A Dozen Senators Call for Descheduling Marijuana, Bolivia Coca Grower Blockades, More... (1/30/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1204)

Mandatory minimum sentencing remains in fashion in Boise, an Arkansas medical marijuana expansion initiative has been rejected by the state attorney general, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

A Dozen Senate Democrats Urge Biden Administration to Deschedule Marijuana. Twelve Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have sent a letter to the DEA as it considers rescheduling marijuana, calling on the agency to go a step further and completely deschedule it, effectively ending federal marijuana prohibition.

The Department of Health and Human Services has formally recommended that DEA move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to the less tightly controlled Schedule III.

"The case for removing marijuana from Schedule I is overwhelming. The DEA should do so by removing cannabis from the CSA altogether, rather than simply placing it in a lower schedule," the senators wrote. "While rescheduling to Schedule III would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system. Thus, the DEA should deschedule marijuana altogether. Marijuana's placement in the CSA has had a devastating impact on our communities and is increasingly out of step with state law and public opinion."

"The Biden Administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades and should reach the right conclusion -- consistent with the clear scientific and public health rationale for removing marijuana from Schedule I, and with the imperative to relieve the burden of current federal marijuana policy on ordinary people and small businesses," they wrote.

The letter was authored by Sens. Jon Fetterman (D-PA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The other signers are Sens. Cory Booker (N-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (R-OR).

Dallas Campaign Gathering Signatures to Put Pot Decriminalization on the Municipal Ballot. Activists are circulating petitions in a bid to put marijuana decriminalization on the November ballot for city voters. They are calling the measure the Dallas Freedom Act.

"Our jail is full of people arrested for misdemeanor arrests," said Changa Higgins, with the Dallas Action coalition, at a rally Monday. "And when you look at misdemeanor possession of marijuana, it's no different."

"To amend the city of Dallas charter so that police do not give folks citations or arrest folks for misdemeanor marijuana possession," said Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, which is organizing this campaign after similar successful campaigns in Austin, Denton, Killeen, and San Marcos.

Beyond decriminalizing pot possession, the measure from spending money for THC concentration tests, which is the only confirmed way to test whether a substance is legal hemp or illegal marijuana.

Organizers need 20,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Initial Version of Expanded Medical Marijuana Access Initiative. State Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) has rejected the language for a proposed ballot initiative that aims to improve access for medical marijuana patients. He determined that the ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2024 was improperly formatted and contained ambiguities about how it would affect existing state laws and rules.

Campaigners said they would make revisions and resubmit the initiative: "Arkansans for Patient Access is reviewing Attorney General Tim Griffin's ballot proposal opinion. We intend to address the issues raised and resubmit," said Erika Gee, an attorney for the group. "We are confident ballot language will be presented that ultimately gains approval."

The measure would allow patients to grow their own medicine -- up to seven mature and seven immature plants -- and expand who can certify patients to include physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists. It would also allow providers to certify patients based on any medical condition rather than a list of specified qualifying conditions, and it would allow health care providers to make patient assessments via telemedicine.

The initiative also contains language that would trigger the legalization of up to an ounce of marijuana if the federal government deschedules marijuana or if marijuana possession is no longer a federal crime.

Drug Policy

Idaho House Passes Bill Imposing Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Fentanyl. The Republican-dominated House on Monday voted 53-14 to approve a bill that would set mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of selling fentanyl, House Bill 406. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Anyone convicted of trafficking up to 13 grams or less than 250 pills would face a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. Anyone convicted of trafficking 14 to 27 grams or 250-499 pills would face five years, and anyone convicted of trafficking more than that would face a 10-year mandatory minimum.

"We have always taken a tough stance on crime," bill cosponsor Rep. Chris Allgood (R) said. "We have heard arguments that Idaho's tough drug laws do not work. I beg to differ -- look at any of our neighboring states and see how successful soft drug laws are."

Opponents of the bill said ending fentanyl deaths in Idaho is a priority, but many said the legislation needs to make a better distinction between fentanyl manufacturers, dealers, traffickers and users.

But House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D) disagreed.

"We have very tough judges who are very tough on crime. They are very capable of knowing a bad guy and handing out a really serious sentence. The only thing that this bill does is force that judge to lock up a person that they don't think should be locked up," she said. "I am not soft on fentanyl, and I support the police," she said. "But I want to see us do things that actually work, and I think this bill reeks of injustice without any genuine benefit to shutting down the fentanyl crisis."


Bolivia Blockades over Morales Are Causing Food and Fuel Shortages. After more than a week of blockades led by coca growers and other workers supporting former president Evo Morales and protesting his disqualification from the 2025 elections, the country is beginning to suffer from food and fuel shortages.

"Today we have 25 blockade points in the country, generating a nationwide shortage of food and petrol," said Jhonny Aguilera, an interior ministry official.

Thirty-two police officers have been injured, 11 people have been arrested, and two people have died while stranded behind blockades.

Morales, a former coca growers union leader and the country's first indigenous president was first elected president in 2006 and was extremely popular before he was overthrown after disputes about whether he actually won a fourth term in 2019. Morales had to sidestep to constitution to run that yet, and that energized opposition against him.

But his Movement to Socialism (MAS) won the presidency again in 2020, with his lieutenant Luis Arce becoming the president. Arce and Morales have now split over the issue of whether he could and should run next year, leading to the current conflict.

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