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Chronicle AM: Federal Sentencing Reform Advances, OH Legalization Init in Dead Heat, More (10/22/15)

It's nail-biting time for marijuana legalizers in Ohio -- and for different reasons in California -- the Obama administration rolls out new measures to deal with heroin and prescription opiates, a federal sentencing reform bill advances, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Billionaire Philanthropist Sean Parker Circulating California Legalization Initiative Draft. Napster cofounder and early Facebook president Sean Parker has a team of lobbyists and political consultants circulating a draft legalization initiative this week. The move comes as the state's legalization effort is in turmoil, with state activists organized as ReformCA having drafted their own initiative, only to see national reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, drift away. Click on the link for all the juicy details.

Another Ohio Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A second poll this week has found the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative race "too close to call." A new Bowling Green State University poll has the initiative supported by 44.4% of "likely voters," with 42.9% opposed. Among "definite voters," the measure does a bit better, getting 46% support, with 45% opposed and 9% undecided. Earlier this week, a University of Akron Buckeye poll had voters evenly split at 46%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Announces New Steps to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. The administration announced Wednesday that it is moving to increase access to drug treatment and to expand the training of doctors who prescribe opiates in a bid to fight high levels of heroin and prescription opiate use. The plan includes doubling the number of doctors who can prescribe the maintenance drug buprenorphine. The administration has a "sense of urgency that we at the federal level can do more to address this issue," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The committee today voted 15-5 to advance the bill, S. 2123, which would reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand the federal "safety valve," expand early release and reentry programming, and make other sentencing reforms retroactive.

International

Capture of Gulf Cartel Leader Sparks Weekend of Violence in Matamoros. The mayor of the Mexican border city just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas, has warned residents to exercise caution and stay indoors after the arrest last Friday of a Gulf Cartel leader sparked a weekend of clashes between security forces and cartel gunmen. Prado "El Ciclon 7" Rodriguez, the cartel's Matamoros boss, was captured Friday morning, with traffic blockades and gunfights breaking out that same day and continuing through the weekend.

Chronicle AM: Gallup Poll: 58% for Marijuana Legalization, MI Forfeiture Reforms Signed, More (10/21/15)

The trend toward supporting marijuana legalization is becoming ever more apparent, asset forfeiture reforms become law in Michigan, but get attacked by law enforcement in Tennessee, harm reductionists call on the UN to officially release a drug decriminalization document, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

New Gallup Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 58%. A new Gallup poll released today has 58% saying marijuana should be legal in the US. That ties the 58% reported by Gallup two years ago after support declined to 51% last year.The 58% figure is the highest ever recorded in a Gallup poll, and is consistent with majority support for marijuana legalization reported in other state and national polls in recent months. Gallup says that figure is likely to continue to increase, thanks both to younger residents being more likely to support legalization and the dying off of older Americans, who are more likely to oppose legalization. Click on the title link for our Chronicle news brief on the poll.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Tuesday signed into law a seven-bill package aimed at beginning to rein in asset forfeiture abuses in the state. The bills don't end civil asset forfeiture, but increase the burden of proof required to seize and keep confiscated property and require law enforcement agencies to file annual reports documenting their seizure activities.

Tennessee Cops Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. Law enforcement officials Monday lobbied lawmakers to not adopt asset forfeiture reforms in the Volunteer State. Shelby County Prosecutor Steve Jones, said seizing assets to fund policing activities was "government at its best" and warned that changing the law would result in more crime. He wasn't the only one. Click on the link for more.

Drug Testing

Unions Fight Truck Driver Hair Drug Testing. The AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department is trying to stop a proposal that would allow hair drug testing for truck drivers. The proposal is included in a highway bill that passed the Senate in July. The union has no problem with urine testing, which has been in place since 1991, but says that hair testing is untested. "[Health and Human Services] has not approved hair specimen for use in drug tests, and no HHS-issued technical standards for hair testing exist -- and for good reason. Hair testing is not ready for primetime," the union said. The union argues that hair testing could cause positive test results from environmental exposure -- not just personal drug use.

West Virginia Lawmakers Continue to Ponder Welfare Drug Testing. Even though efforts to push through welfare drug testing have failed in the past, legislators Monday were back at it. At a hearing, state health officials told lawmakers fewer than 220 of 2,700 adults enrolled in the food stamp program were likely to use illegal drugs. The committee will continue to study the issue through the year, members said.

International

International Harm Reduction Conference Delegates Call on UN to Officially Release Leaked Drug Decriminalization Paper. More than 500 delegates at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Kuala Lumpur called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today to officially release a document proposing drug decriminalization. The paper had been leaked by Sir Richard Branson, prompting UNODC to say the paper was "not a final document." "The overwhelming support from our delegates today for the UNODC's drug decriminalization recommendations should embolden them to show brave leadership on this issue, and publish the document in its current form," said Rick Lines, head of the International Harm Reduction Association, which organized the conference.

Chronicle AM: Canada Election Should Bring MJ Legalization, Ohio Init in Dead Heat, More (10/20/15)

Canada's Liberals have vowed to legalize marijuana, and now they've just won the election; the Ohio pot legalization initiative looks like it will be a squeaker, a federal judge rules in favor of marijuana businesses in legal states, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Ohio Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A University of Akron Buckeye poll released today has the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative at 46%, with 46% opposed and 8% undecided. But the poll also had 53% of respondents saying the initiative is a "bad idea" because it would grant an oligopoly on commercial marijuana growing (to the investors who funded the initiative). On Issue 2, an initiative aimed at invalidating initiatives that grant private inurement including by monopoly or oligopoly, 40% said they were in favor, 27% were opposed, and 32% were undecided. The election is two weeks from today. A Kent State University poll last week had the legalization initiative at 56%. Click on the link for more demographic and methodological information on today's poll.

Medical Marijuana

Brookings Institution Report Says Federal Government Stifles Medical Marijuana Research. Researchers at the think tank called on the federal government to eliminate obstacles to medical marijuana research in a strongly-worded report today. "The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety," the report, authored by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, says. "Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area." For a start, marijuana should be moved to Schedule II, they said.

California Federal Judge Rules Feds Can't Shut Down Legal Marijuana Businesses. US District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled Monday that the Justice Department is barred from prosecuting marijuana operations that are in compliance with state laws. Breyer cited recent votes in Congress to prohibit such actions. The move came in the case of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which had been ordered closed by a permanent injunction in 2012. Attorneys for the alliance successfully argued that the congressional moves invalidated the injunction, and Breyer agreed. "The plain reading of [Congress's amendment] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extend that MAMM operates in compliance with California law," Breyer wrote. "To the Court's recollection," Breyer added, "the Government has yet to allege or even suggest that MAMM was at any time operating in violation of state law."

Asset Forfeiture

Former Dallas DA Accused of Misusing Asset Forfeiture Funds. Former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins is accused of spending asset forfeiture money for personal use, according to an audit expected to be released today. The audit shows that Watkins spent the money on everything from cell phone bills to travel expenses to the sponsorship of a football league. Seized funds paid for more than $50,000 worth of cell phone bills, and Watkins spent another $71,000 on public service announcements, other promotional activities, legal fees, and travel.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Senator Expresses Support for Drug-Testing Public Housing Residents. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) told the West Virginia Council of Churches Monday that he supported drug testing public housing residents. He said he got the idea from schoolchildren with addicted parents. Drug testing public housing residents is "something that we have to consider," he said. Courts have previously struck down similar testing programs, viewing them as illegal, warrantless searches.

International

Canada's Liberals Sweep to Victory -- With Marijuana Legalization in Platform. Led by Justin Trudeau, Canada's Liberal Party swept to a strong victory in Monday's elections. The Liberals won 184 seats. They only needed 170 seats to form a majority in the 338-seat lower chamber. The Liberal platform included, among other things, marijuana legalization: "We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," the platform states. Marijuana prohibition doesn't prevent youth use, causes socially disruptive and expensive arrests, and supports organized crime, the statement adds. "We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."

Chronicle AM: Australia Okays Medical Marijuana, NJ Legalization Rally Tomorrow, More (10/16/15)

There's a legalization rally in Trenton tomorrow, ASA has a new report on the impact of dispensaries, Mexico cartel violence flares at a Pacific port, Australia okays medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Legalization Rally in New Jersey Tomorrow. Hundreds of legalization supporters will gather in Trenton Saturday to call for an end to marijuana prohibition in the Garden State. The rally begins at city hall at 2:00pm, then marches to the state capitol for a 3:00pm rally. The rally is sponsored by the East Coast Cannabis Coalition and a variety of local reform groups.

Medical Marijuana

ASA Releases Report on Impact on Dispensaries on Communities. Americans for Safe Access has released a report, Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?, that shows dispensaries do not bring elevated crime rates or other social ills, but do bring economic opportunity and provide access to medicine for patients. "The research shows that well-regulated dispensaries are responsible neighbors and valued members of the community," said Steph Sherer, ASA's executive director. "They bring jobs and increased economic activity while providing patients suffering from serious illnesses with an essential physician-recommended medicine. Creating equitable rules for medical cannabis access is a win-win scenario for everyone in a community."

New Psychoactive Substances

Federal Crackdown on New Synthetic Drugs Winds Down. A year-long operation by the DEA and other federal agencies aimed at cracking down on makers and sellers of new psychoactive substances ended yesterday. The feds bragged of arresting 151 people in 16 states, as well as seizing more than $15 million in cash and other assets in the operation, code-named Project Synergy.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Poll Finds Strong Backing for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. A new poll sponsored by the asset forfeiture reform group Fix Forfeiture found that only one out of four Pennsylvanians had ever heard of asset forfeiture, but once they found out what it was, they didn't like it. Nearly four out of five (79%) said they supported reforms once they understood what asset forfeiture was. "It was really stunning to see how broad the support for reform is," said Jim Hobart, pollster for Public Opinion Strategies. "We don't get this type of bipartisan support on any issue these days." The poll comes as the legislature ponders a reform bill, Senate Bill 869, and its House companion bill, HB 508. The bill will have a hearing next week.

International

Australia to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The federal government has announced it will legalize the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, but state governments will be able to opt out. Health Minister Susan Ley said the government wants to provide access to medical marijuana for people suffering from debilitating illnesses. "I have heard stories of patients who have resorted to illegal methods of obtaining cannabis and I have felt for them, because with a terminal condition, the most important thing is quality of life and relief of pain," she said. "And we know that many people are calling out for medicinal cannabis. It is important therefore that we recognize those calls for help, that we put in place what we know will support a safe, legal and sustainable supply of a product."

Mexican Cartels Fight It Out Over Control of Pacific Port. The death toll is rising in Colima state as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Knights Templar, and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel wage a three-sided war for control of the port of Manzanillo. At least 30 people are believed to have been killed in gangland slayings in the state since June, many of them showing signs of torture or, in some cases, dismemberment.

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Regulation Coming to CA, US Senate Passes Drug War Bill, More (10/12/15)

Legal marijuana moves ahead in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana will be comprehensively regulated in California, Jerry Brown splits on a pair of immigration drug deportation bills, Mexican opium poppy production is up dramatically, and more.

Finally, a statewide plan for regulating medical marijuana in California (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado's August Sales Topped $100 Million. For the first time, the state's monthly marijuana sales exceeded $100 million in August. Recreational marijuana came in at $59.2 million, while medical marijuana sales added another $41.4 million. That's $100.6 million in overall pot sales. The state collected $13 million in pot taxes that month.

Washington State Accepting New Retail Shop License Applications. As of today, the State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board is accepting and processing new applications for retail marijuana operations. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will now need to be licensed, and will be prioritized in the licensing process.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed into law a package of bills designed to bring comprehensive, statewide regulation to the state's thriving medical marijuana industry. The three-bill package will establish "a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and sale of medical marijuana," Brown said in his signing statement. "This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system," said Brown. "This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice."

Immigration

California Governor Signs One Bill to Block Immigrant Drug Deportations, But Vetoes Another. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed Assembly Bill 1352, which allows resident non-citizens convicted of a drug offense to seek deferred adjudication and, upon completion, withdrawal of a guilty plea to avoid triggering federal deportation proceedings. But he vetoed Assembly Bill 1351, which would have allowed immigrants to avoid pleading guilty to a drug offense in order to enter drug treatment.

Drug Policy

Senate Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The US Senate last Thursday approved S. 32, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would make it a federal crime to manufacture or distribute drugs anywhere in the world if there is "reasonable cause to believe that such substances or chemicals will be unlawfully imported into the United States or waters within 12 miles of the US coast." The bill now goes to the House.

International

British Lib Dems Set Up Panel on Marijuana Legalization Ahead of Parliamentary Debate Today. As Parliament prepared to debate marijuana legalization today in response to a widely signed citizen petition, the Liberal Democrats announced they were creating an expert panel on the subject. Click on the link for much more.

Chile Will Allow Sale of Medical Marijuana Products in Pharmacies. Chilean Vice Minister of Health Jaime Burrows said last Friday that the country will modify its laws to allow the sale of medical marijuana products in pharmacies. Such sales would be allowed with "the authorization of a specialist, a prescription, and strict controls of stock," he said. A decree enacting the changes is now being reviewed by President Michelle Bachelet.

UN Commission on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Retire the Army From the Drug War. The UN body said soldiers should retire from the streets and return to their bases because they are not trained to undertake policing work. "This must be propelled by a real sense of urgency," said the commission's Zaid Raad al-Hussein. "This is not something we can afford to wait months for without an end." The Mexican army has come under sustained criticism over human rights abuses in its war on drug trafficking organizations.

DEA Says Mexican Opium Crop Up By 50%. Jack Riley, the acting administrator of the DEA, told a House committee last week that there has been a 50% increase in poppy production in key Mexican opium-producing states this year. He added that most heroin consumed in the US comes from Mexico.

Medical Marijuana Update

Illinois' first medical marijuana crop comes in, Washington adopts emergency rules for medical marijuana as it merges with the recreational marijuana system, an Ohio initiative still can't get approved, and more.

California

On Tuesday, San Benito County supervisors backed off from a strong grow ordinance. The supes had previously supported the ordinance to ban outdoor grows, but agreed to back off after hearing from two separate coalitions of counties about recently approved statewide medical marijuana regulation, as well as public speakers. The supes had voted 3-2 to enact the ordinance on September 22.

Illinois

As of last Friday, the state's first medical marijuana crop was coming in. Shine on, harvest moon. The state's medical marijuana cultivation centers spent the weekend harvesting their first legal crop, and some are already preparing their first shipments to patients. The state has had a medical marijuana law in effect since January 2014, but only now is the medicine about to get to patients.

Ohio

On Monday, the Ohio attorney general again rejected a medical marijuana initiative's summary language. For the second time, Attorney General Mike DeWine has rejected the summary language for a proposed medical marijuana initiative from Ohio Medical Cannabis Care LLC. DeWine pointed to six defects in the language. The group can resubmit its language once it has addressed them. Click on the link for details on the defects.

Oklahoma

Last Thursday, signature gathering for a medical marijuana initiative was underway in Ardmore. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering there. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Washington

Last Friday, three of the Kettle Falls Five were sentenced to federal prison. The Kettle Falls Five were a family group of medical marijuana patients pursued by federal prosecutors even though both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Washington. Two were sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, while a third was sentenced to 33 month. Family patriarch Larry Harvey was also prosecuted, but has died, and a fifth member has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 16 months. The three sentenced last Friday are still free while their convictions are being appealed.

On Tuesday, the state issued emergency medical marijuana rules. The state Health Department has just released emergency rules as the state moves to merge medical marijuana into the recreational pot regulatory system. The rules set standards for packaging "High THC compliant products," testing requirements, safe handling, employee training, and labeling. Click on the rules link for all the details.

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

Chronicle AM: Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners to Be Freed, Ohio Early Voting, More (10/6/15)

Major sentencing news today; early voting starts today in Ohio (marijuana legalization is on the ballot), a North Carolina hemp bill has gone to the governor, Colombia will still spray a nasty herbicide on coca crops, and more.

Federal prisons will be a little less crowded a month from now. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Law Criminalizing Hash Oil Explosions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday vetoed Assembly Bill 849, which would have made it a crime to cause an explosion causing bodily harm. The bill was inspired by a series of butane hash oil lab explosions, but in his veto message, Brown said the conduct is already proscribed and another law on the matter "creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit."

Early Voting Starts Today on Ohio Legalization Initiative. Ohioans can vote for or against Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio initiative beginning today. Early voters can mail in absentee ballots or visit early-voting locations across the state.

Oregon's Multnomah County (Portland) Issues Report on Legalization. The Multnomah County Health Department has issued a report saying there are drawbacks and benefits from marijuana legalization, but that more research is needed. The report recommends implementing policies to address impaired driving, teen use, and dependence; there should be warnings for pregnant and nursing women, and there should be limits on the potency of pot, as well as on contamination from pesticides and other substances.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Issues Emergency Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Health Department has just released emergency rules as the state moves to merge medical marijuana into the recreational pot regulatory system. The rules set standards for packaging "High THC compliant products," testing requirements, safe handling, employee training, and labeling. Click on the rules link for all the details.

Hemp

North Carolina Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A measure legalizing industrial hemp production has been approved by the state legislature and now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The measure is Senate Bill 313. McCrory must veto it to block it; if he fails to act, it is approved.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

An Overdose an Hour in Chicago Last Week. In the middle of last week, Chicagoans were overdosing on heroin, prescription opiates, or drug combinations at a rate of more than one an hour. Authorities reported responding to 74 overdose calls in 72 hours between last Tuesday and last Friday. ER doctors are suggesting that heroin cut with the powerful opioid fentanyl is behind the outbreak.

Sentencing

Feds to Free 6,000 Drug Prisoners at Month's End, More to Follow. The Justice Department has announced that some 6,000 federal drug war prisoners will get early release from prison between October 30 and November 2. Most will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being freed on supervised release. This is the result of actions by the US Sentencing Commission, which cut sentences for some drug offenders last year and later made the chance retroactive, affecting currently serving inmates. An estimated 46,000 of nearly 100,000 federal drug prisoners should eventually qualify for the program.

International

Colombia Will Continue to Use Glyphosate, Just Won't Aerially Spray It Anymore. Colombian police will continue to use the herbicide glyphosate to eradicate coca plants, even though it won't apply it with aerial sprays, the chief of police said. The National Narcotics Council outlawed aerial spraying earlier this year, after glyphosate was found to contain massive amounts of carcinogens, but eradicators will now spray by hand, Police Chief Rodolfo Palomino said. "We will continue with other forms of manual eradication and land fumigation with glyphosate," said Palomino.

Chronicle AM: Lynch Reaffirms Obama MJ Stance, Celebs Come Out for Sentencing Reform, More (10/5/15)

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is following the same path on marijuana states as her predecessor, the big California legalization initiative rolls out, Uruguay grants licenses to grow commercial marijuana, there will be no cannabis sales in Berlin (at least for now), and more.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Lynch Reaffirms Obama Administration's Approach to Marijuana States. The new attorney general has made clear she is not going off the reservation when it comes to marijuana policy. Former Attorney General Holder crafted the administration's largely hands-off approach, and Lynch has now said she will follow that path. "I think states have to make these decisions on their own," she said in an interview with NBC. "They listen to their citizens and they take actions. What we have said, and what we continue to say is that states have to also have a system designed to, number one, mitigate violence associated with their marijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep young people, children away from the products."

ReformCA Rolls Out Its California Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Oregon Dispensaries Rake in the Bucks from Recreational Sales. Dispensaries, which were allowed to start selling marijuana to any adults October 1, are reporting "gangbuster" business during their opening weekend. One Southeast Portland dispensary reported 600 customers a day, compared to the 30 a day it had been seeing for medical marijuana. A Bend dispensary reported $55,000 in sales on opening day, and a Northeast Portland dispensary was staying open 24-hours-a-day to meet demand.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois' First Medical Marijuana Crop is Coming In. Shine on, harvest moon. The state's medical marijuana cultivation centers spent the weekend harvesting their first legal crop, and some are already preparing their first shipments to patients. The state has had a medical marijuana law in effect since January 2014, but only now is the medicine about to get to patients.

Ohio Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Summary. For the second time, Attorney General Mike DeWine has rejected the summary language for a proposed medical marijuana initiative from Ohio Medical Cannabis Care LLC. DeWine pointed to six defects in the language. The group can resubmit its language once it has addressed them. Click on the link for details on the defects.

Three of Kettle Falls Five Sentenced to Federal Prison. The Kettle Falls Five were a family group of medical marijuana patients pursued by federal prosecutors even though both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Washington. Last Friday, two were sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, while a third was sentenced to 33 month. Family patriarch Larry Harvey was also prosecuted, but has died, and a fifth member has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 16 months. The three sentenced last Friday are still free while their convictions are being appealed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Aimed at Opiate Abuse. The measure, Senate Bill 2020, is focused on prevention and intervention to curb opiate use. It has provisions regarding pain management, expanded manufacturer drug take-back programs, and insurance changes to make it easier to get coverage for drug treatment. The bill now goes to the House.

Sentencing

A-List Celebs Get Behind Sentencing Reforms, Prison Population Reductions. Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, and Piper Kerman are among 90+ celebrities calling for reform to our criminal justice system. The stars are joining the campaign led by #cut50, a bipartisan effort to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. The celebrity push comes on the heels of a historic deal on criminal justice reform last week. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release. Click on the link for more.

International

No Cannabis Cafes for Berlin. Plans for Germany's first legal marijuana sales businesses have gone up in smoke after federal regulators rejected plans by Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichschain district to allow them. The Federal Institute on Pharmaceuticals put the kibosh on the plan, but this isn't the end of it. Similar moves are afoot in Hamburg, Bremen, Munster, and Dusseldorf, and Kruezberg-Friedrichschain says it isn't giving up, either.

Uruguay Awards Commercial Marijuana Cultivation Permits. Marijuana should be available for sale at pharmacies in about eight months after Uruguay has now selected two companies to grow it for the country's legal market. It will go for about $1.20 per joint.

Sweeping Bipartisan Federal Sentencing Reform Legislation Filed [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive sentencing reform legislation Thursday. The bill aims at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering reentry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents "small government" conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates -- a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves "cooperation incentives" to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.

In addition to reducing prison terms for some offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant's criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a bill cosponsor (wikimedia/Bbsrock)
"This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade," Grassley said. "This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused."

"The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth," said Durbin. "Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

"Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik's cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference," said Schumer. "This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for nonviolent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I'm hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs."

"For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential," said Booker. "Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong."

Although the bill doesn't move completely away from the resort to mandatory minimums, it is still garnering general support among the civil rights, drug reform, and criminal justice reform communities.

The bill aims to reduce federal prison populations. (nadcp.org)
"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences -- especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."

"In an age of intense partisan conflict, it's heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There's still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was also on board.

"Today marks a unique moment in our history and an important step forward in making long overdue reforms to our justice system," said Wade Henderson, the group's CEO. "This bill represents the most robust bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform in years. "This harmonic convergence of left and right -- of civil rights and small government advocates -- represents a coalition of conscience that can carry this legislation to the White House. We applaud the effort and look forward to working with the cosponsors on this legislation."

Now, the bill has to actually get through Congress. Given the high-powered and bipartisan support in the Senate, prospects look good there, but whether the House will be willing to sign on remains to be seen.

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Drug War Issues

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