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House GOP Kills Marijuana Provisions in Spending Bill, Federal Meth Sentencing Report, More... (6/14/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Consequences of Prohibition

Marijuana legalization is dead in New Hampshire this year, a California initiative to "fix" voter-approved sentencing reforms qualifies for the November ballot, and more. 

Methamphetamine. The US Sentencing Commission has a new report on meth sentencing and purity. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

House GOP Strips Language Protecting Banks Who Service Pot Businesses from Financial Services Spending Bill. An effort to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from federal government crackdowns by including such a provision in the annual financial services and general government appropriations bill is over. Rep. David Joyce (R), chair of the subcommittee and a supporter of the reform said the provision was stripped out of the bill after some of his Republican colleagues had "taken issue" with it. 

The provision would have blocked funding from being used to "penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services" to companies involved in the state-legal marijuana industry. 

Subcommittee member Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) was an especially vociferous critic of the provision, calling it an "affirmative authorization disguised as a limitation" and noting the federal prohibition on marijuana.

"Our country has never allowed a federally illegal activity to be banked, and it’s important to note that, despite some states trying to legalize marijuana, still a Schedule I drug, marijuana is still illegal," he argued. "And I believe that it should remain illegal. It’s dangerous, and more and more evidence is being found that it causes irreparable harm, particularly to younger minds."

While the banking language has been stripped from this appropriations bill, the stand-alone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 2891), which Joyce sponsored, remains alive. 

House GOP Committee Votes to Maintain Ban on DC Marijuana Sales

A GOP-controlled House committee has voted to maintain a federal ban blocking Washington, D.C. from creating a system of regulated adult-use marijuana sales. The House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to approve a package of GOP amendments to the financial services and general government appropriations bill that included the rider barring DC pot sales.

The rider had originally been dropped from the base bill at the subcommittee level but was reinserted in that package of amendments. 

The bill now specifies that "no funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes."

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said in response that she is "outraged by the anti-home-rule riders and committee report provisions," calling the reinsertion of the marijuana rider a particularly problematic development. She said she will try to remove those riders, including the one barring marijuana sales, as the bill moves through the legislative process. 

New Hampshire House Narrowly Defeats Marijuana Legalization Bill. Marijuana legalization is dead for at least another year in the Granite State after the House voted 178-173 Thursday to kill a marijuana legalization bill that had been negotiated by a bicameral conference committee last week, House Bill 1633.

The House had originally passed the bill only to see it dramatically amended in the Senate. The House then voted not to accept those changes, sending the bill to conference committee to sort out the differences. The Senate then approved the bill once more, but the House demurred. 

The bill would have limited retail outlets to 15 franchises that would be operated similarly to how the state handles liquor sales—in state-run stores. That was a key demand of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who said he would not support alternative models for retail sales. But that was too much for many House members, with some calling it an "intrusive big government program."

The bill also would have legalized the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana beginning January 1, 2026, and immediately decriminalized the possession of that amount. But now, none of that will happen, and New Hampshire remains the sole pot prohibition holdout in New England. 

South Dakota Poll Has Bad News for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A poll from the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota and South Dakota Newswatch has the marijuana legalization initiative, Initiated Measure 29, trailing badly. The poll had support at 42 percent, with 52 percent opposed and seven percent undecided. 

Voters in the state approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court at the behest of Gov. Kristi Noem (R). But in 2022, another legalization effort was defeated by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. This poll suggests that political dynamic still holds true. 

Initiated Measure 29 would allow people 21 and older to "possess, grow, ingest, and distribute marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia."  It contains no provisions attempting to set up a taxed and regulated marijuana market. 

In this deep red state, legalization is opposed by 68 percent of Republicans, and the state Republican Party last week passed a resolution urging "all party members and Republican organizations to lend whatever practical support they can to assist in the campaign to defeat Initiated Measure 29."

Still, initiative sponsors South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws are putting the best face on the numbers, saying they don't think the poll reflects the state of the electorate and noting that legalization won during the last presidential election year.

Drug Policy

North Carolina House Votes to Ban "Gas Station Heroin." The House voted unanimously on Wednesday to criminalize the antidepressant tianeptine, which is not a federally controlled substance but has been available in products sold at convenience stores and gas stations, earning it the sobriquet "gas station heroin."

The measure is House Bill 903 , which would make tianeptine a Schedule II drug under state law. If it passes, selling or possessing tianeptine would leave people facing the same kind of criminal penalties as opium, fentanyl, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is not the only legislation to ban tianeptine. The same day the House passed the bill, a Senate committee amended a CBD bill to add language criminalizing tianeptine, so there are now two Senate paths to a ban. 

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Reports on Federal Meth Traffic Sentencing. The US Sentencing Commission has released a report on trends in federal methamphetamine trafficking. Here are the key findings:

  • Methamphetamine has been the predominant drug in the federal caseload since fiscal year 2014 and comprised approximately one-half (48.7%; n=9,555) of all drug trafficking offenses in fiscal year 2022.
  • In fiscal year 2022, individuals sentenced for trafficking methamphetamine received average sentences of 91 months, the longest among all persons sentenced for a federal drug trafficking offense.
    • Methamphetamine trafficking was more severely sentenced than crack cocaine (70 months), heroin (66 months), or fentanyl trafficking (65 months).
    • Individuals sentenced for trafficking methamphetamine were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty more often than all other individuals sentenced for drug trafficking (74.2% compared to 56.6%). However, they received relief from mandatory minimum penalties at similar rates (54.7% and 58.4%, respectively).
  • Methamphetamine is highly and uniformly pure.
    • The methamphetamine tested in fiscal year 2022 was on average over 90 percent pure (93.2%) with a median purity of 98.0 percent.
    • The methamphetamine tested in fiscal year 2022 was uniformly highly pure regardless of whether it was sentenced as methamphetamine mixture (91.0% pure on average), methamphetamine actual (92.6%), or Ice (97.6%).
  • Because the statutory and guideline penalties for methamphetamine are based in part on purity, sentences imposed are impacted by laboratory testing practices which vary across the nation.
    • Individuals sentenced for trafficking methamphetamine mixture received shorter average sentences (83 months) than individuals sentenced for trafficking methamphetamine actual (93 months) or Ice (103 months).
    • Laboratory testing to determine purity was performed in three-quarters (75.6%) of the methamphetamine offenses in this study and varied geographically.
    • Border districts had higher rates of drug testing (86.4%) compared to non-border districts (71.2%).
    • Testing also varied by judicial circuit. More than 85 percent (85.6%) of methamphetamine offenses sentenced in the Ninth Circuit involved laboratory testing, compared to 58.0 percent of methamphetamine offenses sentenced in the Seventh Circuit.
  • Sentencing guideline enhancements targeted at domestic methamphetamine production rarely apply, as the production of the drug has shifted outside the United States.
    • In fiscal year 2022, only ten individuals received an enhancement related to harm to persons or the environment.
    • This study identified only 19 methamphetamine laboratories, used solely to convert liquid methamphetamine into a crystal form.
  • Sentencing guideline adjustments related to the individual’s role in the offense have a greater impact in methamphetamine offenses compared to all other drug trafficking offenses.
    • A greater percentage of individuals sentenced for methamphetamine trafficking received a mitigating role adjustment under §3B1.2 for having minimal or minor participation in the drug offense (23.5%) compared to those trafficking other drugs (17.0%).
    • Nearly thirty percent (27.2%) of individuals who trafficked methamphetamine actual received a mitigating role adjustment, more than individuals who trafficked either methamphetamine mixture (19.7%) or Ice (18.3%).

California Initiative to Partially Undo Prop 47 Sentencing Reforms Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative that would undo drug and other sentencing reforms enacted by the voters a decade ago under Proposition 47 has qualified for the November ballot. The secretary of state's office confirmed this week that the backers of the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act had submitted sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify. 

The act would give judges the discretion to send dealers convicted of selling large quantities of drugs to either county jail or state prison, and it enhances penalties for people who sell drugs that are involved in a fatal overdose. 

It also would require courts to provide formal warnings to convicted sellers of hard drugs that they could face murder charges if they do it again and someone dies. 

It also includes provisions strengthening sentencing for repeated theft convictions and adds new laws to address "smash and grab" organized attacks that result in significant loss or damage. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Democratic leaders in the state legislature have tried to blunt the initiative campaign's momentum by working on their own package of public safety-related bills, but now say they may abandon those efforts if the initiative passes. 

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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