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Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Feds Claim "Drug Trafficker" Presence Required "Escalated Force" Use at George Floyd Protests, More...(6/5/20)

Medical marijuana is moving in the Heartland, a New Jersey decriminalization bill gets filed, Colorado lawmakers are moving a police reform bill, and more.

It's looking like the Garden State could see both marijuana decriminalization and legalization this year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Decriminalization Bill Filed. Senate Democrats have filed Senate Bill 2535, which would decriminalize the possession and distribution of one pound or less of marijuana. A first offense would earn a written warning, while subsequent offenses would garner a $25 fine. The bill sponsors are Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Ron Rice (D-Newark).

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The state Senate has given final approval to a medical marijuana expansion bill, HF-2589, which adds autism and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions and limits patients to 4.5 grams of THC over a 90-day period. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Kansas Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Nine House members have cosponsored House Bill 2017, which would set up a system of state-regulated medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales. The bill would cap allowable amounts at four ounces, the equivalent of a 30-day supply. The bill does not specify which diseases or conditions would be included.

Law Enforcement

Feds Assert (With No Evidence) Force Against George Floyd Protestors Was Necessary Because of Drug Traffickers. US Customs and Border Protection claimed in a memo Wednesday that the supposed presence of "drug trafficking organizations" at protests after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police justified the use of "escalated force" at demonstrations. It provided no evidence to support the claim beyond asserting that "due to nefarious actors and drug trafficking organizations using these protests as façades, there have been incidents where law enforcement (LE) officials have needed to respond with nonlethal and escalated force -- incidents including the use of pepper spray, riot shields, and rubber bullets." The claim came less than 48 hours after the Justice Department okayed letting the DEA act as federal law enforcement at the protests, even though it noted that "the federal crimes being committed in the wake of Mr. Floyd's death are largely not drug-related."

Colorado Police Reform Bill Filed. The state Senate president and all Senate Democrats are supporting Senate Bill 20-217, which was introduced this week in the wake of the George Floyd protests. The bill passed out of the Senate State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Thursday and is likely to get a Senate floor vote either Saturday or early next week. The bill is an effort to bring transparency, accountability and better oversight for law enforcement who abuse their power. It would mandate the use of body camerasby July 2021, with failure to record creating a rebuttable presumption of officer misconduct. It also prohibits the use of chokeholds by police and requires public reporting on policing. Failure to record creates a rebuttable presumption of officer misconduct. It would also rein in deadly police shootings and block the rehiring of bad cops.

International

Australia's Melbourne to Get Second Safe Injection Site. The Victoria state government is now planning a second safe injection site in Melbourne after a report showed demand had surged at the North Richmond safe injection site. Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement today following a two-year trial of the medically supervised North Richmond site. Andrews said he was "absolutely convinced" the second facility would save lives. "There is a need for us to do more to save lives and to change lives not just in North Richmond, but according to our expert panel in the City of Melbourne as well," he said.

Bermuda Government Releases Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill for Public Feedback. The Bermuda government has released a draft marijuana legalization bill under which adults 21 and over could purchase and possess up to seven grams of marijuana. The bill envisions a system of licensed retailers, and a prior marijuana conviction would be no bar to participating in the industry.

NM Primary Voters Remove Anti-Pot Lawmakers, UN Report Scorches Philippine Drug War Killings, More... (6/4/20)

A Democratic infrastructure bill includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider impaired driving policies, Switzerland is set to move ahead with marijuana legalization pilot projects -- but only if it's organic -- and more.

Filipino President Duterte's drug war is again drawing criticism from the UN. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrat Committee Leader Files Bill to Require Legal Marijuana States to Consider Impaired Driving Policies. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, filed an infrastructure bill Wednesday that includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider programs to curb marijuana-impaired driving and to educate the public about the dangers. The bill does not apply to states that haven't legalized medical or recreational marijuana. The bill is cosponsored by several subcommittee chairs on the panel. It's called the INVEST in America Act.

New Mexico Primary Voters Remove Anti-Marijuana Legalization Lawmakers. In state primary elections Tuesday, voters in at least four state Senate districts have replaced conservative Democrats who opposed legalization with progressive challengers who support it. This makes the prospects for legalization next year even greater. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supports the move.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Votes to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate Wednesday voted 32-17 to expand the state's medical marijuana program by increasing the amount of medical marijuana products patients can purchase to up to 25 grams of THC every 90 days. The bill now goes to the House.

International

UN Says "Near Impunity" for Drug War Killings in the Philippines. In a report released Thursday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill." Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability.

Switzerland Approves Legal Marijuana Pilot Programs -- But Only If It's Organic. The National Council has approved a plan to start marijuana legalization pilot programs, but the government says it must be organic and grown locally. Programs will be carried out in large cities such as Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva, and Zurich. "The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalize cannabis," said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Social Democrats), a spokesperson for the responsible committee. Only people who currently use marijuana and prove it via a hair sample will be able to participate.

Medical Marijuana Update

Pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front this week, but a Louisiana medical marijuana expansion bill has made its way through the legislature, and more.

Connecticut

Connecticut Legislative Committee Gives Final Approval for Two New Qualifying Conditions. The legislature's medical marijuana Regulation Review Committee has given final approval to adding chronic pain and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited disorder that weakens the body's connective tissues. The additions were approved during a Tuesday video conference. The decision follows the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians.

Louisiana

Louisiana Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. With a final vote in the House on Sunday, the legislature gave final approval to House Bill 819, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating medical conditions. It now goes to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

ACLU Report on Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests, DEA Okayed to Spy on George Floyd Protestors, More... (6/3/20)

The ACLU issues a timely report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International call for reforms of Cambodia's drug detention centers, and more.

Black Americans are more than three times more likely to get busted for pot, a new ACLU report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New ACLU Report Highlights Racial Bias in Marijuana Policing. The new report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details millions of racially targeted marijuana arrests made between 2010 and 2018. The report shows that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite comparable marijuana usage rates. Additionally, although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.

Marijuana Shops Across the Country Close Doors After Looting. Pot shops from Oregon and California to Massachusetts and Florida are temporarily closing their doors to customers after dozens of them were hit by looters and vandals amidst the chaos of mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Among those closed are 30 stores belonging to MedMen, which said its shops are indefinitely closed. Cresco Labs, which operates shops in six states, said it had temporarily closed its three Illinois locations after one was attacked Saturday night.

Drug Policy

The DEA Has Been Given Permission to Investigate People Protesting George Floyd's Death. The Justice Department has given the DEA the temporary power "to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of the protests over the death of George Floyd." That would allow the federal dope cops to "conduct covert surveillance" and collect intelligence on people taking part in protests over the killing. Floyd's death "has spawned widespread protests across the nation, which, in some instances, have included violence and looting," the DEA memo says. "Police agencies in certain areas of the country have struggled to maintain and/or restore order." The memo requests the extraordinary powers on a temporary basis, and on Sunday afternoon a senior Justice Department official signed off.

International

Cambodia Criminal Justice Reforms Should Go Further, Human Rights Groups Say. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the Cambodian government to go further than its stated plan to tackle prison overcrowding and related human rights abuses in the country's criminal justice system. The reforms announced so far have neglected the ongoing human rights crisis in the country's notorious drug detention centers, which are overcrowded, plagued by torture, and present significant risks of coronavirus infection.

House Progressives File Resolution Condemning Police Brutality, Racial Bias, War on Drugs [FEATURE]

As protests erupted across the country after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a dozen progressive Democratic House members filed a resolution May 29th condemning police brutality not only in the case of Floyd but also in the case of Breonna Taylor, the black, 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was gunned down in her own home by cops on a misbegotten no-knock drug raid.

George Floyd's death at hands of white Minneapolis police officers (Wikipedia)
Those House members leading the resolution are Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA. Additional cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

"For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers," Congresswoman Pressley said in a statement announcing the resolution. "We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability."

"From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries," said Congresswoman Omar. "The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown. The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem. As the People's House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them."

The resolution has broad support from racial and social justice organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ACLU, ACLU of Massachusetts, ACLU of Minnesota, the Justice Collaborative, Color of Change, the National Urban League, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Black and Pink, Boston Chapter, Center for Popular Democracy, Moms Rising, the Drug Policy Alliance, New Florida Majority, PolicyLink, the National Black Police Association, and The Vera Institute of Justice.

The unjustifiable deaths of African-Americans Floyd and Taylor at the hands of white police are, though, just the tip of an iceberg of official oppression and heavy-handed, militarized policing whose brunt is felt most keenly in the country's black and brown communities, but whose breadth encompasses almost all of us. And while protesters shout the names of Floyd and Taylor, the demand for unbiased, accountable policing goes far beyond these latest manifestations of cop culture run amok.

The prosecution of the war on drugs, with its racially biased arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of people of color and its devastating impact on minority communities, is a major driver of fear and loathing for and distrust of police, the resolution cosponsors argued.

"[T]he system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices," they wrote. "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive and militarized force are among the most serious ongoing human rights and civil liberties violations in the United States and have led to community destabilization, a decrease in public safety, and the exacerbation of structural inequities."

Contemporary police practice, with its emphasis on low-level enforcement (such as arresting more than a million people a year for simple drug possession), along with the militarization of police "has led to mass criminalization, heightened violence, and mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people," they note.

The toll from law enforcement malpractice is staggering, the representatives argued: "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive force have robbed countless communities of precious lives, have inflicted intergenerational harm and trauma to families, and are intensifying our Nation's mental health crisis." And, they charge, the cops are literally getting away with murder: "[P]olice in the United States, through acts of brutality and the use of excessive force, kill far more people than police in other comparable nations and have been historically shielded from accountability."

The resolution "condemns all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement and calls for the end of militarized policing." It also "supports strengthening efforts to eliminate instances of excessive use of force, and conduct stringent oversight and independent investigations into instances of police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable."

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in a fatally bungled no-knock drug raid in March. (family photo)
To that end, the resolution calls on the Justice Department to return to its once proactive role in investigating incidents of police brutality, violence, and racial profiling and police departments that have a pattern of civil rights violations -- a feature of the Obama administration Justice Department that was overturned under Trump.

That would include having the DOJ actively challenge courts "to reconsider decisions that permit unreasonable and excessive police practices," effectively enforce consent decrees with police departments that have been caught misbehaving, and establish civilian review boards that are not mere paper tigers.

"Over the last few months, we have witnessed heightened violent acts of white supremacy, police brutality and targeted harassment because we were simply living while Black," said Congresswoman Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. "And over and over again, offenders go unpunished, allowing this vicious cycle to continue with impunity. We cannot move forward as a nation until what has broken is fixed."

"George Floyd's tragic murder shows how much work we have to fix the relationships between law enforcement and black and brown people," said Congresswoman Lee. "We have seen far too many young men and women of color murdered by police, for as little as driving their car, riding public transportation, having a cell phone, or just being in their own homes. Police officers are supposed to defuse violence -- not inflict it on black and brown communities. While the majority of police officers approach their job in a professional manner, we cannot allow black and brown bodies to be targeted, attacked, and killed with impunity. It's going to take a lot of work and a serious reckoning with our society's ingrained racial biases to stop this violence. We need to restore the proper role of police in our community -- as public servants who are here to protect everyone, not just those they deem worthy of protection. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence."

If the House adopts this resolution, it puts itself squarely on the side of the growing clamor to rein in out of control police. The resolution now has a number, House Resolution 988, and in the days since it was introduced, the number of cosponsors has jumped to 50. That's a start. Now, it's up to the House leadership to see that it moves -- and to show that Congress is finally beginning to grapple with an epidemic of racially-biased, drug war-fueled police thuggery.

Washington, DC
United States

AZ Poll Bodes Well for Marijuana Legalization Initiative, China Anti-Drug Crackdown, More... (6/2/20)

An Arizona poll shows strong support for a marijuana legalization initiative there, a Connecticut panel approves adding two new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, and more.

Connecticut opens the door to two more qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Near Two-Thirds Support for Marijuana Legalization. If the Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative campaign can manage to make it onto the November ballot, a new poll suggests its prospects for victory are very good. The poll, from the lobbying and consulting firm HighGround, had support for the measure at 65%, with just 25% opposed. The polling came after respondents were given a detailed description of the initiative, as opposed to a generic question.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Legislative Committee Gives Final Approval for Two New Qualifying Conditions. The legislature's medical marijuana Regulation Review Committee has given final approval to adding chronic pain and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited disorder that weakens the body's connective tissues. The additions were approved during a Tuesday video conference. The decision follows the recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians.

International

China Announces More Than 11,000 Arrests in Anti-Drug Campaign That Began in January. The Chinese narcotics control authority has reported more than 11,000 arrests in a yearlong anti-drug campaign that was launched in January. The campaign is aimed at Yunnan Province in southwestern China, which borders Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle of opium production. By contrast, the US arrests more than a quarter-million for drug offenses arrests during the same period each year.

Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality and Drug War, West Coast Pot Shops Trashed, More... (6/1/20)

West Coast marijuana stores get looted in the upheaval gripping the land, a dozen members of Congress file a resolution calling for an end to police brutality and the war on drugs, the Louisiana legislature has been busy passing marijuana bills, and more.

A dozen members of Congress call for an end to police brutality and the war on drugs. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California, Oregon Marijuana Dispensaries Hit by Looters. California and Oregon marijuana dispensaries are among the businesses hit by the wave of unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A number of them have been looted and vandalized, including Harborside, Blu, ECO Cannabis, and Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, 10 dispensaries in San Francisco, and five more in Los Angeles. In Oregon, at least two dispensaries were hit in Portland and one in Oakland.

Louisiana Legislature Passes Marijuana Banking Bill. The state Senate last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 211, which would protect banks and credit unions serving marijuana businesses from facing penalties from state regulators. The bill has already passed the House, and now heads to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. With a final vote in the House on Sunday, the legislature gave final approval to House Bill 819, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating medical conditions. It now goes to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances in House. A minor civil asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 0340, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Friday. The bill does not ban civil asset forfeiture, but instead eliminates the requirement that someone whose property has been seized through asset forfeiture post a $350 bond to appeal that seizure. Tennessee is one of only three states that have such requirements. The bill now heads to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

Drug Policy

Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality, War on Drugs. A dozen members of the House filed a resolution last Friday that condemns police brutality and the racial injustice of the war on drugs. The resolution comes in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who suffocated him to death and Breonna Taylor in Louisville in a fatally flawed drug raid. The "system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices," the resolution says.

International

Honduras Passes Law Allowing it to Intercept Suspected Drug Smuggling Planes. In a move totally devoid of irony -- US prosecutors have accused high Honduran government officials of being corrupted by the drug trade -- the Honduran legislature has approved a law allowing security forces to intercept planes of smuggling drugs and to participate in more comprehensive intelligence sharing with the United States and other Latin American countries. Honduran officials said the law was aimed at "narco jets" mainly coming from Venezuela. The move comes as the Trump administration is increasing anti-drug operations in the Caribbean and sending US troops to Colombia.

COVID Impacts Cocaine Trade, Bolsters Dark Web Drug Market, More... (5/28/20)

Coronavirus is having differential impacts on the illicit drug trade, Michigan groups push to end the state's drug felon foodstamp ban, Colombian rebels call for a coronavirus ceasefire, and more.

Coca prices are down because of the pandemic, but the cocaine trade keeps on keeping on. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Boost from Federal Judge's Signature-Gathering Ruling. A federal judge ruled Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, can do electronic signature-gathering because of excessive burdens on in-person signature-gathering due to coronavirus pandemic social distancing. The judge ruled that the secretary of state must accept signatures not gathered in person or notarized. The campaign says it was on a path to gather sufficient signatures before in-person signature-gathering was suspended. It has until July 3 to hand in signatures.

Drug Policy

Michigan Bill Would Hike Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Penalties. State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) has filed a bill, HB 5627, that would increase penalties for the manufacture and delivery of heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioid drugs. The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan Groups Call on Governor to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. A coalition of 25 organizations led by the Center for Employment Opportunities is calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and legislative leaders to end a longtime state policy that permanently bans residents with two or more drug felony convictions from receiving food stamps. The ban is federal, but most states have already moved to receive waivers to avoid enforcing it. The groups say the ban makes it more difficult for people to make the transition from prison to civilian life.

International

Coronavirus Drives Dealers Online as Drugs Supply Soars. The cyber intelligence company Sixgill is reporting that dark web drug sales offers soared nearly 500% over the first few months of this year as drug dealers took to the web to continue doing business in a time of social distancing. The number of drug items for sale on dark websites monitored by Sixgill jumped from 4,154 in December 2019 to more than 24,000 by April 2020. MDMA postings more than doubled, marijuana postings increased more than five-fold, and cocaine postings jumped 10-fold. "Feedback, while an imperfect metric for purchase volume, is a reliable indicator of the rate of transactions," Sixgill explained. "Feedback volume for cannabis, cocaine, and MDMA all nearly doubled over the past half year."

Coronavirus Hits the Cocaine Supply Chain. The coronavirus pandemic is destabilizing the delicate balance in the Andes that the cocaine trade relies on. Lockdowns enforced by soldiers and police have caused trafficking routes to constrict, driving down the price of coca for the more than 237,000 families in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia who depend on it. In the latter two countries, the price of coca has dropped to from one-third to one-sixth of previous levels. "We're concerned about feeding our families because the price of coca continues to drop," said Bolivian coca union leader Albino Pinto. "We face restrictions in moving coca and other goods to the central market. This is blocking both local consumption and export, but our production continues at the same level." But the cocaine trade continues: "Drug traffickers have become more agile in shifting routes and modifying strategies," according to Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network. "Given the harsh reality for those who survive at the lowest rungs of the cocaine trade, pandemic control, just like drug control doesn't stop this business."

Colombia ELN Rebels Would Back Temporary Ceasefire to Help Contain Spread of Coronavirus. The National Liberation Army (ELN), which remains in rebellion against the government in Bogota and is involved in coca and cocaine production, has said it would be willing to take part in a three-month ceasefire to help quash the coronavirus. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March. The ELN said it was waiting for a response from the government of President Ivan Duque.

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.

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

Posted in:

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

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."

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.

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.

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."

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.

"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.

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.

House HEROES Act COVID Relief Bill Calls for Prisoner Releases, Marijuana Banking [FEATURE]

When, in mid-May, House Democrats rolled out the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, the latest congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic, they also included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms in the broad-ranging, 90-page, $3 trillion bill. Most of those reforms are aimed at shrinking the prison population in this time of public health crisis, but also on the list is language that would finally allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and other financial services.

The bill passed the House on Friday, but faces clouded prospects in the Senate.

The spread of the coronavirus within the federal prison system is a real concern. The story of the first female federal prisoner to die of the coronavirus, South Dakota Native American Andrea Circle Bear, brought media attention to the plight of federal prisoners. Sent into the federal system on a two-year drug charge in March, the pregnant Circle Bear came down with coronavirus symptoms within a week, gave birth to a premature baby via c-section while on a ventilator, then died three days later on April 4.

But by then, 31 other federal prisoners had died of the disease. And as of May 14, the federal prisoner death toll had risen to 51, with more than 3,600 inmates infected across the system.

Facing the carceral coronavirus crisis, the Justice Roundtable, a broad-based coalition of more than 100 organizations working to reform federal criminal justice laws and policies, released a set of recommendations for supporting prisoner releases as a public safety response to the pandemic. Those included spending $12 billion on supporting access to housing for released prisoners and another $1 billion incentivizing states and localities to release prisoners and support critical reentry services, as well as ending federal bans on various forms of assistance for people with criminal records, making Medicaid available before prisoners hit the streets, ensuring that people impacted by the criminal justice system get access to federal relief funds, and spending another $650 million to expand federal workforce and educational programs for former prisoners.

The HEROES Act does not do all that, but in Title II it does provide $250 million for reentry programs and another half-billion for efforts to reduce the spread of the virus among arrestees and prisoners at all levels. There is also another $200 million for the Bureau of Prisons to response to the crisis, with funding for medical testing and services and necessary protective supplies.

And there is more. Incorporating various already existing pieces of legislation, Title XI of the act (Prisons and Jails) is the Emergency Community Supervision Act, which during a declared emergency related to communicable diseases "mandates the release into community supervision of federal prisoners and pretrial detainees who are non-violent and, for instance, pregnant women, older prisoners and detainees, and those with certain medical conditions."

Title XI also modifies probation and supervised release policies to reduce unnecessary in-person contact with probation officers, mandates pretrial release of non-violent defendants without cash bail, and gives federal courts more authority to reduce sentences and order compassionate release for prisoners, with a special provision for elderly prisoners.

On another important drug policy front, the HEROES Act incorporates wholesale the SAFE Banking Act, which provides much needed access to the banking and financial services sector for the state-legal marijuana industry. Republicans are already sniping at that, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complaining about a provision that would fund studies about diversity and inclusion in the industry.

"There's a lot in this bill," said Kara Gotsch, who heads up federal advocacy for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based criminal justice reform group and member . "What's critical is to address the inability to do social distancing within correctional facilities," she said.

"We've had a huge spread of the virus in prisons -- not just federal, but state and local, too. Letting those people out into home confinement is critical not just to their health, but also for the health of the people who might stay behind. It creates space, an opportunity to follow the guidelines," Gotsch continued.

The HEROES Act is the work of House Democrats, and while it passed the House, that's only half the battle. In what is certain to be a titanic political struggle, Senate Republicans are pondering their own version of yet another massive coronavirus relief package. In such a huge -- and hugely important -- struggle, the fate of some federal prisoners and legal marijuana entrepreneurs may not loom large, but it hangs in the balance.

"It's clear that McConnell doesn't have the same sense of urgency to move another stimulus package, but I think the pressure is going to increase on the Senate to take some action," said Gotsch. "This pandemic and its consequences are not going away, and the consequences are severe -- more and more people are likely to be infected and lose their lives."

And that means Gotsch and the other criminal justice reform advocates will be hard at work in the coming weeks to see that as many of the House-passed reform measures make it into the final bill as possible.

"I'm hopeful we could see the Senate moving in June, and as far as our priorities are concerned, I'm hopeful we'll can get some of those provisions in the final package," said Gotsch. "We'll be taking the next few weeks to talk to and educate Senate offices. Federal judges are growing increasingly frustrated with the Justice Department's obstruction on compassionate release and its stinginess on home confinement, which is having a disastrous effect. Our goal is to get the word out to Senate staff to make them aware of how dire the situation really is."

She pointed to the sad story of Andrea Circle Bear.

"I think that galvanized a lot of people," said Gotsch. "She puts a human face on the concerns we've been trying to articulate about the tragic circumstances the prisons are facing. With more education and as these tragic stories come to light, I think we'll be able to get some change."

MA Pot Shops Beginning Curbside Delivery, LA House Advances MedMJ Expansion, More... (5/19/20)

The Louisiana House votes to expand the state's medical marijuana program, the Georgia Department of Revenue gets caught mishandled seized asset forfeiture funds, and more.

Seized drug money provides temptation to ethically impaired police departments and government offices. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Pot Shops Can Start Curbside Pickup Next Week. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has announced that recreational marijuana stores can reopen on May 25 for curbside pickup only. The move is part of a comprehensive statewide plan for reopening after the coronavirus shutdown. Massachusetts was the only legal marijuana state to not designate pot shops as essential businesses.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Votes to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The House last Friday overwhelmingly approved a pair of bills that allow dispensaries to deliver medical marijuana products to patients' homes and expand the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bills are House Bill 792 and House Bill 819. They now head to the Senate, which has less than two weeks to act before the session ends.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Department of Revenue Gets Caught Mishandling Seized Funds. The state Department of Revenue has ended its practice of keeping cash and assets seized in criminal investigations and returned $2.1 million to the state treasury after being outed in March for spending millions of dollars in seized cash on "engraved firearms, pricey gym equipment, clothing, personal items, even $130 sunglasses." The office spent $2.9 million of this money over the past four years. It only returned the $2.1 million after local media exposed the shenanigans.

Oklahoma City Police Department Can't Account for Some Seized Cash. An audit of the department office that handles seized cash and other assets was unable to account for some $27,000 and found the office failed to make timely deposits of currency and lacked adequate controls to prevent theft. The audit came in response to allegations of mishandled money. It found that two envelopes holding $10,775 had gone missing and that another $16,296 could not be accounted for. The department is instituting reforms, the audit said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Meet a trio of cops who aren't really corrupt but who got caught with the personal goodies and, of course, a crooked jail guard. Let's get to it:

In Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a Sierra County sheriff's deputy was arrested May 7 after his supervisor busted him for a meth pipe in his marked patrol unit. Deputy Grant Taylor, 37, now faces a fourth degree felony charge for possession of a controlled substance. The sheriff said he was "heartbroken" and "more importantly, disappointed."

In Tallassee, Alabama, a Tallasee police officer was arrested last Monday after a 10-day investigation into whether he might have some weed. Officer Raymond Clark apparently did have some weed, since he is now charged with unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and second-degree possession of marijuana.

In Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana, a Plaquemines parish jail deputy was arrested last Tuesday after he was searched upon arriving at work and was found in possession of multiple cell phones and synthetic cannabinoids, as well as two firearms in his vehicle. He is facing "multiple narcotics charges." He's out on a $185,000 bond.

In Augusta, Georgia, a Paine College public safety officer was arrested last Wednesday after deputies smelled marijuana coming from his vehicle during a traffic stop. Officer Antonio Burton was in uniform and on-duty at the time and ended up being charged with possession of cocaine after deputies searched the car. No word yet on his employment status.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Department of Health and Human Services is messing with Maine's mental health grants because it allows medical marijuana use by students, a ban on potentially kiddie-enticing edibles is headed for the Missouri governor's desk, and more.

Maine

Maine Loses Federal Mental Health Grants Because of Medical Marijuana. The federal government is cutting off $3.3 million in already approved funding for student mental health services because state law allows students access to medical marijuana. State education officials said "a new requirement" at the federal level cut off the funding for the ongoing program "because of our state's medical marijuana law, which requires schools to allow students who have written certification from their medical provider indicating their need for medical marijuana to receive such treatment while at school." The federal agency making the change is the Department of Health and Human Services.

Missouri

Missouri Lawmakers Approve Bill to Ban Edibles Attractive to Children. Both the House and the Senate voted late last week to approve House Bill 1682, which would ban the sale of edible medical marijuana shaped like fruit, gummy bears, cartoons, or other characters that might be attractive to children. Circles, squares, and other shapes would be okay, though. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Michael Parson (R).

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Court Rules Worker Fired After CBD Use Caused Failed Drug Test Can Receive Unemployment Benefits. A Commonwealth Court panel has ruled that a health care worker who used legal CBD oil to ease her cancer symptoms, subsequently failing a drug test and getting fired, is entitled to unemployment compensation. The court held that even though CBD is derived from marijuana, the woman violated neither the law nor any work rule of her employer by using it. The decision confirms an earlier ruling by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which was appealed by the employer, Washington Health.

ME Loses Federal Student Mental Health Aid Over Medical Marijuana, MA Safe Injection Site Bill Moves, More... (5/18/20)

Missouri lawmakers cast a baleful eye on medical marijuana gummies, a safe injection site bill is moving in Massachusetts, and more.

A bill to ban medical marijuana edibles that might appeal to children is headed to the Missouri governor's desk. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Maine Loses Federal Mental Health Grants Because of Medical Marijuana. The federal government is cutting off $3.3 million in already approved funding for student mental health services because state law allows students access to medical marijuana. State education officials said "a new requirement" at the federal level cut off the funding for the ongoing program "because of our state's medical marijuana law, which requires schools to allow students who have written certification from their medical provider indicating their need for medical marijuana to receive such treatment while at school." The federal agency making the change is the Department of Health and Human Services.

Missouri Lawmakers Approve Bill to Ban Edibles Attractive to Children. Both the House and the Senate voted late last week to approve House Bill 1682, which would ban the sale of edible medical marijuana shaped like fruit, gummy bears, cartoons, or other characters that might be attractive to children. Circles, squares, and other shapes would be okay, though. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Michael Parson (R).

Drug Policy

White House Announces Comment Period for Emerging Drug Threats Criteria. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Jim Carroll last Friday announced the start of a public comment period to assist ONDCP in its development of criteria for designating emerging drug threats. The advance notice comment period will be open from May 15, 2020, through June 30, 2020. The accouncement says: "ONDCP's objective is to develop criteria that will enable the United States to proactively identify emerging drug threats and take necessary action to prevent these threats from becoming public health emergencies. The period for comment on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Designation of Emerging Drug Threats in the United States, closes June 30, 2020. Comments may be submitted to the Federal Register."

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Bill to Allow Safe Injection Sites Advances. The Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Recovery voted last Friday to approve a bill that would authorize the Department of Public Health to set up at least two safe injection sites as part of a 10-year pilot program. Local boards of health would have to agree to opt-in before a site would be considered in their communities. "The message we send to those who are faced with the disease of addiction is that we see you, we value you, and we want you to live," Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat and House chair of the committee, said in a press release. The measure is House Bill 4723.

MJ Industry Group Seeks Action from Northeast Governors, HEROES Act Vote Looms, More... (5/15/20)

El Paso moves to reduce small-time marijuana possession arrests, drug policy and criminal justice reformers call on the House to pass the latest coronavirus relief bill, which has reform provisions, and more.

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Marijuana Policy

Industry Group Asks Seven Governors to Legalize Marijuana to Aid Coronavirus Recovery. The National Association of Cannabis Businesses sent a letter to seven Northeast state governors asking them to push for marijuana legalization in order to assist economic recovery amidst the coronavirus crisis. The letters went out to the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. "Legalizing cannabis sales and encouraging retailers to be proactive with strategies like home delivery and curbside pickup is not only a safe way to serve consumers, it will also generate millions of dollars in desperately needed tax revenues for their states," said Mark Gorman, NACB executive vice president.

New York Lawmakers Push to Legalize Marijuana Amid Coronavirus Crisis. At least three state lawmakers are calling for movement on marijuana legalization even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. "We urgently need marijuana legalization rooted in racial and economic justice," said New York State Senators Jamaal Bailey, Brad Hoylman and Jessica Ramos in a press release issued Thursday, "rooted in racial and economic justice." The three senators joined the Legal Aid Society in calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders to enact legalization and other measures to mitigate the pandemic's disproportionate impact on communities of color.

El Paso City Council Approves Measure to Reduce Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession. The city council Thursday approved a measure that encourages police to issue tickets for small-time pot possession cases instead of making arrests. The measure passed on a 7-0 vote. It calls on the city manager to implement the policy change.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy and Justice Reform Groups Call for Passage of HEROES Act. With the House expected to vote on CARES 2 ("The HEROES Act") any time, drug policy and criminal justice groups have called for its passage. Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released the following statement urging Congress members to support the bill: "We are pleased that today the House is considering CARES 2... This measure will specifically provide life-saving relief for people at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, including justice-involved individuals and people who use drugs. Many of DPA's legislative priorities are included in CARES 2. The bill includes the Emergency Community Supervision Act (H.R. 6400), which prioritizes releasing certain incarcerated individuals from federal custody into community supervision, including young people, medically vulnerable individuals, people over 50 years of age, and individuals within 12 months of release. The bill also includes the COVID-19 Correctional Facility Emergency Response Act of 2020 (H.R. 6414), which incentivizes states and localities to reduce their jail and prison populations, in addition to providing critical reentry funding. CARES 2 includes language that gives states flexibility to reinstate Medicaid coverage up to 30 days prior to the release of an incarcerated individual, which is pivotal to aiding smooth transition to MAT and other community-based providers. It also authorizes $10 million in discretionary grants intended to support harm reduction providers during the pandemic. We urge the House to vote favorably for CARES 2 today and for the Senate to swiftly take up and pass this essential measure."

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the Drug War Chronicle.

GOP Criticize COVID Bill Cannabis Provisions, Honduran Congress Head Tied to Traffickers, More... (5/14/20)

It looks like there will be a fight over marijuana provisions in the HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, an Oklahoma pot breathalyzer pilot project bill passes the House, another member of the Honduran political elite is tied to drug traffickers, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is throwing jabs at marijuana provisions in the HEROES Act. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Mitch McConnell and Other GOP Lawmakers Slam Marijuana Banking Provisions in Coronavirus Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized marijuana banking provisions included in the latest coronavirus relief package, complaining that Democrats had included funding to study diversity in the industry as part of the bill. McConnell also more broadly attacked the incorporation of language allowing the industry access to banking and other financial services. McConnell's plaints were echoed by several other Republican lawmakers.

Arizona Court Rules Marijuana Initiative Can't Collect Signatures Online The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to allow online signature-gathering for proposed ballot initiatives, including the Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative. The good news is the initiative says it already has sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Oklahoma Bill for Marijuana Breathalyzers Passes House. A bill that would allow marijuana breathalyzers to be used for traffic law enforcement across the state has passed the House and now heads to the Senate. The bill would allocate $300,000 for a pilot project with a company that has developed a breathalyzer for marijuana.

International

President of Honduran Congress Linked to Cachiros Drug Cartel: Report. A report from the Central American magazine Expediente Publico details links between the head of the Honduran congress and a major drug trafficking clan, further exposing links between the drug underworld and the country's political elite. President of the National Congress Mauricio Oliva Herrera is named as buying a series of properties in Tegucigalpa from a company linked to a notorious Honduran drug trafficking family known as the Cachiros. Oliva Herrera has confirmed that he will run for president of the country in 2021. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, also a member of the National Party, has also been implicated in drug trafficking scandals.

Amnesty International on Cambodia Drug War Abuses, Deadly Botched Drug Raid in Louisville, More.... (5/13/20)

Coronavirus hobbles yet another drug reform initiative, Amnesty International goes after Cambodia's drug war human rights abuses, and more.

Louisville drug raid victim, EMT Breonna Taylor (Handout)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Suspends Campaign Due to Coronavirus. The Ohio Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign is suspending its efforts to get on the November 2020 ballot. The group's initial petition was rejected by state officials, and the group has struggled with signature-gathering amidst social distancing measures inspired by the pandemic. "We made the decision early on that the health of our volunteers, supporters, medical marijuana patients and the general public would be our primary concern," said Tom Haren, a spokesman for the campaign. "As Ohio begins the process of reopening, we are evaluating our options and hope to have more to share soon." The campaign would need more than 450,000 valid voter signatures by July1 in order to make the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Court Rules Worker Fired After CBD Use Caused Failed Drug Test Can Receive Unemployment Benefits. A Commonwealth Court panel has ruled that a health care worker who used legal CBD oil to ease her cancer symptoms, subsequently failing a drug test and getting fired, is entitled to unemployment compensation. The court held that even though CBD is derived from marijuana, the woman violated neither the law nor any work rule of her employer by using it. The decision confirms an earlier ruling by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which was appealed by the employer, Washington Health.

Law Enforcement

Family of Louisville Woman Killed in Botched Drug Raid Files Lawsuit. A 26-year-old black Louisville woman who worked as an EMT was killed March 13 when police executing a no-knock search warrant for drugs shot her eight times after taking fire from her boyfriend, another apartment resident. Now, the family of Breonna Taylor has filed a lawsuit accusing officers of wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence. The lawsuit alleges that the man police were seeking did not live in the apartment and was already in custody when the raid took place. None of the officers involved have been charged in the shooting, but Taylor's boyfriend, who was not injured in the incident, now faces charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer.

International

Amnesty International Denounces Cambodia Drug War Excesses. The Cambodian government's three-year long "war on drugs" campaign has fueled a rising tide of human rights abuses, dangerously overfilled detention facilities, and led to an alarming public health situation -- even more so as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds -- while failing in its stated objective of curbing drug use, a new investigative report by Amnesty International published Wednesday charges. The new 78-page report, Substance abuses: The human cost of Cambodia's anti-drug campaign, documents how the authorities prey on poor and marginalized people, arbitrarily carry out arrests, routinely subject suspects to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and dispatch those who can't buy their freedom to severely overcrowded prisons and pseudo "rehabilitation centers" in which detainees are denied healthcare and are subjected to severe abuse. "Cambodia's 'war on drugs' is an unmitigated disaster -- it rests upon systematic human rights abuses and has created a bounty of opportunities for corrupt and poorly-paid officials in the justice system," said Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director at Amnesty International.

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