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Biden Pardons a Handful of Former Drug Prisoners, CA Therapeutic Psychedelics Bill Advances, More... (4/24/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1209)

The Kansas governor signs a civil asset forfeiture reform bill into law, a South Carolina medical marijuana bill that has languished for months finally gets some attention, and more.

Pres. Biden has issued 11 new pardons and clemencies. But those still in prison will mostly still be waiting a long time to go free. (
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Finally Gets Attention in House. The Senate months ago approved a medical marijuana bill from Sen. Tom Davis (R), Senate Bill 423, but it has ever since languished in the House. Until now. This week, the bill got a hearing in the House Medical Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee.

Time is tight, though. There are just three weeks left in the legislative session, and if the bill is amended in the House, it would have to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

The bill would allow patients with a doctor's recommendation to obtain medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries but has no provision for patients to grow their own. Patients would be limited to those suffering from a list of specified medical conditions, as well as terminal illnesses and chronic diseases where opioids are the standard of care.

The usual suspects opposed the bill. Sheriff Duane Lewis of Berkeley County, representing the South Carolina Sheriff's Association (SCSA), testified that marijuana is a gateway drug and that the proposed reform "would only exacerbate existing challenges and jeopardize safety."

But Lewis's predecessor, retired Chief Jeffrey Moore, strongly supported the bill, saying that it helped his son deal with alcohol abuse after serving in Iraq.

"Marijuana saved his life. I'm not going to talk about all the anecdotes of other people. I'm not going to talk about statistics," he said. Cannabis "gave him a relief from the nightmares -- the grief the constant tears gave him a chance to put his life back together."

No vote was taken, and the clock is ticking.


California Therapeutic Psychedelics Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. The Regulated Therapeutic Access to Psychedelics Act (Senate Bill 1012) from Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has won a second committee vote, passing out of the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 3-2 vote.

The bill is a watered-down version of a psychedelic legalization bill vetoed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). It would not legalize any psychedelics but would allow regulated access to them in a therapeutic setting. It has also been amended to require that psychedelic facilitators have an existing health license, such as those for psychiatrists, social workers, and nurse practitioners.

The bill is an "overdue approach," Wiener told committee members Tuesday. "People are using psychedelics today. There is incredible potential in terms of treating mental health and substance use disorders. And we should bring it into the sunlight so people can use safely in a supervised, structured setting."

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it clears that panel, it will head for a Senate floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) on Wednesday signed Senate Bill 458, reforming the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act. The bill establishes new guidelines for asset forfeiture, improving due process for property owners, increasing governmental accountability, and "not unduly interfering with federal assistance to local law enforcement in asset forfeiture." [Editor's Note: That last clause refers to keeping intact the often-abused federal equitable sharing program where local law enforcement turns cases over to the feds to avoid state laws regulating the disposition of seized assets and splits the proceeds with the feds 80:20.]

"This bill represents a significant step forward in ensuring fairness and accountability in asset forfeiture proceedings," said Gov. Kelly. "These reforms will protect the rights of property owners and promote greater transparency in law enforcement practices."

For many Kansans whose property has been seized, the cost of recovering it is often greater than its value. Senate Bill 458 introduces key reforms to the process of Kansans recovering property they have had seized, including permitting courts to award attorney fees to certain claimants who get an order returning their property.

"Anyone who learns about civil asset forfeiture immediately agrees it's a problem. Unfortunately, for years, we could never agree on what the solution should be," said Kansas State Representative Dan Osman, District 48. "This year, I worked with judges, lawyers, law enforcement, legislators, and advocates from across the state to create a bill that comprehensively reforms this systemic issue. I’m thrilled we could get unanimous bipartisan and bicameral approval to eliminate this injustice."

Additionally, Senate Bill 458 requires additional steps to initiate the civil asset seizure process and requires clear and convincing evidence in order to move forward with seizure. The bill also imposes limitations on requests by state and local law enforcement for federal adoption of seizures, ensuring these requests are made only under specific circumstances related to joint investigations or serious public safety concerns.

Pardons and Commutations

President Biden Issues Drug Pardons and Clemencies. In a White House statement, President Biden announced a series of pardons and commutations:

"I am using my clemency power to pardon 11 individuals and commute the sentences of 5 individuals who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Many of these individuals received disproportionately longer sentences than they would have under current law, policy, and practice. The pardon recipients have demonstrated their commitment to improving their lives and positively transforming their communities. The commutation recipients have shown that they are deserving of forgiveness and the chance at building a brighter future for themselves beyond prison walls."

"Like my other clemency actions, these pardons and commutations reflect my overarching commitment to addressing racial disparities and improving public safety. While today’s announcement marks important and continued progress, my Administration will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms in a manner that advances equal justice, supports rehabilitation and reentry, and provides meaningful second chances."

All of the pardons went to people who had already completed their terms of incarceration, and left in place remaining any home release requirements. The clemencies, similarly, were partial, with no one to be released immediately, and most with substantial remaining prison terms. One clemency recipient though, Margaret Ann Vandyck of Ellenville, NY, will get out in four months instead of three years.

Click here for the full list.

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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