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Drug War Chronicle #1098 - May 29, 2020

1. Fixing the Federal Criminal Justice System: The Establishment Weighs In [FEATURE]

A new report from a high-powered criminal justice panel offers detailed solutions for fixing some of the inequities of the federal criminal justice system.

2. Volunteers Needed: Online Signature Gathering for Psychedelic and Drug Decrim Initiatives

Drug reform initiatives have had to get creative about securing the needed petition signatures during the pandemic. Your help is needed right now -- wherever you live -- to help them make the ballot through phonebanking and online signature gathering.

3. Medical Marijuana Update

A Louisiana medical marijuana expansion bill is just a step away from passing the legislature, Montana patients will soon be able to buy their medicine at any dispensary, and more.

4. State Attorneys General Press for SAFE Banking Act, Singapore Drug Death Sentence Via Zoom, More... (5/20/20)

Illinois is spending tens of millions of marijuana tax dollars to help communities impacted by the drug war, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexican murders continue to increase, and more.

5. "Deaths of Despair" Plateaued in 2018, No COVID Shutdown for Colombia's Coca Eradicators, More... (5/21/20)

Virginia has now decriminalized small-time marijuana possession, a marijuana legalization bill is moving again in the US Virgin Islands, "deaths of despair" have leveled off, and more.

6. Federal Marijuana Prisoner Killed by COVID-19, AL Mayoral Candidate Wants to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (5/22/20)

Ohio local decriminalization initiative campaigns can do electronic signature-gathering, an Alabama mayoral candidate draws attention with a call to hang drug dealers, and more.

7. OR Psilocybin and Decrim Initiatives Hand in Signatures, MA Pot Shops Reopen, More... (5/26/20)

Massachusetts pot shops see long lines as they do a limited reopening, two Oregon initiative campaigns handed in signatures last Friday, the Harris County DA throws out nearly a hundred drug convictions linked to a disgraced Houston police officer, and more.

8. Call for Independent Investigation of Fatal Louisville Drug Raid, LA MedMJ Expansion Bill Advances, More... (5/27/20)

Nearly four dozen members of Congress want an independent investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville drug police, a high-profile task force calls on the federal government to grant states waivers to set their own marijuana policies, and more.

9. US Army Unit Heads to Colombia to Fight Drugs, LA Senate Approves MedMJ Expansion Bill, More... (5/28/20)

One Arkansas marijuana legalization campaign calls it quits for this year, the Louisiana Senate has passed a medical marijuana expansion bill, Tyson Timbs finally gets his Land Rover back, and more.

1. Fixing the Federal Criminal Justice System: The Establishment Weighs In [FEATURE]

In a just issued report on reforming the federal criminal justice system, a blue-ribbon task force of the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice calls for sweeping changes in the system from its approach to drug offenses to significant sentencing changes, support for getting ex-inmates successfully reintegrated into society, and more.

To make things better in the federal criminal justice system, Congress has some work to do. (Creative Commons)
Formed in July 2019, the Council on Criminal Justice is relatively new on the scene but contains some real heavy hitters. The co-chairs of its advisory board of directors are former US Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates and Koch Industries Senior Vice President Mark Holden, while its founding president is criminal justice expert Adam Gelb and the chair of its board is former head of the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs Laurie Robinson.

The members of the task force that issued the report, Next Steps: An Agenda for Federal Action on Safety and Justice, are also prominent figures from across the political spectrum. They include former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former Washington, DC and Philadelphia police chief Gordon Ramsey, American Conservative Union general counsel David Savakian, former director of the Open Society Foundation's Addiction Program's Dr. Kima Taylor, as well as Yates and Holden.

Noting in the report's executive summary that both crime and incarceration rates have receded -- although with a considerable lag between the two -- and that the federal prison population finally peaked in 2013, they write that "[y]et there is broad agreement across the political spectrum that more must be done to make communities safe and guarantee justice -- not just by states and localities, where the majority of the criminal justice system operates, but also by the federal government, which runs the country's largest correctional system and helps set the tone of the national conversation."

The task force sought "to craft a consensus view of the actionable, politically viable steps that the federal government can take now and in the near future to produce the greatest improvements in public safety and the administration of justice." With a nod to the ongoing pandemic, the task force noted that although it "concluded its deliberations before the outbreak of COVID-19, several of the recommendations are highly relevant to the federal response, in the short term and beyond."

So, what does this consensus view on federal criminal justice reforms look like?

The task force came up with 15 policy recommendations for actions by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, along with detailed rationales for each and equally detailed plans for implementing them. Here are some of the highlights:

Marijuana Policy

Reflecting the task force consensus but not quite catching up with public opinion, which now consistently favors legalization in opinion polls, the task force calls not for federal marijuana legalization but for instead allowing states to set their own marijuana policies through a system of waivers. It finds the status quo where "states are, in effect, licensing individuals and businesses to commit federal felonies" as untenable as "states and the industry continue to operate under an illusion of sovereignty where circumstances can change at any moment."

Instead, they recommend formalizing the status quo, acknowledging that states can enact legalization without fear of federal interference, unless and until marijuana is rescheduled or legalized at the federal level.

Sentencing Policy

The task force makes a number of pointed recommendations when it comes to sentencing policies that have made the land of the free the home of the world's largest prison population. They note that the US Sentencing Commission, which is responsible for setting guidelines for federal prison sentences, is currently paralyzed and "has been unable to modify sentencing guidelines to reflect current law, including the bipartisan reforms of the FIRST STEP Act of 2018," because the Trump administration has failed to fill vacancies on it.

The task force's recommendation here is: "The President and the Senate should fully reconstitute the US Sentencing Commission so it can fulfill its statutory duties to make necessary and timely adjustments to the sentencing guidelines, make recommendations to Congress for needed changes to federal criminal and sentencing statutes, and conduct research on the policies and operations of the federal sentencing and corrections systems."

One of the main drivers of the mushrooming federal prison population -- it grew from 24,000 in 1980 to nearly 220,000 before peaking in 2013 -- is mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, leaving federal prisons stuffed "not just with major traffickers but also with thousands of lower-level players in the drug distribution chain, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities," the task force notes.

While, over the years as the incarceration fever began to break, various efforts to mitigate the pernicious effects of mandatory minimums were implemented (and have helped reduce the number of federal prisoners), the task force is ready to be done with them. "Congress should eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for all drug crimes and consider eliminating non-drug mandatory minimums while refraining from enacting any new mandatory minimums pending study," it recommends.

Also on sentencing, the task force notes that neither Congress nor the courts have acted to restrict judges from sentencing someone based on conduct for which they have been acquitted in court, a practice that mainly occurs in drug conspiracy cases. The task force calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend federal sentencing guidelines to prohibit such sentencing.

And the task force is calling for federal prisoners serving lengthy sentences approved by "tough on crime" legislation in the 1980s and 1990s to be able to appeal to have their sentences reconsidered after serving at least 15 years, with a chance for review every 10 years after that.

Reentry

Giving federal offenders a chance of actually succeeding on the outside upon their release from prison is another main focus of the task force. It starts with recommending that Congress ensure the Bureau of Prisons is working as it should by creating "an independent performance, oversight, and accountability board (Board) to oversee and advise the Bureau of Prisons (BOP)."

To help prisoners prepare for post-carceral careers while still behind bars, the task force calls for the restoration of Pell grants and other expanded educational opportunities, and it recommends several measures to increase their chances once they're back on the street. Among them are sealing low-level criminal records from public view to help employment prospects, expanding public housing access for people with convictions, and providing guidance on closing Medicaid reentry gaps.

The task force also calls for Congress "to support and incentive increased access to residential and community-based treatment services that are evidence-based, including access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in order to strengthen reentry programs, prevent recidivism, and promote better health outcomes."

The Council on Criminal Justice is about as establishment and mainstream as it gets. When people like this are shouting for the federal criminal justice system to be fixed, you know it needs to be fixed (if you didn't already). The task force has shown us what needs to be done; now it's up to Congress, the courts, and the administration to act. We shall see.

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2. Volunteers Needed: Online Signature Gathering for Psychedelic and Drug Decrim Initiatives

Dear reformer:

The pandemic has been hard on ballot initiative campaigns that need to gather signatures to get on the ballot. But there are some important drug policy initiatives that have a real chance of getting their needed signatures, but which need some help.

Initiative 81 in the District of Columbia would make enforcement against offenses involving entheogenic plants or mushrooms a lowest priority for law enforcement. Submitted in December to the DC Board of Elections by the group Decriminalize Nature DC, I-81's chances of getting onto the ballot were threatened by when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Earlier this month, though, the Board of Elections not only approved it for signature gathering, but granted permission for circulators of the initiative to sign their own petitions. This means that any DC voter can download, print and sign a copy, and return it to the campaign. The campaign is also mailing copies to people who request it.

Wherever you live, you can help get I-81 onto the ballot through phone banking. Today there's a virtual rally for volunteers with guest Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps CEO David Bronner. (It might be too late to join today's rally -- I'm sorry we didn't catch today's opportunity sooner, to let you know sooner.)

In Oregon, Initiative Petition 34 to legalize psilocybin mushroom-assisted therapy has also gone to online signature gathering. The campaign is within 10,000 signatures of what they need to qualify for the ballot, but needs your help for the rest too. Again, you can sign if you're an Oregon voter, but you can volunteer to help from anywhere. Please see our action alert for how to get involved.

And if you're helping with Oregon, you can help two initiatives at once. The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, IP-44, which would decriminalize illegal substances, needs help with electronic signature gathering too. IP-44 is only 5,500 valid signatures away from qualifying.

This is not a comprehensive list of drug reform initiatives that are trying to move forward despite the pandemic. Many have had to postpone their plans, but a number are still trying. For today at least, those are our suggestions for how to help, and I hope you can.

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
https://stopthedrugwar.org

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3. Medical Marijuana Update

A Louisiana medical marijuana expansion bill is just a step away from passing the legislature, Montana patients will soon be able to buy their medicine at any dispensary, and more.

Louisiana

Louisiana Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would end a rule requiring doctors to register with the state to recommend it and give them broad authority to recommend for any debilitating health condition. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back to the lower chamber to approve amendments made in the Senate.

Montana

Montana to "Untether" Medical Marijuana Users, Allowing Multiple Providers. As of next Tuesday, medical marijuana patients will no longer be stuck using a sole provider. Under a bill approved last year, patients will now be able to seek their medicine from any dispensary or provider. That bill allows patients to purchase up to one ounce per day, with a maximum of five ounces per month. But the daily purchase limit is temporarily suspended in a bid to reduce the number of in-store visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Activists Call for Legislature to Reconvene to Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Delivery Bill. After Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed for medical marijuana deliveries, activists are calling on lawmakers to reconvene to override that veto. While other vetoes by Stitt were successfully overridden, the Senate refused to vote on this one, with the Senate leader's office saying "there was not enough support to override the veto in the Senate and it was not close."

Louisiana Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would end a rule requiring doctors to register with the state to recommend it and give them broad authority to recommend for any debilitating health condition. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back to the lower chamber to approve amendments made in the Senate.

Montana to "Untether" Medical Marijuana Users, Allowing Multiple Providers. As of next Tuesday, medical marijuana patients will no longer be stuck using a sole provider. Under a bill approved last year, patients will now be able to seek their medicine from any dispensary or provider. That bill allows patients to purchase up to one ounce per day, with a maximum of five ounces per month. But the daily purchase limit is temporarily suspended in a bid to reduce the number of in-store visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Activists Call for Legislature to Reconvene to Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Delivery Bill. After Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed for medical marijuana deliveries, activists are calling on lawmakers to reconvene to override that veto. While other vetoes by Stitt were successfully overridden, the Senate refused to vote on this one, with the Senate leader's office saying "there was not enough support to override the veto in the Senate and it was not close."

Louisiana Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would end a rule requiring doctors to register with the state to recommend it and give them broad authority to recommend for any debilitating health condition. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back to the lower chamber to approve amendments made in the Senate.

Montana to "Untether" Medical Marijuana Users, Allowing Multiple Providers. As of next Tuesday, medical marijuana patients will no longer be stuck using a sole provider. Under a bill approved last year, patients will now be able to seek their medicine from any dispensary or provider. That bill allows patients to purchase up to one ounce per day, with a maximum of five ounces per month. But the daily purchase limit is temporarily suspended in a bid to reduce the number of in-store visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Activists Call for Legislature to Reconvene to Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Delivery Bill. After Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed for medical marijuana deliveries, activists are calling on lawmakers to reconvene to override that veto. While other vetoes by Stitt were successfully overridden, the Senate refused to vote on this one, with the Senate leader's office saying "there was not enough support to override the veto in the Senate and it was not close."

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4. State Attorneys General Press for SAFE Banking Act, Singapore Drug Death Sentence Via Zoom, More... (5/20/20)

Illinois is spending tens of millions of marijuana tax dollars to help communities impacted by the drug war, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexican murders continue to increase, and more.

State attorneys general are urging Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which is already approved in the House. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

State Attorneys General Push for Federal Marijuana Banking Reform. Attorneys Generals from 34 states and territories sent a letter today to Congressional leadership urging members to expeditiously pass The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services. Calling the status quo "untenable," the attorneys general wrote that the coronavirus pandemic had heightened the need for Congress to act quickly. The SAFE Banking Act is now part of the coronavirus relief HEROES Act, which passed the House last week, but whose prospects are clouded in the Senate.

Illinois Announces $31 Million In Marijuana Revenue-Funded Grants to Repair Drug War's Harms. State regulators have announced that some $31.5 million in marijuana tax revenues has been made available to "communities impacted by economic disinvestment, violence and the severe and multilayered harm caused by the war on drugs." The windfall is the result of the state's marijuana legalization law, which mandates that a quarter of all pot tax revenues go to the program serving those communities.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Barr Announces Timothy J. Shea New Acting DEA Administrator.Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday announced the appointment of Timothy J. Shea as Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since February 2020, Shea served as Interim US Attorney for the District of Columbia. He was also an assistant US attorney in the Northern District of Virginia in the 1990s and later served as the Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office. Shea also served in congressional roles, including as Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and on the US House Appropriations Committee professional staff under Ranking Member Silvio O. Conte.

International

Mexican Murders at Record Levels in First Part of 2020. Despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's pledge to bring down drug gang-related violence when he took office in late 2018, it just keeps increasing. Last year was the bloodiest one since records started being kept, and this year so far is even worse. According to the federal security ministry, there were 11,535 murders during the first four months of 2020, up 2.4% over the same period last year. Mexico began imposing coronavirus restriction in late March, but that didn't stop the killing. Nearly 6,000 murders took place in March and April, one of the worst two-month periods on record.

Singapore Sentences Man to Death on Drug Charges Via Zoom. For the first time in the city-state's history, a man has been sentenced to death remotely via a Zoom video-call. Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian, received the sentence for his role in a 2011 heroin transaction last Friday, with the country under lockdown to try and curb one of the highest coronavirus rates in Asia. Human Rights Watch didn't think much of the move: "Singapore's use of the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane, and the use of remote technology like Zoom to sentence a man to death makes it even more so," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

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5. "Deaths of Despair" Plateaued in 2018, No COVID Shutdown for Colombia's Coca Eradicators, More... (5/21/20)

Virginia has now decriminalized small-time marijuana possession, a marijuana legalization bill is moving again in the US Virgin Islands, "deaths of despair" have leveled off, a study finds, and more.

Virginia has just decriminalized marijuana possession. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Island Governor Unveils Revised Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) has released a revised marijuana legalization bill and sent it to the territorial Senate for consideration. Bryan is emphasizing the potential for marijuana taxes to help fund the territory's retirement system for government workers. The revised bill would address social equity issues by creating a micro-cultivator permit and would allow patients but not recreational consumers to grow their own. The bill would also limit non-residents to buying seven grams a day, while residents could buy an ounce each day.

Virginia Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bills. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday signed a pair of identical bills that decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, making it the 27th state to do so. The bills are SB 2 and HB 972. The legislature passed the measures in March, but Northam recommended a series of amendments and sent it back to the House and Senate for consideration. The legislators accepted 15 of 17 recommendations and sent the measures back to Northam, who was satisfied enough to sign them into law.

Drug Policy

"Deaths of Despair" Plateaued in 2018, Study Finds. Deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide -- so-called "deaths of despair" -- hit a peak in 2017 and leveled off in 2018, according to a study from the Trust for America's Health. The leveling off was largely attributable to a decline in drug overdose deaths that year, the first such decrease in a decade. But deaths due to alcohol, synthetic opioids, cocaine and suicide increased, particularly among people of color, according to the report.

International

Colombia Coca Eradicators Spared from Coronavirus Lockdown. Colombian President Ivan Duque has ordered a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus but has created an exception that allows coca eradication campaigns to move forward largely unabated. The move comes amidst intense US pressure to reduce the country's cocaine production. The campaign has also led to at least two deaths in clashes between security forces and local residents.

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6. Federal Marijuana Prisoner Killed by COVID-19, AL Mayoral Candidate Wants to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (5/22/20)

Ohio local decriminalization initiative campaigns can do electronic signature-gathering, an Alabama mayoral candidate draws attention with a call to hang drug dealers, and more.

At least 59 federal prisoners have died of the coronavirus. The latest was a man doing time for weed. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Most Recent Federal Inmate Death Was Man 18 Years into a Marijuana Sentence. A man serving a 20-year sentence for marijuana trafficking has become the latest federal prisoner to die of the coronavirus. Fidel Torres was sentenced in 2006 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than a thousand pounds of pot. The same judge who sentenced him, Judge George Kazen of the Southern District of Texas, later denied him a sentencing reduction he would have qualified for under revised 2014 sentencing guidelines because of minor behavioral issues during the course of his imprisonment. "After the commission reduced the drug guideline retroactively in 2014, nearly 32,000 people got shorter, fairer sentences," said Kevin Ring, who heads the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Some 19,000 people were denied relief, Ring added. Less than 2% of those denials were due to prison misconduct, "and Mr. Torres appears to have been part of that very small and unfortunate minority," he said. Torres is the 59th federal prisoner to die of the coronavirus.

Ohio Local Decriminalization Initiatives Can Gather Signatures Electronically, Federal Judge Rules. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that campaigns to put marijuana decriminalization initiatives on local ballots across the state can turn to electronic signature-gathering after they were forced to suspend in-person campaigns because of the coronavirus pandemic. The court also ordered the state to push back the deadline for submitting signatures from July 1 to July 31.

Drug Policy

Alabama Mayoral Candidate Calls for Public Hanging of Drug Dealers. A man running for mayor in the small town of Sylacauga is calling for the public hanging of drug dealers as part of his campaign. Michael R. James posted his proposal on Facebook, where it has been shared and commented on hundreds of times. "Yes, I'm very aware public hanging is extreme and totally not possible without Federal Approvals and not from city or state officials. Extreme yes, but definitely brings attention to this scourge on Sylacauga, Alabama and the United States of America," he wrote in the Facebook post. His campaign materials say the hangings would only happen to third-time offenders.

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7. OR Psilocybin and Decrim Initiatives Hand in Signatures, MA Pot Shops Reopen, More... (5/26/20)

Massachusetts marijuana stores see long lines as they do a limited reopening, two Oregon initiative campaigns handed in signatures last Friday, the Harris County DA throws out nearly a hundred drug convictions linked to a disgraced Houston police officer, and more.

An Oregon campaign to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocbyin mushrooms has handed in signatures. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Stores Reopen with Curbside Service, Long Lines Form. After a two-month forced shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, state marijuana retailers faced long lines of customers Monday as they reopened for curbside pickup of phoned in orders. While most legal marijuana states allowed pot shops to stay open as essential businesses, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) refused, saying that because Massachusetts was the only state in the region to have recreational retail sales, it was likely to draw customers from other states, endangering the public health of the commonwealth.

Psychedelics

Poll Show Growing Support for Access to Magic Mushrooms. A new poll from the marijuana research firm Green Horizons has 13% saying psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms should be outright legalized, with another 25% saying they should be legal under limited circumstances, such as for medical or spiritual reasons. Among people who said they had some knowledge of psychedelics, those figures jump to 18% and 35%, respectively. The poll was conducted by online surveys with a nationally representative sample of a thousand people.

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The campaign to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative, Initiative Petition 34, submitted signature petitions last Friday. The group handed in 133,000 raw signatures, 18% more than the 112,000 valid voter signatures required to qualify for the ballot. The group still has until July 2 to come up with the additional needed to ensure there are enough valid signatures..

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Legislature Kills Move to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state died in the House last Thursday. SB 1556 had passed the Senate in March on a unanimous vote, but all 29 House Democrats and eight Republicans voted to kill it. Democrats who might have been expected to vote for the reform cited budgetary concerns amidst the coronavirus crisis, with one saying she couldn't support it without also ensuring counties would still have the money they need at a time of reduced state revenues due to the pandemic.

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization and Treatment Initiative Hands in Signatures. The campaign behind the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, Initiative Petition 44, handed in more than 147,000 raw voter signatures last Friday. It needs 112,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs and fund drug treatment with marijuana tax revenues. The campaign still has until July 2 to gather more signatures.

Law Enforcement

Houston Overturns More Drug Convictions Linked to Officer Who Led Fatal Botched Raid. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced last Thursday that nearly a hundred more defendants convicted as part of cases made by former Houston Police Officer Gerald Goines will see their cases cleared. Goines now faces murder and records tampering charges over a raid that left two innocent homeowners dead, and investigations of Goines in the aftermath of the raid led to earlier and these latest dismissals. "We will continue to work to clear people convicted solely on the word of a police officer who we can no longer trust," Ogg said. "We are committed to making sure the criminal justice is fair and just for everyone."

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8. Call for Independent Investigation of Fatal Louisville Drug Raid, LA MedMJ Expansion Bill Advances, More... (5/27/20)

Nearly four dozen members of Congress want an independent investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville drug police, a high-profile task force calls on the federal government to grant states waivers to set their own marijuana policies, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still ready to push for marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

High-Profile Task Force Calls for Federal Marijuana Legalization Waivers. The Council on Criminal Justice, a task force composed of former lawmakers, federal prosecutors, and corporate interests, issued a series of recommendations Wednesday on criminal justice reform, including creating a system of waivers that would let states set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal interference. But the council did not go as far as calling for marijuana legalization nationwide. Members of the council include Sally Yates, who served as deputy attorney general and interim attorney general, former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and former Washington, DC and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, as well as Mark Holden, who was senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, and David Safavian, general counsel of the American Conservative Union, are also members.

New York Governor Says He'll Work to Pass Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) says he intends to get marijuana legalized in the near future even though progress toward that goal had been slow and halting even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. "I believe we will [legalize marijuana], but we didn't get it done this last session because it's a complicated issue and it has to be done in a comprehensive way," Cuomo said during a last Friday press conference.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would expand the state's medical marijuana program by lifting regulations that require doctors to register with the state to be able recommend it and that limit its use to patients with certain diseases. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Law Enforcement

Nearly Four Dozen Congressmembers Call for Independent Investigation of Botched Louisville Drug Raid That Killed a Black Woman EMT. Some 44 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department to call for an independent investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman killed by police gunfire in her own home in the midst of a drug raid plagued by fatal police bungling. Led by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), the letter called Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." Other lawmakers signing the letter include: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). The letter has been endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU.

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9. US Army Unit Heads to Colombia to Fight Drugs, LA Senate Approves MedMJ Expansion Bill, More... (5/28/20)

One Arkansas marijuana legalization campaign calls it quits for this year, the Louisiana Senate has passed a medical marijuana expansion bill, Tyson Timbs finally gets his Land Rover back, and more.

Montana medical marijuana patients will soon be able to shop at any dispensary they wish. (Sandra Yreul/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Stops Signature-Gathering. Arkansas True Grass, which sought to place a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot, has given up on this year, citing difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The group needed 90,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify, but now says it will turn its sights to 2022. Another initiative campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, continues to gather signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would end a rule requiring doctors to register with the state to recommend it and give them broad authority to recommend for any debilitating health condition. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back to the lower chamber to approve amendments made in the Senate.

Montana to "Untether" Medical Marijuana Users, Allowing Multiple Providers. As of next Tuesday, medical marijuana patients will no longer be stuck using a sole provider. Under a bill approved last year, patients will now be able to seek their medicine from any dispensary or provider. That bill allows patients to purchase up to one ounce per day, with a maximum of five ounces per month. But the daily purchase limit is temporarily suspended in a bid to reduce the number of in-store visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Activists Call for Legislature to Reconvene to Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Delivery Bill. After Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed for medical marijuana deliveries, activists are calling on lawmakers to reconvene to override that veto. While other vetoes by Stitt were successfully overridden, the Senate refused to vote on this one, with the Senate leader's office saying "there was not enough support to override the veto in the Senate and it was not close."

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Man in US Supreme Court Asset Forfeiture Case Finally Gets His Vehicle Back. Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, has finally gotten his vehicle back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust. After the Supreme Court decision, a state court judge ordered the state to return Timbs' vehicle "immediately." That was April 27. Now, it's actually happened.

Foreign Policy

US Army Unit to Arrive in Colombia on Drug Fighting Mission. The US Embassy in Bogota announced Wednesday that a US Security Force Assistance Brigade will arrive in Colombia early next month. "SFAB's mission in Colombia is an opportunity to demonstrate our mutual commitment against drug trafficking and support for regional peace, respect for sovereignty and the lasting promise to defend shared ideals and values," said US Southern Commander Admiral Craig Faller in a statement. The move comes as Colombia's coca cultivation and cocaine production are a record high levels.

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Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School