Sentencing

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AR Legalization Campaign Hands in Signatures, Amnesty on Singapore Drug War Hangings, More... (7/7/22)

A federal circuit court puts the hurt on a Nebraska medical marijuana initiative, DC residents can now self-certify as medical marijuana patients, and more.

Downtown Washington, DC. Adults there can now self-certify as medical marijuana patients. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign to Turn in Massive Signature Cache Tomorrow. Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, is handing in signatures Friday and the group says it has collected more than double the number of signatures required. These are just raw signatures, but initiative campaigns typically seek a cushion of excess signatures of 10, 20, or 30 percent to make up for any that are invalidated, and this is a cushion of 100 percent, so it looks very likely that Arkansans will be voting to free the weed in November. The amendment would allow people 21 and over to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana but would not allow for home cultivation. It does not contain provisions to expunge past records or to address social equity.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Rules Against Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Signature-Gathering Case. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a stay to the state of Nebraska in a case regarding signature-gathering requirements for a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives. The group behind the campaign, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, had successfully challenged the state's requirement that initiatives must obtain signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in at least 38 of the state's 93 counties, having won a preliminary injunction on the issue in federal district court. The 8th Circuit's ruling stayed that preliminary injunction, meaning the old requirements are once again in effect.

DC Mayor Signs Bill to Allow People 21 and Over to Buy Medical Marijuana Without a Doctor's Recommendation. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Wednesday signed into law a bill that allows DC residents to "self-certify" their need for medical marijuana, removing the need for obtaining a doctor's recommendation. "We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community," Bowser said. The move comes as Congress continues to block the District from being able to allow recreational marijuana sales and as the District grapples with the proliferation of unregulated marijuana "gifting shops," where people pay high prices for items such as t-shirts and then receive marijuana as a "gift."

International

Amnesty International Calls on Singapore to End Wave of Drug War Executions. "End the wave of hangings and immediately impose a moratorium on executions," the human rights group demanded Thursday after Singapore executed two men on drug charges. Responding to the execution of Malaysian national Kalwant Singh in Singapore, together with that of another man, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for Research Emerlynne Gil said: "Singapore has once again executed people convicted of drug-related offenses in violation of international law, callously disregarding public outcry. Going against a worldwide trend towards abolishing the death penalty, Singapore is just one of four countries known to have executed people for drug-related offenses in recent years. The death penalty is never the solution and we oppose it unconditionally. There is no evidence that it acts as a unique deterrent to crime."

Supreme Court Sides with Inmate in Crack Cocaine Resentencing Case [FEATURE]

In a Monday decision little-noticed amidst the rising clamor over recent Supreme Court decisions on guns, abortion, and religion, the highest court in the land ruled in favor of a federal crack cocaine prisoner seeking a sentence reduction under the terms of the 2018 First Step Act. The ruling could affect thousands of other mostly Black inmates sentenced under the nation's harsh crack cocaine laws.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes for the majority. (Creative Commons)
During the crack panic of the 1980s, Congress passed legislation creating a 100:1 disparity in the weight of the drug required to trigger a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence. Confronted with the increasingly unassailable evidence that the sentencing disparity was neither scientifically justified nor racially neutral -- nearly 80 percent of federal crack prosecutions targeted Black people by 2009 -- Congress in 2010 passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced but did not eliminate the weight disparity, setting it at 18:1.

The Fair Sentencing Act provided relief to people sentenced after its passage, but it was not retroactive, meaning people sentenced under the old standard still had to do those harsh sentences. In order to address that oversight and reduce racial inequities, Congress in 2018 passed the First Step Act, making those sentencing changes retroactive and opening the door for people sentenced under the old law to seek resentencing.

The case in question, Concepcion v. United States, began when Carlos Concepcion pleaded guilty to selling crack in 2009 and was sentenced to 19 years in prison based on the 100:1 sentencing disparity in effect at the time. After passage of the First Step Act and having already served a decade of his sentence, Concepcion filed for a reduced sentence. Part of his argument was that he was no longer considered a "career offender" subject to harsher sentencing because of changes in the federal sentencing guidelines unrelated to the First Step Act.

Without that "career offender" designation, Concepcion would have been a free man after serving just less than six years [Ed: six years is itself a very long time], but a Massachusetts federal district court judge declined to consider factors unrelated to the First Step Act and denied his resentencing request. That denial was upheld by the 1st US Circuit Court in Boston, and Concepcion and his attorneys then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in a 5-4 decision.

The majority on the court was an odd one, consisting of the three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor -- joined by hard conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor wrote the opinion.

In it, she argued that judges enjoy broad discretion at sentencing and that discretion continues in any later proceedings that may change the sentence.

"Federal courts historically have exercised broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing, consistent with their responsibility to sentence the whole person before them," she wrote. "That discretion also carries forward to later proceedings that may modify an original sentence. District courts' discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence."

There is nothing in the First Step Act that limits that discretion, she added.

"Nothing in the text and structure of the First Step Act expressly, or even implicitly, overcomes the established tradition of district courts' sentencing discretion," she wrote. "The text of the First Step Act does not so much as hint that district courts are prohibited from considering evidence of rehabilitation, disciplinary infractions, or unrelated Guidelines changes. The only two limitations on district courts' discretion appear in §404(c): A district court may not consider a First Step Act motion if the movant's sentence was already reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act or if the court considered and rejected a motion under the First Step Act. Neither limitation applies here."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the First Step Act only authorized judges to cut sentences related to changes in the crack sentencing ranges, but not unrelated factors.

"Congress enacted the First Step Act to provide a targeted retroactive reduction in crack-cocaine sentencing ranges, not to unleash a sentencing free-for-all in the lower courts," Kavanaugh wrote.

But that was the minority opinion. And if reducing unduly harsh crack cocaine sentences that were based on panic and prejudice is "a sentencing free-for-all," that would be a small price to pay for some restorative justice.

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of "Pill Mill" Docs, UN Human Rights Experts Call for End to Drug War, More... (6/27/22)

Drug charges account for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, Pakistan moves toward licensing medical and industrial cannabis production, Spain moves toward medical marijuana sales, and more.

The Supreme Court holds prosecutors to a high standard on charging doctors over prescribing. (Pixabay)
Opiates and Opioids

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Doctors Accused of Overprescribing Opioids. The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the convictions of two doctors accusing of running opioid "pill mills," making it more difficult for the government to prosecute doctors who overprescribe drugs. In seeking to distinguish between legitimate medical conduct and illegally overprescribing, the court held that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor knew or intended to prescribe drugs in an unauthorized manner. "We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court. The cases involved a doctor in Alabama whose clinic dispensed nearly 300,000 opioid prescriptions over a four-year period and a doctor who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming who operated mostly on a cash-only basis, but who also accepted property as payment, including firearms.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Quarterly Report Shows Drugs Remain Most Common Federal Offense. Enforcing federal drug prohibition accounts for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, according the US Sentencing Commission's latest quarterly report. Drug offenses accounted for 32.3 percent of all prosecutions in the last two quarters, with methamphetamine accounting for nearly half (48.6 percent) of all drug offenses and fentanyl continuing to increase, now accounting for 11.8 percent of all drug offenses. Immigration was the second largest category of federal prosecutions, accounting for 26.5 percent of all federal prosecutions, followed by firearms offenses at 14.9 percent. No other federal crime category accounted for more than 10 percent of federal prosecutions. A decline in prosecutions that took place during the coronavirus pandemic has now ended, with about 5,000 federal drug prosecutions every six months.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Use International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking to Call for End of War on Drugs. UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called "war on drugs"and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the following statement:

"Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the 'war on drugs' undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this 'war' has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labor, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law."

Click on the link above for the rest of the statement.

New Zealand Poll Shows Most Support Replacing Punitive Drug Laws with Health-Based Approach. A new poll produced by The Navigators on behalf of the NZ Drug Foundation finds that a solid majority of New Zealanders support replacing the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Some 68 percent of respondents favored the change. A strong majority -- 61 percent -- also favored drug decriminalization and introducing more support for education and treatment. The poll also showed that there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent).

Pakistan Moves to Allow Cannabis Farming for Medical and Industrial Use. The Ministry of Science and Technology will form an authority to regulate and facilitate the farming and use of cannabis, or "Bhang," as it referred to in the country. The authority will issue 15-year licenses for industrial, medical, processing, research, and development purposes. The Department of Commerce will issue licenses for cannabis exports.

Spain Moving Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies. A subcommittee in the Congress of Deputies has accepted a draft bill to regulate medical marijuana sales and referred the bill to the Commission on Health for a vote this week. While the proposed bill has very tight distribution rules, it is being lauded as the first step toward providing greater access. Once the bill is approved by the Health Commission, the Spanish Medicines Agency will have six months to draft appropriate regulations. The draft bill will make THC-containing flowers available by prescription for the treatment of specified illnesses and conditions.

Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Drug Possession, Malaysia Ends Mandatory Death Penalties, More... (6/10/22)

The State Department is looking for drones to spray Colombian coca crops, Thailand begins handing out a million marijuana plants, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. Are drones coming for his crop? (DEAmuseum.org)
Foreign Policy

US Wants to Use Drones to Kill Coca Plants in Colombia. The State Department is looking for drones to use to spray herbicides on farmers' coca crops, a newly released request on a government website reveals. "The Department of State, INL Bogota, has a requirement to purchase spray UAV systems to support eradication operations throughout Colombia," the request reads. The program would be under the control of the Colombian National Police. The State Department says drones would lessen threats to personnel involved in coca eradication in the country, one of the world's top cocaine producers. "Coca cultivation in Colombia remains at record highs and eradication operations in Colombia remain dangerous. INL Bogota is seeking to bolster the CNP’s capability to increase the coca eradication rates and minimize the risk for police personnel in the field."

International

Australian Capital Territory to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) announced Thursday that it will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamine. It will become the first jurisdiction in the country to do so. Under the new law, people in possession of less than the threshold amounts of the drugs will be fined, but not arrested. Some, though, can have their fines waived if they attend an informative session on harm reduction or enter drug treatment. "We know from research and evidence around the world that criminalizing drug users does not reduce drug use and that treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Malaysia to Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty, Including for Drug Offenses. The Malaysian government said Friday it will end the mandatory death penalty for various offenses, including drug offenses, and replace it with "alternative punishments" at the discretion of judges. "This shows the government's emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, reflecting the transparency of the country's leadership in improving the criminal justice system," Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said. The country had declared a moratorium on executions in 2018 but laws imposing the mandatory death sentence remained and courts were required to impose those sentences on convicted drug traffickers. The country currently has more than 1,350 under death sentences, including 925 convicted of drug-related offenses. More than 500 of those under death sentences are foreigners.

Thailand Begins Distributing a Million Marijuana Plants. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakulkicked off a marijuana plant giveaway in Bangkok Friday, handing out the first hundred seedlings of what is planned to be a million-plant distribution. The giveaway is designed to encourage marijuana production, which government officials say will help low-income farmers, especially in the northeast. Charnvirakul was cheered by a crowd of thousands as he took credit for legalizing marijuana. The government insists that, officially, only medical marijuana has been legalized, but there are no plans to monitor small-scale cultivation. 

Chicago Expands Drug Diversion Program, Thailand Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect, More... (6/9/22)

Nominees to the US Sentencing Commission vowed to the Senate Judicary Committee that they would implement reforms in the First Step Act, Ukraine moves to allow medical marijuana, and more.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Mayor Announces Expansion of Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent David O. Brown, and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Allison Arwady on Wednesday announced the expansion of eligibility for the Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. The program is an initiative that diverts individuals who are arrested for the possession of controlled substances into substance use treatment in lieu of felony charges. The new criteria will now expand to individuals who have not been arrested in Chicago for a violent crime within the past ten years and were in possession of two grams or less of any controlled substance. Additional drugs beyond heroin also now qualify for this d.iversion initiative. These drugs include fentanyl, morphine, ketamine, and methamphetamine, among other controlled substances as identified by Illinois law. The original program criteria for participants were limited to those arrested in possession of one gram or less of only heroin or cocaine and who had no prior violent arrest history. The initial evaluation findings of the program showed there was an almost 50% reduction in future arrests among the first 1,000 participants, 25% of whom were connected with treatment for the very first time.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Vows to Implement Criminal Justice Reform Law. Seven Biden administration nominees to the US Sentencing Commission told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that they will prioritize implementing the 2018 First Step Act, which aims to reduce harsh sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reduce recidivism. The commission lost its quorum in 2019, just a month after President Trump signed the bill into law, preventing it from implementing changes to sentencing guidelines. President Trump nominated new commission members, but the Senate never acted on those nominations, mission, leaving the commission unable to act on the reforms.

International

Ukraine to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The government has advanced a draft medical marijuana bill, with the Cabinet of Ministers approving the draft and sending it to the parliament for approval. Health Minister Viktor Liashko, cited the Russian invasion of the country in announcing the move: "We understand the negative consequences of the war on the mental health camp, "Liashko wrote. "We understand the number of people who will require medical treatment in the last breath. The bill envisions allowing only low THC marijuana for medical use and would strictly regulate the cultivation, production, and sale of medical marijuana products, as well as authorizations and licenses for the cultivation and scientific research.

Thailand's Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect; First Country in Asia to Free the Weed. As of today, people in Thailand are free to grow unlimited amounts of marijuana as the plant is now removed from the country's narcotics list, but smoking weed in public is still an offense. Sales began immediately at Bangkok shops. "We've been waiting for 43 years, since 1979,"said Chaiwat Banjai, one of the owners of Highland Cafe, where sales took place. It was that year that Thailand enacted the Narcotics Act, which outlawed cannabis and its derivatives. "Now, weed is legal. Weed is finally legal. We never thought we'd come so far like this." The government also opened the prison doors to marijuana offenders, releasing more than 3,000 of them, amending sentencing for a thousand more, and dropping charges against people currently charged with marijuana offenses. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now (but that doe not appear to be stopping them). The parliament is currently considering a bill to regulate the sale and consumption of marijuana.

CO Governor Signs Bill Increasing Fentanyl Penalties, SD Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November, More... (5/26/22)

The Louisiana House approves a bill to protect state workers who use medical marijuana, a South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. They could seem less bad after voters have another chance to legalize marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November -- Again. Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced Wednesday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws has qualified for the November ballot. Initiative 27 will give voters a second chance to vote for marijuana legalization. In 2020, the same group sponsored a legalization initiative that won with 54 percent of the vote, only to see the will of the voters overturned by the state Supreme Court at the behest of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.

Another Texas City Will Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization in November. After Austin voters earlier this month overwhelming approved a marijuana decriminalization measure, the Central Texas town of Killeen is now set to vote on a similar measure in November. Ground Game Texas, the progressive group behind both efforts, said Wednesday it had collected enough signatures to make the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Bill to Protect State Workers Who Use Medical Marijuana. The House on Tuesday voted 60-32 to approve House Bill 988, which would protect state employees from negative consequences for legal medical marijuana use. The bill would bar employees being fired for medical marijuana use and would prevent discrimination against potential hires for medical marijuana use. Public safety employees such as police and firefighters are not included, though. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Opiates and Opioids

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Increasing Fentanyl Penalties. Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 22-1326, the "Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act." The bill lowers the threshold for a felony fentanyl possession charge from four grams to one and includes counterfeit pills that may contain only small amounts of the drug. As a last-minute change, lawmakers added a provision that will allow people to argue in court they did not "knowingly" possess fentanyl, which is a common phenomenon because the drug is often used in counterfeit pills. The bill also allocates $10 million for emergency health services and more than $25 million in harm reduction spending, primarily for overdose reversal drugs, but also for fentanyl test strips and a three-year education campaign.

RI Legal Pot Bill Heads for Final Votes Next Week, FL Governor Signs Fentanyl Murder Bill, More... (5/20/22)

A Delaware bill to tax and regulate marijuana comes up short but remains alive after a parliamentary manuever, Michigan uses court settlements to fund a massive response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a punitive fentanyl bill into law. (fl.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legal Marijuana Regulation, Sales Bill Falls Short—For Now. A bill that would have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, House Bill 372, failed in the House Thursday even though it won a majority of votes. The bill needed a two-thirds majority in the House because it had tax provisions, but cam up short on a 23-15 vote. But the bill is not dead because sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), changed his vote to "no," which gives him three legislative days to rescind the roll call vote and bring the bill forward for reconsideration before the end of this year’s legislative session. With Osienski voting "yes" next time, along with a bill supporter who missed the vote because he is sick with COVID, the bill has the votes to pass next time.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House, Senate Floor Votes Next Week. With approval Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary and House Finance committees, an amended marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430, is now headed for final floor votes in the House and Senate, which are scheduled for next Tuesday. As well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, the bill contains social equity components and allows for automatic expungement of past marijuana possession offenses.

Opiates and Opioids

Florida Governor Signs Bill to Make Murder Charges Easier in Drug Overdose Deaths. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed into law House Bill 95, which would make it easier for prosecutors to seek first-degree murder charges against drug sellers if an overdose leads to someone's death. Currently, drug sellers face life in prison or the death penalty if the drug they sold verifiably caused the death of a consumer, but prosecutors complained it was hard to win convictions in cases involving multiple controlled substances and/or alcohol. Under the new law, prosecutors will only have to show that the drug was a "substantial factor" in the person's death. As the session wound down, legislators also added language that increased mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking between 4 and 14 milligrams of fentanyl and its analogs from three to seven years, and for trafficking between 14 and 28 milligrams of fentanyl to 15 to 20 years. They also stripped out a provision that would have legalized fentanyl test strips, signaling no room for compassion but plenty of space for punishing policies.

Michigan Governor Signs Bills Aimed at Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a package of bills that invest $800 million in treatment, prevention, and mental health in response to the opioid crisis. Senate Bills 993, 994, and 995 will handle the disbursement of settlement funds from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as creating an Opioid Advisory Committee to help craft policies to prevent, treat, and support people using opioids. "The opioid crisis touches families across our state, which is why it’s so crucial to ensure that Michiganders facing substance use issues have the support and resources they need to get better," said Governor Whitmer. "The legislation I signed today will be instrumental in preventing more deaths and will provide Michigan families impacted by the devastating opioid epidemic with some semblance of relief. These funds will bring millions of dollars to support our neighbors, family, and friends in treatment and recovery. I will continue to work with anyone who wants to help those who are struggling."

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

Singapore Hangs Second Drug Convict in a Month, New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/27/22)

A Connecticut bill to eliminate commercial marijuana gifting passes the House, a new poll shows strong support for medical marijuana in North Carolina as the legislature considers a bill, and more.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, executed Wednesday in Singapore for 1.5 ounces of heroin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Bill to Eliminate Commercial Marijuana Gifting, Allow Physicians' Assistants to Write Medical Marijuana Recommendations Passes House. The House voted Tuesday to approve House Bill 5329, which would originally have barred the gifting of marijuana by anyone, but has been amended to allow social gifting and has seen the criminal penalties for commercial gifting removed. Advocates had argued that the ban on social gifting would hurt patients who may rely on it to get their medicine. The bill also will allow physicians' assistants to recommend medical marijuana to patients. It now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Has Supermajority for Medical Marijuana, Majority for Legalization. A poll from WRAL News shows that 72 percent of state voters want medical marijuana legalized and 57 percent want full adult legalization. Those supermajorities for medical marijuana include 73 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, while 63 percent of Democrats and only 45 percent of Republicans want full adult legalization. The poll comes as a medical marijuana bill, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 711) is before the Senate, where it went through several committees last yar and is now back before the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Harm Reduction

New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, Poll Finds. A new poll from Data for Progress found majority support for safe injection sites among likely voters in the state. A whopping 80 percent of Democrats and even 43 percent of Republicans favored the harm reduction intervention, creating an overall level of support at 64 percent. This was an online poll, which generally skews younger than traditional phone surveys, but Data for Progress did not provide an age breakdown of the numbers.

International

Singapore Executes Malaysian Man with Mental Disabilities on Drug Charges. The city-state has gone ahead with the execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam after a long international campaign for clemency failed. Dharmalingam, 34, got caught bringing 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. Singapore halted executions during the coronavirus pandemic but started them up again with the hanging of another drug offender on March 30. Singapore has some of the toughest drug laws in the world, with a mandatory death sentence for trafficking more than a half ounce of heroin. Dharmalingam's lawyers had tried numerous appeals, noting that he had an IQ of 69 and that his mental condition had deteriorated in prison, and garnered extensive international support for clemency, to no avail. "Hanging an intellectually disabled, mentally unwell man because he was coerced into carrying less than three tablespoons of diamorphine is unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international laws that Singapore has chosen to sign up to," said Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty group Reprieve.

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