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OR Dems Endorse Drug Reform Inits, CA East Bay County Ends Drug Possession Prosecutions, More... (9/24/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance on the Breonna Taylor non-indictments, Oregon Democrats go all in for drug decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin initiatives, and more.

If you get arrested for drug possession in Contra Costa County, CA, prosecutors will not file charges against you. (CC)
Drug Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legal Psilocybin Therapy and Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measures. The state Democratic Party officially endorsed two statewide drug reform initiatives Wednesday. The party is getting behind both Measure 110, which would decriminalize drug possession, and Measure 109, the therapeutic psilocybin initiative.

Law Enforcement

Drug Policy Alliance Statement on Release of Grand Jury’s Findings in Breonna Taylor Killing by Louisville Police. In response to the release of the grand jury’s findings -- only indicting one of the three officers on a charge of "wanton endangerment" -- in the horrific killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police in what was a baseless no-knock warrant in a drug investigation, Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released the following statement: "Breonna Taylor should be alive today, but instead, the systems we have in place -- as a result of the drug war -- failed her. And they robbed her of the bright future she was just beginning. Had it not been for the drug war -- which provides the military-grade equipment to local police departments through military weapons transfer and earmarked federal funds -- Breonna would be alive today. And had it not been for the drug war that incentivizes drug arrests with said federal resources, the police likely would have never gone to her home to begin with. While this decision is upsetting and certainly doesn’t go far enough, it does not change the fact that as long as the drug war remains, people of color will continue to have a bounty on their heads. They will continue to be gunned down in their beds, or held down until they can’t breathe with an officer’s knee on their necks. And worse, those responsible for their deaths will use drugs -- or alleged drug involvement -- as a cover for their merciless actions. This isn't an isolated incident. These aren't 'a few bad cops.' It is a system that has been created through the parasitic relationship between policing, the drug war and racism. And until we completely terminate those connections, we are simply adding fuel to the fire and no court or jury will be able to stop the police violence that ensues."

California East Bay County to Stop Prosecutions for Drug Possession, Other Nonviolent Misdemeanors. Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced Thursday that her office will no longer file charges against most people arrested for small-time drug possession and other nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. The county had not been pursuing such charges under a pilot program in effect since early this year. Now that policy has been made permanent. The county says the move will divert low-level recreational users out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system with the goals of both reducing the strain in the courts and on law enforcement.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Marijuana Legalization Appeal Garners Broad Amicus Support, Pending Singapore Drug Execution Slammed, More... (9/16/20)

Despite marijuana legalization, Black DC residents still make up 90% of pot arrestees; human rights groups challenge a pending drug execution, and more.

The US Supreme Court ponders taking up an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Appeal Receives Unprecedented Support with the Filing of Nine Amicus Briefs. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal law that criminalizes marijuana are getting support. Nine amicus briefs supporting the lawsuit have been filed as it goes to the Supreme Court. Those filing supporting briefs include seven members of Congress, 19 major organizations, and a pair of prominent marijuana researchers and scientists. Only eight cases since 2008 have inspired as many amicus briefs. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is expected during this 2020-2021 term.

Washington, DC, Still Sees Huge Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests After Legalization. While marijuana arrests have declined by half in the five years since the city legalized the substance, police remain far more likely to arrest Blacks than Whites on marijuana charges. Blacks still account for just under 90% of all marijuana arrests, even though they make up only 45% of the population. Similarly, while Blacks and Whites are equally likely to use marijuana, Blacks made up 84% of all public consumption arrests.

International

Human Rights Groups Slam Singapore's Planned Execution of Drug Trafficker. A 44-year-old Malaysian man, Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin, is set to be executed for drug trafficking in Singapore on Friday, and human rights and anti-death penalty advocates are crying foul, calling the country's resort to capital punishment "callous."Human Rights Watch called the pending execution "barbaric" and called for the sentence to be commuted, while Amnesty International called on Singapore to "immediately halt this callous hanging."

Federal MJ Research Bill Wins Committee Vote, MA Report on Racial Sentencing Disparities, More... (9/10/20)

The federal Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019 is heading for the House floor, New Jersey Republican party leaders come out hard against marijuana legalization, and more.

A marijuana research bill heads for a House floor vote after winning a committee vote Wednesday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key House Committee Advances Marijuana Research Bill. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday voted unanimously by voice vote to advance HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes." The bill would remove all limits on the number of research entities that could be federally approved to grow or distribute marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within five years on a review of marijuana research and whether it should be rescheduled. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

New Jersey Republicans Formally Oppose Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP leaders from all 21 counties in the state unanimously backed a resolution Thursday opposing the legislatively sponsored marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot. The Republican County Chairmen's Association called on its on their supporters to vote it down. "Pro-pot legislators may not care about the damage that legal pot will do to our children, families, schools and neighborhoods, but as an organization deeply dedicated to promoting a healthy and safe New Jersey, my chairmen colleagues and I felt obligated to speak out against the ballot question," Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango said.

Drug Policy

New Report Highlights Racial Disparity in Massachusetts Drug and Weapons Charges. Researchers at Harvard Law School released a report Wednesday that finds Black and Latino defendants are more likely than White ones to be imprisoned for drugs and weapons crimes and more likely to get longer sentences than White ones. The study was sought by the chief justice of the state's highest court, and found that racial disparities in sentencing length are largely because Black and Latino tend to be initially charged more harshly for crimes that "carry longstanding racialized stigmas." The disparities remain even "after controlling for charge severity and additional factors," according to the report from the law school's Criminal Justice Policy Program.

Drug Testing

Supreme Court of Ohio Gives Employers the Green Light to Drug Test At-Will Employees Under Direct Observation When the Employees Give Broad Consent. The state's highest court has ruled that if an employer has a substance abuse policy that requires workers to undergo random suspicionless drug testing and workers sign a consent form allowing "any testing necessary," they implicitly agreed to allow "direct observation" testing and have no privacy claim. "Direct observation" testing mean having someone watch workers as they provide a urine sample to be tested.

One State is About to Vote on Radical Drug Policy Reform [FEATURE]

Oregon residents will have a chance in November to approve the most far-reaching drug reform measure ever to make the ballot in this country when they vote on Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. While the initiative indeed expands drug treatment, what makes it really revolutionary is that it would also decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, from psychedelics to cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as heroin and other illicit opioids.

Possession of illicit drugs will no longer be a criminal offense under Oregon law if this measure passes. (DEA)
"Our current drug laws can ruin lives based on a single mistake, sticking you with a lifelong criminal record that prevents you from getting jobs, housing and more," Bobby Byrd, an organizer with the More Treatment, A Better Oregon campaign," said in a press release.

If Oregon voters approve the measure, the state will be in select company. At least 19 countries, mostly in Europe and Latin America, have drug decriminalization laws on the books, with the most well-known being Portugal, which pioneered the way, decriminalizing drug possession in 2001. Instead of being arrested and jailed, people caught with illicit drugs there are given a warning and a small fine or asked to voluntarily appear before a local commission whose aim is to determine whether the person needs drug treatment and if so, to offer it to them at no expense. (It helps that Portugal has universal health care.)

Decriminalization has worked for Portugal. According to a Drug Policy Alliance report after a delegation visited Lisbon in 2018, before drug decriminalization, the country suffered rapidly increasing drug overdose deaths, a high number of people who caught HIV through needle-sharing, and led the European Union in drug-related AIDS. Since decriminalization, though, "the number of people voluntarily entering treatment has increased significantly, while overdose deaths, HIV infections, problematic drug use, and incarceration for drug related offenses has plummeted." Not bad at all.

It was just three years ago that the Oregon legislature approved drug defelonization -- making possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony -- but now advocates are already prepared to push further down the Portuguese path. That's because while, according to the state Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), drug defelonization indeed resulted in felony drug convictions dropping by nearly two-thirds, it also included a near 10-fold increase in misdemeanor drug possession convictions. That translates into only a slight decline in overall drug arrests, from just over 10,000 in Fiscal Year 2016 to 8,903 in Fiscal Year 2018.

Under Measure 110, those misdemeanor drug arrests would vanish as drug possession gets reclassified as a mere violation punishable only by a $100 fine or by completing a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional. Those who are deemed to benefit from drug treatment could go to an addiction recovery center, one of which will be located in every organization service area in the state. Those centers, as well as additional funding for treatment, would be paid for with revenues from marijuana sales taxes.

The measure is backed by Drug Policy Action, the political and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has put $2.5 million into the campaign already, DPA director of media relations Matt Sutton said in an email exchange. And that's just the beginning, he added.

"We'll continue to invest in terms of what it takes to win it," he said. "The campaign is starting a variety of different ads and raising awareness in the final push. We've invested a lot already and we're very committed to it financially. We think this is winnable."

So, why Oregon and why now?

"We have to start somewhere," said Sutton. "Oregon is a very progressive state and has really been the leader on a lot of drug policy reforms. It was one of the first to decriminalize marijuana, one of the first to legalize medical marijuana, one of the first to legalize marijuana, one of the first to defelonize drug possession. It's no surprise that Oregon would be an attractive state to do this in."

The special nature of this year, with its double whammy of enduring pandemic and its long, hot summer of street protests, makes drug decriminalization all the more relevant, Sutton said.

"Having a state like Oregon that has been a progressive leader take this on will signal to the rest of the country that this can be done and that it's not actually that radical of a proposition," said Sutton. "And just in terms of everything that's happened this year -- COVID and the awakening to racial injustice -- it just doesn't seem as such a radical proposition. With COVID we've seen the discrepancies in the health care system.

"It's the same communities that are being overpoliced and have been hit hardest by the war on drugs," he continued. "And people are realizing that the war on drugs is racist. The real reason behind the war on drugs was to criminalize and marginalize communities of color, and we've demonized drugs and the people who use them. The drug war hasn't made drugs less accessible to youth, but instead we get a lot more people incarcerated and dying of drug use. The more we criminalize it, the more dangerous it becomes."

In an August report, the state CJC made clear just what sort of impact drug decriminalization would have on racial inequities, and the results are impressive: Racial disparities in drug arrests, using an academically accepted comparison measure, would drop by an astounding 95%.

The report also found that decriminalization would radically reduce overall drug convictions, with projected convictions of Black and Indigenous people declining by an equally astounding 94%.

"This drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include difficulties in finding employment, loss of access to student loans for education, difficulties in obtaining housing, restrictions on professional licensing, and others," the report found.

"This report only scratches the surface," Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon said in a press release. "Drugs are too often used as an excuse to disproportionately target Black and Brown Oregonians and economically disadvantaged communities."

"This initiative addresses those racial disparities more than anything," said DPA's Sutton. "It will help those communities that have been down for far too long. A lot of the economic problems we see there are a result of decades of drug war, taking generations of people out of their homes and saddling them with felony convictions. This would be a huge win in taking drug reform to the next level. It doesn't solve all the problems of drug prohibition -- people would still be charged with distribution and drug induced homicide -- but it would still be a huge step forward."

And now, a broad coalition of change agents are uniting to push the initiative to victory in November. Endorsements range from national and international groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, AFSCME, the National Association of Social Workers, and Human Rights Watch, as well as dozens and dozens of state and local racial justice, human rights, and religious groups and groups representing health and social welfare professionals.

"We've received an incredible amount of support, and it's really broad," said Sutton. "And there is no organized opposition."

If things go well in November, DPA and its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action, are already planning next moves.

"We just a few weeks ago released a national framework for drug decriminalization, the Drug Policy Reform Act," Sutton said. "This has been a goal of DPA all along and where our work is focused today, all drug decriminalization. We think that people are ready for that. We decided to release the framework right now just because of everything happening in the country especially around racial justice issues. People are seeing the direct impact of the war on drugs and the racial disparities."

"We're already looking ahead at other states where we could replicate this," Sutton revealed. "Some of the first states to legalize marijuana would likely be the first to consider drug decriminalization."

Once again, Oregon voters have a chance to burnish their drug reform credentials, only this time with the most dramatic attack yet on drug prohibition. If they approve Measure 110, they will truly be the drug reform vanguard -- and blaze a path others can follow.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, and we participated in the Lisbon delegation.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Qualifies, DPA Federal Drug Decrim Push, More... (8/10/20)

Residents in the nation's capital will vote on whether to effectively decriminalize natural psychedelics, the Arizona pot legalization initiative survives a legal challenge, the Drug Policy Alliance pushes for federal drug decriminalization, and more.

Decriminalize Nature DC street signs
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Fends Off Legal Challenge. The Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative has survived a legal challenge from foes. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday that the measure's summary did not mislead voters and the measure can be on the ballot. "At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything," he wrote. "That is why the full initiative must accompany the petition. This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana," the judge wrote. "That is the principal provision. It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Proposes Federal All-Drug Decriminalization, Releases New Legislative Framework. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a new federal legislative proposal Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework, which provides a roadmap to effectively end the criminalization of people who use drugs and begin repairing the harm drug law enforcement has caused to communities of color. The DPA model decriminalization legislation -- the Drug Policy Reform Act -- takes the first steps in dismantling the punitive apparatus built up over the past 50 years. To begin refocusing federal drug policies, the legislation shifts the authority for classifying and regulating controlled substances from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation eliminates criminal penalties for all possession of personal-use quantities of controlled substances, and shifts federal resources away from futile enforcement strategies to supportive initiatives to protect the public health and safety.

Methamphetamine

Senators Feinstein and Grassley File Methamphetamine Response Act. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last Thursday introduced the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill declaring methamphetamine an emerging drug threat which would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis.

Psychedelics

Washington, DC, Natural Psychedelics Initiative Qualifies for the Ballot. The DC Board of Elections announced last Wednesday that Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, has qualified for the November ballot. The act would effectively decriminalize the use and possession of natural psychedelics by making the enforcement of laws against them the lowest priority.

International

World Anti-Doping Association to Shorten Punishments for Recreational Drug Offenses. Beginning next January, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will no longer issue long suspensions for athletes testing positive for recreational drugs out of competition. Instead of being banned for two years, the athletes will now be banned for one to three months. "If the athlete can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of ineligibility shall be three months," WADA's new code says. "In addition, the period of ineligibility calculated... may be reduced to one month if the athlete or other person satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program approved by the Anti-Doping Organization."

British Tory Drug Reform Group Calls for Rescheduling Psilocybin. The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) has published a new report with the Adam Smith Institute outlining the potential medical benefits of psilocybin and urging the UK Home Office to reschedule the compound for research purposes. The not-for-profit group also urges the Home Office to reduce regulatory restrictions on the compound to allow for research into its medical efficacy. The report is Medicinal use of psilocybin: Reducing restrictions on research and treatment.

Colombia's Former President Uribe Placed on House Arrest During Investigation of Ties to Drug Cartels, Paramilitary Groups. Last Thursday, President Ivan Duque announced that former President Alvaro Uribe will be held in custody as the Supreme Court investigates allegations of witness tampering. Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has long been accused of criminal activities, including having ties to drug cartels and paramilitary groups. He is currently accused of being a founding member of a rightist paramilitary group involved in the decades-long conflict between the government and leftist rebels.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

AZ Poll Shows Strong Support for MJ Legalization, BC Premier Asks for Canada Drug Decrim, More... (7/21/20)

The city of Chicago will pay out big time for seizing the vehicles of people in small-time drug busts, a California bill would undo some drug war sentencing excesses, the Colombian opposition has filed a bill to decriminalize and regulate cocaine, and more.

Cocaine could be decriminalized and regulated under a bill being considered in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative awaits confirmation from state officials that it has submitted a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Chicago to Pay $5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Vehicles Seized in Drug Busts. A city council committee on Monday approved a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. The settlement will pay people whose cars were seized the estimated Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle.

Sentencing

California Bill Would End Mandatory Jail and Prison Sentences for Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed SB 378, which would repeal 1980s drug war laws that enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Under current law, judges are denied the discretion to sentence drug offenders to probation or diversion. "For a lot of people in progressive California it is surprising to hear that in 2020, with all of the reforms that we've been working on for years, that there are still mandatory jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses," Wiener explained. "But here we are in California, in 2020, with mandatory prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug sentences," he said.

International

British Columbia Premier Asks Canadian Federal Government to Decriminalize Drugs. BC Premier John Horgan sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to have the federal government decriminalize drug possession. Such a move would "reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need," he said. "Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services," he added.

Colombia Opposition Files Cocaine Decriminalization Bill. A pair of opposition senators have filed a bill to decriminalize cocaine and regulate its production. The bill is part of a broader package to end the war on drugs that was filed last year by the leftist and centrist opposition blocs. The bill seeks strict state control over coca cultivation and cocaine production in a bid to cut the finances of drug trafficking organizations and armed groups.

MT Legalization Activists Say They've Qualified for Ballot, Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower, More... (7/20/20)

New Approach Montana says county-level data shows it has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot but the results aren't official yet, Canada's health minister says she's open to discussing drug decriminalization, and more.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel released this video of a massive armed convoy last Friday. (screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Activists Say County Figures Show They Qualified for Ballot. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, said last Friday that official county-level data shows they collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The claim is based on county-level signature verification data, as well as the campaign's own verification process. The group said it had 8,000 more valid signatures than the 25,000 required for the initiative and nearly 2,000 more valid signatures than the 51,000 required for the constitutional amendment.

Drug Policy

Third Party Presidential Candidates Embrace Marijuana Legalization, Drug Decriminalization. Both the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees are supporting bold drug policy proposals, including marijuana legalization. Neither Democratic nominee Joe Biden nor incumbent Republican Donald Trump have embraced marijuana legalization. Libertarian pick Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins both back legalizing marijuana for adult use and more broadly ending the criminalization of other currently illicit substances. "We've got to treat drug abuse as a health problem. You should legalize marijuana and decriminalize the hard drugs like Portugal," Hawkins said. "Instead of just throwing people in prison and building the biggest prison industrial system in the world -- which Joe Biden had a lot to do [with], he wrote the legislative architecture for that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- we should be treating drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

International

Canada Health Minister Open to Examining Drug Decriminalization. In response to a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Health Minister Patty Hadju said she was open to having discussions about drug decriminalization. "To find out how we would do that in the best possible way. I'm excited to explore all possibilities to reduce the criminalization of people who use substances," she said. "You know having been a person who worked in drug policy for a long time, I can tell you when you have the support of enforcement to take the next steps or affirm what you are doing, I think that's very important," Hajdu said.

Mexico Puts Army in Charge of Customs to Fight Drug Trade. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced that he is placing the Army in charge of Customs at land borders and seaports in a bid to stamp out large-scale corruption linked to the illicit drug trade. "We've taken this decision due to the poor administration of the seaports, with corruption and drug smuggling in these ports," he said. The move does not include the country's airports. Mexican seaports are entry points for precursor chemicals for heroin and methamphetamine manufacture.

Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower. In what is being described by analysts as a message to the Mexican government, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) released a video last Friday showing heavily-armed cartel members alongside a long, long convoy of armored vehicles. The video shows about 75 gunmen wearing military-style fatigues and at least 20 armored vehicles, some emblazoned with CJNG initials and "special forces" or "elite group." The video release came as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was visiting Jalisco state.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Drug Reform Initiatives Already on the November Ballot and Those That Could Still Make the Cut [FEATURE]

With signature-gathering deadlines now past nearly everywhere, the picture of where voters will have a chance to vote on drug reform initiatives becomes clearer -- although not yet finalized because state officials are still counting petitions in some cases. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least two states and as many as four states and ditto for medical marijuana. Groundbreaking initiatives on psychedelic policy and drug decriminalization will also go before voters.

Voters in a number of states will have the chance to weigh in on drug reform initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
In a handful of cases, statewide initiative campaigns had qualified before the coronavirus reared its head, but most campaigns had to struggle to find ways to get signatures in the midst of virtual lockdowns. The virus proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

But in some other states, organizers managed to overcome such obstacles and have -- as of this writing -- either already qualified for the ballot or have handed in enough raw signatures to suggest that they well could qualify once state officials get their counting done.

Here's where things stand at this juncture.

QUALIFIED:

Mississippi -- Medical Marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65 qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

New Jersey -- Marijuana Legalization. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was already on the ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with sales subject to the state's sales tax. This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Oregon -- Drug Decriminalization. For the first time, drug decriminalization will go before voters after the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) qualified for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Oregon -- Therapeutic Psilocybin. Using an online signature-gathering strategy after pandemic lockdowns took effect, the campaign behind Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator qualified for the November ballot in early July.

South Dakota -- Marijuana Legalization. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

South Dakota -- Medical Marijuana. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010. Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions to possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

WAITING TO HEAR:

Arizona -- Marijuana Legalization. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office on July 2. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

District of Columbia -- Natural Entheogens. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures on July 6, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will rule officially in 30 days.

Montana -- Marijuana Legalization.New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 50,000 valid voter signatures) on June 19. Now it's nail-biting time as organizers wait for the state to see if they came up with enough good ones.

Nebraska -- Medical Marijuana. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw signatures on July 2. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

STILL GATHERING SIGNATURES:

Idaho -- Medical Marijuana. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition had given up the ghost in the face of the coronavirus back in March, but its medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected boost and could still make the ballot after federal court decisions around electronic signature-gathering for an unrelated initiative opened the door for a potential revival. Now, the group is asking the state to allow them to collect signatures electronically. They would still need some 55,057 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Come November, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization could continue to expand across the country, while we could also break new ground on drug decriminalization and psychedelics. Let's get out and vote. As if you needed to be told that this year.

Democratic Platform to Call for Rescheduling and Decriminalizing Marijuana But Not Legalizing, Canada Police Chiefs Want Drug Decrim, More... (7/13/20)

Democratic task forces working on the party platform have settled on rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, the Justice Department rips a Massachusetts dope squad for its resort to excessive force, Canadian police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

The Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative has qualified for the ballot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Proposed Democratic Platform Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Descheduling. Task forces charged with drafting the Democratic Party platform are calling not for the total federal legalization of marijuana but for decriminalizing it and for rescheduling it for medical purposes. The recommendations will be provided to the platform committee, which will ratify it before the Democratic national convention next month. According to NJ.com, the proposals include allowing states to decide on whether to legalize marijuana, expunging past convictions, and calling on states that have legalized marijuana to reinvest revenues in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war.

Kansas City to Remove Marijuana Violations from City Code. The city council voted last Thursday to remove possession or control of marijuana as a violation within the city. The ordinance, introduced on June 18 by Mayor Quinton Lucas and four City Council members, passed by a 9-4 vote. Two years ago, the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with the exception of illegal sales, distribution and impaired driving.

Hemp

Hawaii Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize industrial hemp in the state passed the Senate last Wednesday after having already passed the House. The bill, HB1819 HD2 SD3, now goes to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns it was unenforceable, but this year, legislators worked closely with Ige's office to ensure it would get signed.

Law Enforcement

Democratic Progressives Announce BREATHE Act to Reform Policing. House Democratic members including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) are pushing for a wide-ranging bill called the BREATHE Act, which would transform the country's criminal justice system. Among its provisions are a call to eliminate life sentences, retroactively expunge drug convictions, shut federal prisons and immigration detention centers, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" for prisoners. The bill would also move to defund the DEA and ICE, end mandatory minimums, and decriminalize drug possession, among other provisions.

Justice Department Accuses Springfield, Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau of Using Excessive Force. In a report released last Wednesday, the Justice Department said an investigation has revealed that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect the Springfield Police Department's Narcotics Bureau regularly resorted to excessive force. "Our investigation of the Springfield Police Department over the last year revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record-keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct," said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling. The Justice Department said the bureau violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from the unreasonable use of force by the police. In the report, Justice said "our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries."

North Carolina Cops Confronted by Hostile Crowd After Drug Bust. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were swarmed by an angry crowd after police searched a home as part of a drug investigation. People kept arriving at the scene until "a hostile crowd of approximately 50 people had taken over the street in front of the residence," police reported. Police said the crowd blocked the roadway and swarmed a police vehicle, and police resorted to pepper spray to clear the area. Police seized 85 grams of heroin and 15 grams of marijuana and arrested two people.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Wednesday.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Faces Challenge from GOP Congressman. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of allowing Washington, DC, to move forward with drug reform efforts, says that he plans to force a vote in Congress to block the proposed natural psychedelic initiative. He said he plans to force a House Appropriations Committee vote next week.

International

Canadian Chiefs of Police Call for Drug Decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended that simple drug possession should be decriminalized. The report by the association's special committee on decriminalization of illicit drugs calls for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. "Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives," association president and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement. "We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government."

OR Drug Decrim Will Go to Voters, VA Marijuana Decrim Now in Effect, More... (7/1/20)

The Old Dominion decriminalizes pot possession, Oregon will vote on decriminalizing all drugs, drug overdoses are jumping during the pandemic, and more.

Virginia. Now not just for lovers, but for tokers, too. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect. As of July 1, marijuana decriminalization has gone into effect in Virginia. Now, people caught with an ounce or less will face a maximum penalty of a $25 fine. A celebration is planned for the state capital Wednesday. "Richmond hasn't burned this hard since 1865!" the event's anonymous organizers wrote. In 2018, the last year for which full data is available, 29,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Petitioners Prepare to Hand in Signatures. With a deadline to hand in signatures for their initiative Thursday, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has stepped up signature-gathering in recent weeks. The group needs 121,000 valid voter signatures and says they are very close. Stay tuned.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdoses Soar Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic. Based on data from ambulance teams, hospitals, and police, the Washington Post is reporting that drug overdose deaths have jumped and keep jumping during the coronavirus pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post points to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Ohio Senate Passes Drug Sentencing Reform Bill. On a vote of 25-4, the state Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 3, which would reclassify many low-level drug possession felonies as misdemeanors. The bill would also make it easier for people convicted of drug possession crimes to get their records sealed, and it would give judges the option of delaying and possibly dismissing cases if a defendant successfully completed a rehabilitation program. And it doubles the state's already generous limit for decriminalized marijuana possession from 100 grams to 200 grams -- nearly half a pound of pot.

Oregon Drug Decriminalization, Treatment Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office has confirmed that the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) has qualified for the November ballot by handing in more than 116,622 valid voter signatures. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Drug War Issues

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