Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Research Bill Advances, ACLU Smart Justice Campaign, More... (9/13/18)

A federal marijuana research bill advances (although with an undesirable provision), the ACLU rolls out a national plan to reduce state prison populations by half, and more.

A federal marijuana research bill wouldn't let anyone with a pot conviction participate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Officials, Lawmakers Make Huge Stretch in Estimating Legalization Initiative Costs. The state's Office of Management and Budget has released a report on the cost of implementing the Proposition 3 marijuana legalization initiative that vastly overstates the cost by including costs for an education program that the initiative does not mandate. OMB put the cost of implementation at $6.7 million, but $4.4 million would be for a youth education campaign that the state Health Department argued would be necessary. Legislative Democrats sought to approve the fiscal impact statement without the education campaign funding, but were defeated by House Republicans. The fiscal impact also includes $2.2 to pay for clerical costs in expunging some 18,000 marijuana arrest records but does not include any estimate of tax revenues from legal marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Bill Approved by Congressional Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Research Bill, Leaves in Provision Barring People with Drug-Related Misdemeanors. The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve the Medical Cannabis Research Act, HR 5634. The bill would require the Justice Department to begin issuing more licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes but was controversial with drug reformers because of a provision barring anyone with a "conviction for a felony or a drug-related misdemeanor" from any affiliation with research cultivation operations. "There is no legitimate health or public safety justification for the inclusion of this language and we urge you to strike this unnecessary, punitive ban on individuals with previous drug law violations," reads a letter sent to the committee's leaders on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, #cut50, the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups. "To help lower recidivism rates and improve public safety, we should be making it easier for people with records to obtain jobs, not more difficult." An effort to amend the bill in committee to remove the provision was halted after Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said he would not be opposed to changing the language before it goes to a House floor vote.

Sentencing

ACLU Launches "Smart Justice" Campaign with State-By-State Blueprints for Cutting Incarceration in Half. The American Civil Liberties Union's Campaign for Smart Justice today unveiled the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half. The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the first-ever analysis of their kind and will serve as tools for activists, advocates, and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices. The 51 reports -- covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia -- will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports. The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is here: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org

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