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Don't know what's in your drugs? The Welsh government wants to help.
In CNN Interview, Obama Punts on Rescheduling, Hints Support for Decriminalization. In an interview with CNN released today, President Obama said rescheduling marijuana was a job for Congress [Editor's Note: The executive branch can also reschedule it, according to statute] and that he considered the criminalization of personal use his main concern, although he also worried about the impact of commercialization.

House Government Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Policy Next Week. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the committee, said he will hold a hearing next Tuesday to examine what he called the Obama administration's "schizophrenic" position on marijuana laws. "The purpose of the hearing is to try to sort out the increasingly schizophrenic federal policy we have, because the DEA administrator was overhead denouncing what the president said," Mica said Friday. "We have states that are enacting laws -- municipalities that are considering it -- that are in conflict with federal law." There could be more hearings to come after that, he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner No Fan of Legalization. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a radio interview on Thursday evening expressed doubt that marijuana should be legalized. "We already have a city with a high addiction -- what would that do to the city of Baltimore?" Batts said. He also linked marijuana to homicides in the city, although the killings he described were a function of black market drug sales. "When you're calling your weed dealer or drug dealer, and you show up with money and you get robbed and it turns into a shooting, that's what we're seeing."

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Names Recipients of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses. The Department of Public Health Friday announced the names of the first 20 dispensary applicants who will be awarded licenses to to open dispensaries. An additional 15 will be forthcoming.

Drug Testing

Judge Reinstates Delaware Valley (PA) School District Drug Testing Program. A Pike County district judge has lifted a temporary injunction barring random, suspicionless drug testing for students who drive to school or participate in extracurricular activities. The parents of a 12-year-old female student who faced drug testing if she wanted to join the scrapbooking club and the ACLU had challenged the program in 2011 and won the injunction, but Judge Joseph Kameen ruled earlier this month that the policy was constitutional under state law. It is unclear if the ACLU of Pennsylvania is done with this case.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced in New York. State Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) this week filed a bill, Senate Bill 6744/Assembly Bill 8637, that would help prevent accidental opioid overdoses by expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone. The legislation would dramatically increase the accessibility of the life-saving reversal tool by allowing authorized health care professionals to issue standing orders, or non-patient specific prescriptions, to certified training programs that would in turn train individuals on the signs of overdose and provide them with the naloxone kits. By expanding naloxone distribution, this legislation will help reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses.

International

Welsh Government Funds Program to Test Drugs for Public. Public Health Wales has set up the Wedinos Project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project) to identify what drugs are in circulation there and use that information for harm reduction purposes. Samples are sent to the Wedinos laboratory in Cardiff anonymously and the test results posted online, identified by a reference number. The service is open to the public. "It's essential intelligence for our health workers, for our substance misuse workers, for the police, for young people and their families. By providing timely and accurate information this service can save lives," explained Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This is the first government-funded program of its type in the United Kingdom.

Dutch Cities Call for Legal Marijuana Cultivation; Government Says No. Eight of the Netherlands' 10 largest cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, signed a joint manifesto Friday calling for the creation of "a national system of certified and regulated cannabis cultivation." Another 25 municipal councils also signed on. While the Netherlands allows for the sale of marijuana through its famous cannabis coffee shops, growing marijuana remains illegal. "We want cannabis cultivation to be regulated so the national market is manageable and more transparent, and to decrease the influence of organized crime," said the manifesto. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten rejected the proposals: "I really don't think this is the solution," the Liberal minister told Dutch public television. "Mayors just have to learn to live with it," he said.

Marijuana Growing Courses Underway in Uruguay. Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation has launched special training courses on cultivation of the popular plant, local media reported. Some 50 would-be growers are currently enrolled.

Chronicle AM -- January 30, 2014

Big news on a couple of fronts regarding federal sentencing and federal prisoners, the DC council is set to approve decriminalization, Minnesota's welfare drug testing law gets some pushback, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill Tuesday. The District of Columbia city council will vote Tuesday on the decriminalization bill, the Drug Policy Alliance said Thursday in an email to supporters. The link above is to the bill itself.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) Wednesday introduced House Bill 1659, which would allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated marijuana commerce regime.

Latest Poll Has Arizona Voters "Narrowly Opposing" Legalization. Marijuana legalization had the support of 43% of voters, with 51% in a Scutari and Cjeslak poll released Wednesday. That's the fourth poll in the last year on the topic, all conducted by different pollsters. Two show majorities for legalization; two don't.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Sees Conferences in Ashland, Portland This Week. Would-be marijuana entrepreneurs in Oregon have two conferences aimed at them this week. The two-day Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference began today in Ashland. The National Cannabis Industry Association is holding a one-day "Northwest Cannabusiness Symposium" in Portland on Saturday. An Oregon law allowing dispensaries goes into effect March 3.

Charlie Crist Will Vote for Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said Wednesday he plans to vote for the state's pending medical marijuana initiative. "This is an issue of compassion, trusting doctors, and trusting the people of Florida," he said. "I will vote for it."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Welfare Drug Test Law Draws Flak. Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) legislators, county officials and anti-poverty advocates are pushing back against the state's 2012 law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients with drug felonies. At a hearing Wednesday, Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) said she would propose a bill that would effectively overturn the law by giving counties the discretion to decide whether to apply it or not. County officials complained that the law is expensive to implement and actually affects few people. In one county, one county was forced to spend $1,500 in staff time to search out and test the one person to whom the law applied.

Search and Seizure

NYC Mayor DeBlasio Drops "Stop and Frisk" Appeal. The New York City mayor's office filed papers seeking to drop an appeal of a judge's decision ordering major reforms to the police department's stop-and-frisk policy. A judge ruled last year that the New York Police Department had discriminated against blacks and Hispanics with how it went about stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people on the street. The judge ordered major reforms to the department's implementation of the policy. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the decision.

Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Smarter Sentencing Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the Smarter Sentencing Act on a 13-5 vote. It now goes to the Senate floor. Similar legislation is pending in the House.

Justice Department Calls for Drug Prisoners to Seek Clemency. In an unusual move, the Obama administration Thursday told defense lawyers they should suggest more inmates serving time on drug charges who might be deserving of clemency. In a speech to the New York State Bar Association, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told attendees that the Justice Department wanted more names to forward to the White House -- and that the defense bar could be of assistance.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Wins Committee Vote. Minnesota's House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs Wednesday approved a bill that would toughen laws against new synthetic drugs by expanding the definition of "drug" under the law to include any "substance or derivative… when introduced into the body, induces an effect substantially similar to… controlled substance regardless of whether the substance is marketed for the purpose of human consumption." The legislation would also empower the Board of Pharmacy to execute "cease and desist" orders on stores that sell the substances.

International

Israeli Cops Keep Arresting Small-Time Hash Possessors, Despite Prosecutor's Instructions to Lay Off. Israeli police keep arresting people for small-time hashish and marijuana possession even though longstanding policy directives from the attorney general instruct them not to. The state prosecutor's office said Wednesday it hadn't instructed them to do so.

Bermuda Marijuana Reform Group Seeks Input. The Cannabis Reform Collaborative (CRC) is soliciting for public input and is inviting members of the community to submit their thoughts and research on the topic of cannabis reform. Click on either link for complete details.

Drug Prohibition Leads to Central America Deforestation, Study Finds. Drug trafficking threatens forests in remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other nearby countries, according to a research report in Science magazine. Most media outlets have portrayed the finding as "Drug Trafficking Leads to Central America Deforestation," but as the authors of the article note, "Drug policies are also conservation policies, whether we realize it or not. US-led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests." The article is Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Deforestation; available to members or subscribers.

Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Smarter Sentencing Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday gave its imprimatur to the Smarter Sentencing Act, approving the bill and sending it on to a Senate floor vote. The bill is designed to reduce the federal prison population and decrease racial disparities and, if passed by Congress, would mark the biggest federal sentencing reform in decades.

The act, Senate Bill 1410, cuts mandatory minimum sentences for drug law violations, makes retroactive the crack cocaine sentencing reforms passed in 2010, and gives judges greater discretion to sentence below mandatory minimums when the facts of the case warrant it.

The act was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

"The tide has turned against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families apart," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "From liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites, there is now consensus that our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too much expense to taxpayers."

The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) also welcomed the bill's progress, but said that it was not happy with some changes included as the bill made its way through the committee.

"We strongly support the underlying bill; however, we have deep concerns about changes made during markup. These changes include new mandatory minimums for domestic violence and sexual abuse that are unjustified and opposed by the very victims they are supposed to protect," the group noted.

"Although FAMM would prefer the total repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, this bill is a necessary compromise that will help address many of the drivers of our exploding prison populations. The reform package is bipartisan, reasonable, and will save taxpayers billions of dollars by locking up fewer nonviolent drug offenders for shorter periods of time. It also focuses on over-criminalization, a monster that no one has been able to get a handle on, but one that must be brought under control."

While the bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, companion legislation is languishing in the Republican-controlled House. House Bill 3382, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and 15 cosponsors, is currently before the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Advocates are calling on Goodlatte, who helped establish a House Over-Criminalization Task Force last year, to move on the Smarter Sentencing Act.

"Seven of the 10 members of the Over-Criminalization Task Force currently support mandatory minimum sentencing reform, and all of the Task Force members have shown interest in getting a handle on our enormous criminal code," said FAMM's Julie Stewart. "The interest is there, and the time is right -- this is something that Congress could actually do this year."

The favorable Senate Judiciary Committee vote -- it passed 13-5 -- came even as federal prosecutors came out in opposition to it. In a Monday letter to Attorney General Holder, the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys opposed reforms to mandatory minimums.

"We do not join with those who regard our federal system of justice as 'broken' or in need of major reconstruction," the organization said. "Instead, we consider the current federal mandatory minimum sentence framework as well-constructed and well worth preserving."

That sparked a tough rebuke from the Drug Policy Alliance.

"It is disgraceful that prosecutors continue to defend a criminal justice system that is profoundly racially unjust and cruel," said Piper. "While support for major reform is growing in both political parties, many prosecutors are still living in the dark ages."

Washington, DC
United States

House Farm Bill Does Not Have Food Stamps Drug Testing!

Phil reported yesterday that the House version of the US Farm Bill includes language authorizing industrial hemp production by universities for research. The full text of the bill can be read here -- look for "SEC. 7605. LEGITIMACY OF INDUSTRIAL HEMP RESEARCH" to read the hemp-related language.

There's more good news, which is that the bill as passed this week omits language passed in a previous version of the Farm Bill that would encourage states to drug test Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP -- formerly known as "food stamps") recipients. When the legislation was first passed last June (under a different bill number), it had both the (good) hemp language and the (bad) drug testing language.

Smarter Sentencing Act Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

The Smarter Sentencing Act has just passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have learned -- and with a wide (and bipartisan) 13-5 margin.

As before, see our Twitter page for some of the on-site reports.

Good news -- more hopefully to come soon.

In Breakthrough, Farm Bill Includes Hemp Amendment [FEATURE]

The omnibus federal farm bill approved by Congressional conference committee negotiators this week and destined to be quickly signed into law includes the hemp amendment that was approved by the House last year before the bill blew up over Republican efforts to cut food stamp spending. The final version of the farm bill passed the House Wednesday morning.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
Originally introduced by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the hemp amendment doesn't legalize hemp production, but it does allow for research on industrial hemp by universities and state agriculture departments in the 10 states that have approved hemp production. There are two bills pending in Congress that would legalize hemp; they are House Resolution 525, the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013," and the companion legislation, Senate Bill 359.

The 10 states that have already passed laws allowing hemp production are California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, and the vote comes as even more states are showing an interest in hemp. Hemp bills have been introduced in 11 states this year, including Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New Jersey (carried over from 2013), New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington (two bills were carried over from 2013) West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

"Although I strongly opposed the Republican Farm Bill, I was pleased to see that the bipartisan amendment that I offered with Representatives Blumenauer and Massie was included in the final bill that passed the House of Representatives today," said Rep. Polis. "This common sense amendment will allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp cultivation is already legal. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that this language becomes law."

"This is an important victory for farmers, manufacturers, and consumers in Kentucky and across the country. Our amendment paves the way for production of industrial hemp by first allowing America's academic and research institutions to demonstrate that hemp and the products derived from hemp present a great economic opportunity for our country," said Rep. Massie. "The inclusion of our industrial hemp amendment in the farm bill reflects widespread support for cultivating industrial hemp and proves Congress can work together in a bipartisan fashion to help the American economy at a time when creating jobs is a national priority."

hemp supporter Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
"With the U.S. hemp industry estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal law to allow for colleges and universities to grow hemp for research would mean that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past fifty years," says Vote Hemp President, Eric Steenstra. "The American Farm Bureau Federation announced their opposition to the controlled substance classification of hemp earlier this month, and now passage of this amendment means America can get on track to once again become the predominant producer and manufacturer of hemp -- one of the most versatile and ecological industrial crops on the planet."

The hemp amendment was among the few provisions in the farm bill that had not been previously approved by both houses of Congress. That it made it into the final version of the farm bill was a testament to the bill's support, and to some key supporters, Steenstra told the Chronicle Wednesday.

"Senator Wyden introduced an amendment to the Senate farm bill that was more expansive than the House version, but the leadership limited the votes severely and our provision never got a vote," Steenstra explained. "That, combined with the fact that Senator Leahy had basically cleared it through Judiciary, allowed it to go forward. But ultimately, Senator McConnell and other conferees spoke up for it."

Both McConnell and his fellow Kentucky US senator, Rand Paul, have been ardent hemp supporters, supporting legislation both at the state level and now, in Washington.

"This is an important victory for Kentucky's farmers, and I was pleased to be able to secure this language on behalf of our state," McConnell said in a statement issued Tuesday. "By giving states the go-ahead to cultivate hemp for pilot programs, we are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers. By exploring innovative ways to use hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, while avoiding negative impact to Kentucky law enforcement's efforts at marijuana interdiction, the pilot programs authorized by this legislation could help boost our state's economy."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) played a key role. (senate.gov)
"We think this is pretty significant," Steenstra said. "It's an excellent first step to revitalize what was once a proud and significant industry in this country. A big part of our farming economy has been lost, and we have to work to recover it."

The bill not only allows universities to do hemp research, Steenstra noted, but it also allows state agriculture departments to do pilot studies.

"That's a little bit more expansive than just research," he said. "The can look into things like marketing and cultivation of hemp, and that's a significant opportunity for the 10 states where it is legal."

Steenstra didn't think inclusion of the hemp amendment in the farm bill would take the oomph out the pending hemp legalization bills.

"We've made it very clear, and all of our supporters in Congress understand this, that this is just a first step," he said. "There are a lot of people anxious to grow hemp, and this won't really solve that. We will be able to get some crops in the ground and show that hemp is not the boogie man we feared, but commercial farmers still won't be able to grow it until we get those bill passed."

Although hemp proponents are careful to draw a bright line between industrial hemp and psychoactive marijuana, the growing national debate over -- and acceptance of -- marijuana has been a help rather than a hindrance, Steenstra said.

"The reality is that hemp has been caught up in marijuana policy for 70-some years," he noted. "There is no way to deal with hemp policy without looking at overall marijuana policy. These are two separate tracks, but at the same time, having a lot of people looking at marijuana policy has been a good thing for hemp."

New leadership at the DEA would be a good thing, too, Steenstra said, moaning aloud as he recounted DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart's comment last week that the low point of her career was seeing a hemp flag fly over the US capitol.

"Of all the things she should be down about, she complains about a flag made out of non-drug hemp fiber," he said."We're hoping a more enlightened DEA head will come in and replace her and bring some sanity to policy over there."

Washington, DC
United States

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