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HUD to Continue Evicting Residents for Marijuana Use, Singapore Drug Execution Delayed, More... (11/9/21)

Another poll has a solid national majority for marijuana legalization, an Ohio judge gets punished for jailing a court spectator for refusing a drug test, and more.

You still can't do this in public housing--even in states where marijuana is legal. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rasmussen Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Rasmussen poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, with only 23 percent opposed. The poll comes just days after a Gallup poll reported support for marijuana legalization holding steady at 68 percent. Even 54 percent of Republicans support legalization, along with 68 percent of Democrats and 62 percent among independents. When respondents were asked if legalization should be done at the local, state, or federal level, 47 percent said the federal government should be in charge, 32 favored the states, and 11 percent wanted local action.

Infrastructure Bill Includes Provision Allowing Research with Marijuana from Pot Shops. The massive infrastructure spending bill approved by the House last Friday includes a provision that will eventually allow researchers access to the marijuana actually being consumed by users instead of relying only on government-grown marijuana from its farm in Mississippi. That provision will require the transportation secretary to work with the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a report within two years with recommendations on allowing scientists access to storefront marijuana to study impaired driving.

Federal Housing Authority to Continue Taking Punitive Actions Against Marijuana Consumers. In response to a request for clarification from to Rep. Elizabeth Holmes-Norton (D-DC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reaffirmed its longstanding policy of banning marijuana users from federally-subsidized housing, even in states where it is legal. In a letter to Holmes-Norton, the agency says that it will continue to enforce policies that involve the "termination of the tenancy of any household" in instances where a tenant is found to have engaged in the use of a controlled substance while on the premises — "including [the use of] state legalized medical marijuana." Because marijuana remains classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance, "HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana," the letter reads.

South Dakota Activists Miss Initiative Signature Deadline but Look to Federal Court Decision for More Time. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws announced Sunday that they would not turn in signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative by a Monday deadline, but are hoping that a federal court ruling will give them until next May to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. In August, the federal district court in the state ruled that the state's election law requiring signatures be handed in a year before the election was unconstitutional, pushing the deadline to the May before the election and enjoined officials from enforcing that provision. The administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is appealing the decision, but the activists argue that "the May 3 deadline is the law in South Dakota and we feel confident that we can rely on that extension." Voters in the state approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it has been blocked by lower courts and a final decision is still pending at the state Supreme Court.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Suspended for Jailing Spectator over Drug Test Refusal. The state Supreme Court has suspended a Seneca County judge for a year without pay for ordering a courtroom spectator to undergo a drug test and then holding that person in contempt and jailing her for refusing to do so. In the unanimous opinion, the court held that Judge Mark Repp violated rules of professional conduct for judges in the state, including a failure to perform all his judicial duties fairly and impartially. The woman, who was the girlfriend of the defendant before the court "suffered great personal indignities and emotional distress as the result of the security and medical screenings she had to endure during her incarceration, on top of the anxiety regarding the care and well-being of her two young children." The boyfriend was a drug court participant, and the Supreme Court held tat Repp's behavior toward him and his girlfriend was "undignified, improper, and discourteous."

International

Malaysia Okays Use of Medical Marijuana. Heath Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has formally acknowledged that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes. The acknowledgement came in response to a question from parliament. Jamaluddin said the medicinal use of marijuana complies with Malaysian drug laws, but that imports and the wholesale trade must be licensed. Medical marijuana should be sold by a registered medical practitioner or pharmacist. "Therefore, if there are parties who have sufficient scientific evidence to use cannabis (hemp) for any medicinal purpose by taking into account the aspects of quality, safety and effectiveness, then the application to register cannabis products for medicinal purposes can be submitted to DCA [Drug Control Authority]] to be evaluated and registered under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984 in order to be marketed in Malaysia," Khairy said in a written reply to the enquiry.

Singapore Delays Appeal Hearing on Man Set to Be Executed for 1.5 Ounces of Heroin. The nation's top court has postponed an appeal hearing for Malaysian national Nagenthran K. Dharmalingam, who was sentenced to death for trying to smuggle 1.5 grams of heroin into the country. Dharmalingam, who his attorneys say is intellectually disabled, was set to be executed Monday, but was delayed amidst an international campaign by human rights groups when the high court accepted an appeal. The hearing was originally set for Tuesday, with Dharmalingam set to be executed Wednesday if he lost on appeal. The appeals court noted that Dharmalingam had tested positive for COVID-19 and sent him away from the courtroom Tuesday, saying, "We have to issue a stay of the execution until all proceedings are concluded. That is the proper order of things."

GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, Mexico Blames US Guns for Bolstering Cartels, More... (11/8/21)

A Malaysian man set to be hanged in Singapore over 43 grams of heroin has won a temporary reprieve, our supply chain woes include 72,000 truckers felled by drug testing, and more.

Drug testing---especially for marijuana--is costing the economy tens of thousands fo truck drivers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming. US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-NC) has drafted a "compromise" marijuana legalization bill that aims for a happy middle between merely rescheduling marijuana, as proposed by some other Republican lawmakers, and the comprehensive bill that Democrats are championing. The proposed bill, known as the States Reform Act, now in preliminary draft form, would deschedule marijuana, impose a 3.75 percent excise tax on weed sales, limit the FDAs regulatory authority to medical marijuana, make the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the lead regulatory agency, and make certain marijuana convictions expungable. The bill has dim prospects in the current Democratically-controlled Congress, but could open the way for similar legislation if Republicans take control after next year's elections.

Drug Testing

Supply Chain Woes Include 72,000 Truckers Taken Off the Road by Failed Drug Tests, Mostly for Marijuana. The American Trucking Association says the industry has a driver shortfall of 80,000, which is contributing to the economy's supply chain woes, but at the same time, some 72,000 truckers have been forced off the roads in the past two years by tough federal drug testing restrictions. The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a registry designed to increase safety on the highways, went into effect in January 2020. "It’s a staggering number of drivers we have lost" because of the new drug-testing rules, said Jeremy Reymer, chief executive of industry recruiter DriverReach. The majority (56 percent were sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. "There needs to be the ability to test for real-time impairment and not just recent or long-term past use of marijuana," said Scott Duvall, director of safety and compliance for TransForce Group, which runs truck driving schools and rents out drivers.

Foreign Policy

Mexico Calls on US Government, Courts for Help Stemming Flow of American Guns to Drug Cartels. Mexican officials say illegal guns are flowing into the country from the US and are contributing to rising homicide rates and empowering the drug cartels responsible for most of the killings. "We estimate that half a million weapons are trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico every year. The problem is that all this weaponry is getting to the criminal organizations, giving them very strong firepower to commit all kinds of crimes," said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, Mexico’s consul general in El Paso. The Mexican government has now filed a lawsuit to try to block the flow. We have never meddled with the Second Amendment. This is not against the rights of the people of the United States to buy and own a gun," Ibarra said. "We (sued) gun manufacturers and distributors we believe are engaging in negligent commercial practices because they know the weaponry they produce is being trafficked to Mexico and is being used in criminal activity."

International

Singapore Temporarily Halts Execution of Malaysian Man Over 1 ½ Ounces of Heroin. Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for smuggling 43 grams of heroin into the country, has won at least a temporary reprieve an international human rights campaign to spare the man, who supporters say is intellectually disabled. The execution is now halted until the constitutional appeal is heard on Tuesday, alongside a separate appeal for psychiatrists to assess Dharmalingam. If both appeals are unsuccessful, he will be hanged as scheduled on Wednesday.

SD Activists Begin 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Drive, Report on Racial Disparities in State Prisons, More... (10/13/21)

A pair of GOP Ohio lawmakers prepares a marijuana legalization bill, the Sentencing Project releases a new report on differential racial incarceration rates in the states, and more.

A new Sentencing Project report finds Blacks are imprisoned in state prisons at a rate five times that of Whites. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill. In a sign of changing times, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced Tuesday they were preparing a marijuana legalization bill. For years, Democrats have led the fight for marijuana legalization, but in recent days, first Pennsylvania and now Ohio are seeing signs of Republican interest in moving forward on legalization. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) rolled out a bill that would allow people 21 and over to buy and possess marijuana, with limited home cultivation allowed. The bill also envisages a 10 percent tax on retail marijuana sales, with half going to the state's general fund and half going to law enforcement and mental health and addiction treatment and recovery services. Callender and Ferguson are circulating a cosponsorship memo to build support for the forthcoming legislation and are aiming to formally file the bill within the next six weeks or so.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Although state voters already approved a marijuana legalization initiative last year, it was challenged in court by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and two law enforcement officials, and the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on its constitutionality. The people behind the successful initiative, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, is not waiting on—or counting on—a favorable Supreme Court ruling and is moving ahead with plans for a 2022 initiative designed to get around the issue that has the 2020 initiative stuck in the courts: the claim that it unconstitutionally encompasses more than one subject. This new initiative simply legalizes marijuana possession and cultivation for people 21 and over. The secretary of state on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for signature gathering to begin. Campaigners have until May 8, 2022 to come up with 16,691 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Sentencing Policy

New Sentencing Project Report Finds Blacks Imprisoned in State Prisons at Rate Five Times of Whites. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of Whites, and Latino Americans are 1.3 times as likely to be incarcerated than non-Latino whites, according to a new report by The Sentencing Project, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.The report, authored by Senior Research Analyst Ashley Nellis, documents the rates of incarceration for white, Black, and Latinx Americans for each state. Although Black Americans are not a majority of the general population in any of the 50 states, they make up more than half of the prison population in a dozen states: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. New Jersey tops the nation in terms of disparity in its incarceration rates, with a Black/white ratio of more than 12 to 1. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut follow closely behind, incarcerating Black Americans at about 10 times the rate of white people. Latino individuals are incarcerated nationally in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the rate for non-Latino whites, but at a much higher rate in Massachusetts (4.1), Connecticut (3.7), New York (3.0), and North Dakota (2.4). In raw numbers, Latino incarceration is highest in border and southwestern states. The report makes several policy recommendations: eliminate all mandatory minimums, enact racial impact statements that require crime bills to be accompanied by an estimate of the policy’s impact on demographic groups, and discontinue arrest and prosecution for low-level drug offenses that often lead to accumulation of prior convictions

CA Governor Signs Bill Rolling Back Mandatory Minimums for Some Drug Offenses [FEATURE]

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday signed into law a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for certain drug sales offenses, a vestige of harsh drug war policies enacted in the 1980s. The bill, Senate Bill 73, leaves in place upper penalties but now judges will have the discretion to sentence offenders to probation or other alternatives.

The law the bill replaces required not only mandatory minimum sentences for some sales offenses, but also barred judges from granting probation to people with a second drug offense, even for personal possession, and even some people with a first drug offense.

For example, under the old law, people convicted of possession for sale of cocaine, heroin or meth faced a mandatory minimum two-year sentence, and people convicted of transportation for sale of those drugs looked at a mandatory minimum three-year sentence. Offenses such as growing peyote or forging a prescription also triggered mandatory minimums.

"Our prisons and jails are filled with people -- particularly from communities of color -- who have committed low-level, nonviolent drug offenses and who would be much better served by non-carceral options like probation, rehabilitation and treatment," said bill sponsor Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in a statement. "The racist, failed War on Drugs has helped build our system of mass incarceration, and we must dismantle and end its vestiges, which are still in place today. War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane and expensive. SB 73 ends mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and gives judges more options to allow people to stay out of jail. It's an important measure that will help end California's system of mass incarceration."

"Mandatory minimums disproportionately affect people of color, many of whom may suffer from a number of pre-existing mental and health conditions," said bill cosponsor Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). "It is why judges must be able to evaluate crimes and grant probation when it is in the interest of justice, in the interest of public safety, and is consistent with the values of our communities. For these reasons I am proud to co-author SB 73."

The bill had the backing of a wide coalition of state and national organizations including Drug Policy Alliance, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, California Public Defenders Association, and drug treatment professionals. The only organized opposition came from law enforcement groups and the conservative California family council. It was the third time the legislature has tried to end mandatory minimum for drug offenses in recent years, and the third time was the charm.

"Mandatory drug sentences have been an expensive failure. They've separated families unnecessarily without making our communities any safer. Good riddance," said Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

We are grateful to Senator Wiener and Assembly Member Carrillo for leading the fight to remove this antiquated and cruel policy that has allowed the drug war to tie judges' hands for far too long," said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Forcing judges to send people to jail when they honestly believe that they and their communities would be better served with probation or other community services is incredibly counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. We are thankful the legislature and Governor Newsom have realized this and are taking these important steps to set things right in California."

Senators File Bill to Undo Supreme Court Decision on Crack Sentencing, CO Pot Tax Initiative, More... (10/4/21)

A bipartisan group of leading senators files a bill to ensure that low-level federal crack prisoners get the same shot at retroactive sentence reductions as other crack offenders, a Colorado initiative would increase pot taxes to fund educational programs for low-income kids, and more.

Denver. As legal marijuana production hits a record, an initiative would increase taxes to help educate kids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Produced Almost Two Million Pounds of Legal Marijuana Last Year. According to a report just released by the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division, state-legal marijuana growers produced nearly two million pounds of weed last year. That was 25 percent higher than the 2019 figure. Recreational marijuana accounted for the bulk of weed produced, with 1.38 million pounds, while medical marijuana producers added and 449,000 pounds. Not surprisingly, 2020 also saw the highest marijuana sales since legalization, with nearly $2.2 billion worth of marijuana products sold.

Colorado Initiative Would Increase Marijuana Taxes to Pay for Educational Programs for Kids. When state voters go to the polls in November, they will have an opportunity to vote on whether to raise the state's recreational marijuana sales tax to pay for out-of-school educational programs for children between five and 17, with low-income kids being prioritized. Proposition 119 has already qualified for the ballot. It would increase the sales tax from 15 percent to 20 percent over a five-year period, starting with a three percent increased in 2022 and four percent in 2023. The goal is to raise $137 million a year for the programs.

Sentencing Policy

Senators Introduce Bill to Correct Supreme Court Ruling on Retroactivity of Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform. A bipartisan group of senators including Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Lee (R-UT), have introduced the Terry Technical Correction Act, which clarifies that all offenders who were sentenced for a crack cocaine offense before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 can apply for its retroactive application under Section 404 of the First Step Act, including individuals convicted of the lowest level crack offenses.

Section 404 of the First Step Act allows crack cocaine offenders to request a sentence reduction pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act. The Fair Sentencing Act, authored by Durbin, reduced the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. In 2018, the four were the lead sponsors of the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Earlier this year in Terry v. United States, the Supreme Court held that low-level crack offenders, whose conduct did not trigger a mandatory minimum penalty, do not qualify for resentencing under Section 404 of the First Step Act. The effect of this holding is that individuals convicted of the offenses with the lowest levels of crack cocaine are not eligible for retroactive relief, whereas others are.

House Votes to End Federal Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity [FEATURE]

In an effort to undo one the gravest examples of racially biased drug war injustice, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021, passed on a vote of 361-66, demonstrating bipartisan support, although all 66 "no" votes came from Republicans.

Amidst racially tinged and "tough on drugs" political posturing around crack use in the early 1980s, accompanied by significant media distortions and oversimplications, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, cosponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Under that bill, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence.

While race neutral on its face, the law was disproportionately wielded as a weapon against African-Americans. Although similarly small percentages of both Blacks and Whites used crack, and there were more White crack users than Black ones, Blacks were seven times more likely to be imprisoned for crack offenses than Whites between 1991 and 2016. Between 1991 and 1995, in the depths of the drug war, Blacks were 13 times more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice meat grinder over crack. And even last year, the US Sentencing Commission reported that Black people made up 77 percent of federal crack prosecutions.

After years of effort by an increasingly broad alliance of drug reform, racial justice, human rights, religious and civic groups, passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act took a partial step toward reducing those disparities. The FSA increased the threshold quantity of crack cocaine that would trigger certain mandatory minimums -- instead of 100 times as much powder cocaine than crack cocaine needed, it changed to 18 times as much. The 2018 FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. And now, finally, an end to the disparity is in sight.

Reform advocates praised the bill's passage in the House.

"After the murder of George Floyd, it was obvious that we as a country needed to work harder to stamp out racial discrimination in our justice system," Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), said in a statement after the vote. "Eliminating the crack-powder disparity, which has disproportionately and unfairly harmed Black families, was an obvious target. Today's huge bipartisan vote reflects the overwhelming public support for eliminating the crack disparity. We hope the Senate acts quickly to remove this 35-year-old mistake from the criminal code."

"For 35 years, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, based on neither evidence nor science, has resulted in higher sentences that are disproportionately borne by Black families and communities. We applaud the House for passing the EQUAL Act, which will finally end that disparity, including for thousands of people still serving sentences under the unjust disparity who would now have the opportunity to petition courts for a reduced sentence," ACLU senior policy counsel Aamra Ahmad said in a statement.

"Congress should continue to work to end the war on drugs, including ending mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately impact communities of color while failing to make us safer. Now that the House has taken this important action on the EQUAL Act, the Senate must quickly follow suit and finally end this racially unjust policy," she added.

The Senate version of the bill is S. 79, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by fellow Democrat Dick Durbin (IL) and GOP Senators Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). After the vote, they prodded their Senate fellows to get moving.

"Today, House Republicans and Democrats joined together in passing the EQUAL Act, legislation that will once and for all eliminate the unjust federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity," the bipartisan group said in a joint statement. "Enjoying broad support from faith groups, civil rights organizations, law enforcement, and people of all political backgrounds, this commonsense bill will help reform our criminal justice system so that it better lives up to the ideals of true justice and equality under the law. We applaud the House for its vote today and we urge our colleagues in the Senate to support this historic legislation."

The bill has the support of President Biden, who endorsed it June, but faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, as it needs at least ten Republican votes to not fall victim to a filibuster. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has shepherded sentencing reform bills through previously as Judiciary Committee chairman and is still the committee's top Republican, has spoken discouragely about the prospects. Still, the cause of criminal justice reform is one of the few areas where bipartisan deals are possible in Washington these days, and the current Congress is a long way from over.

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Bolivia Coca Growers Clash, More... (9/29/21)

Grand Rapids, Michigan, endorses a symbolic psychedelic reform, the House votes to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. 

A crack cocaine user. Harsh federal crack penalties fell disproportionately on the Black community. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Grand Rapids is Latest Michigan City to Endorse Psychedelic Decriminalization. The Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution says "those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi should have the freedom to explore these healing methods without risk of arrest and prosecution." It passed 5-2, but activists were disappointed because the resolution merely expresses support for future reforms and does not make psychedelics a lowest law enforcement priority. Still, Grand Rapids joins a growing number of Michigan communities that have endorsed psychedelic reform, including Ann Arbor, and Detroit voters will have a chance to endorse psychedelic decriminalization with a measure that will appear on the ballot in November.

Sentencing Policy

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The House on Tuesday passed HR 1693,  the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act of 2021or the EQUAL Act of 2021. The bill seeks to redress one of the gravest injustices of the drug war by eliminating the federal sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The vote was 361-66, with all 66 "no" votes coming from Republicans. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The overwhelming majority of people federally prosecuted under the crack provision were Black, even though crack use was enjoyed by people from all races. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced that disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and a 2018 criminal justice reform bill signed by Donald Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate version, S. 79, will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass. It currently has three GOP cosponsors: Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). Look for our feature article on the bill later today.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Conflict Turns Violent. A power struggle among coca grower factions in La Paz has seen street fighting, volleys of tear gas and slingshot, clashes among grower factions and between growers and police. On Monday, a building near the central coca market in La Paz, control over which is being contested by the factions, went up in flames amid the clashes. Last week, several police vehicles were burned during similar protests. One grower faction, led by Arnold Alanes, the head of the coca management agency Adepcoca, is aligned with the governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, while the other faction, led by government critic Armin Lluta, says MAS and former President Evo Morales are trying to seize greater control of the trade. But Alanes says he is being attacked because he is trying to eradicate corruption.

BOP Tells Certain Drug Prisoners to Apply for Clemency, Italy Marijuana Decrim Referendum, More... (9/13/21)

Italian activists and political parties are pushing a referendum on decriminalizing marijuana cultivation and possession, the Biden administration asks prisoners with certain drug offenses to apply for clemency, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners released to home confinement during the pandemic are urged to seek clemency. (Creative Commons)
Sentencing Policy

Biden Administration Asks Prisoners with Certain Drug Convictions to Apply for Clemency. As part of an effort to grant presidential relief to hundreds of federal drug prisoners now on home confinement because of the pandemic, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is now telling eligible individuals to start filling out applications for clemency. More than 8,000 federal inmates were let out on home confinement last year amid the pandemic, and the Trump Justice Department's position was that they would have to return to prison once the crisis was over. The Biden Justice Department appeared to agree with that position, but this move from the BOP is a strong signal that the administration is looking for ways to keep at least some people from going back to prison to finish their sentences.

International

Italian Push for Marijuana Decriminalization Underway. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties have launched a ballot campaign for a referendum to decriminalize domestic marijuana production and remove penalties for personal use. They have until September 30 to come up with 500,000 valid voter signatures and have gathered 100,000 since the campaign began last week. If the signature goals are met and verified by the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Constitutional Court will then rule on whether the question is in line with the Italian constitution. If yes, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing marijuana possession or cultivation should be stricken.

Uruguay Increases THC Limit in Legal Marijuana, Ponders Allowing Tourist Sales. Four years after the country became the first in the world to allow legal recreational marijuana sales, the government of President Luis Lacalle Pou is moving to increase the THC limit in legal marijuana and is studying whether to modify regulations to allow sales to foreign visitors. "It seems to me that if we come up with a good proposal," Uruguay could open its regulated marijuana market to tourists, said National Drugs Board head Daniel Radio. "For the upcoming tourism season, it's highly unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out." Under current law, adult citizens and foreign residents who sign up for a government registry can grow their own marijuana or buy 40 grams a month at registered pharmacies.

CT Legal Pot Sales Could Be Delayed, CA Hemp Bill Goes to Governor's Desk, More... (9/10/21)

There are signs South Dakota is moving away from harsh drug sentencing, GOP conservatives stick up for mandatory minimum fentanyl analog sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

hemp field (Creative Commons)
Connecticut Official Hints Launch of Legal Marijuana Sales Could Be Delayed. Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull said Wednesday that regulators working to implement legal marijuana sales still have details to work out before accepting applications and hinted that the roll-out of legal sales could be delayed. The state enacted marijuana legalization on July 1, and legal sales were originally set to begin in the summer of 2022. But Seagull said that likely will not happen: "We've been suggesting that there will likely be sales by the end of 2022, and we're still aspiring for that," Seagull said. "Obviously, we have to see how things play out in the next few months."

Hemp

California Hemp Regulation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. Both the state Assembly and the state Senate this week approved a hemp regulation bill, Assembly Bill 45, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The bill would allow hemp extracts, including CBD, to be added to food, beverage, and cosmetic products; establish new rules for hemp farmers and businesses; require out-of-state hemp imports meet new state standards; and limit the sale of intoxicating THC isomers such as delta-8 THC to legal marijuana sales channels, among other provisions.

Drug Policy

South Dakota Attorney General Weighs In on Ballot Measures to Reduce Penalties for Drug Ingestion, Possession. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) is weighing in on potential ballot measures that would reduce the penalty for unlawful drug ingestion from a felony to a petty offense and the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. He sent separate statements to the secretary of state's office last week laying out language for altering the state's current harsh drug laws. The first proposed measure would reclassify the illegal possession of all controlled drugs or substances as class one misdemeanors, regardless of how their scheduled drug status in state law. That means instead of facing up to five years in prison, people caught with drugs would face a maximum of one year. The second ballot measure, focusing on the state's unique ingestion law, would drop the potential penalty from prison time to a $25 fine. No campaign has yet emerged to begin the process of qualifying such initiatives for the 2022 ballot.

Opioids

Congressional Republicans Attack Biden on Fentanyl Analog Scheduling, Claiming Plan is Soft on Drug Dealers. Ranking Republican members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees sent a letter to the White House Thursday criticizing the Biden administration's proposal to permanently schedule fentanyl analogs because, they said, it was too easy on drug dealers. "While we support permanent scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, other aspects of the administration's proposal would shield drug traffickers from pushing poisonous drugs into our communities rather than hold them accountable by imposing existing penalties," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). "We are particularly concerned that the provisions removing mandatory minimum penalties for fentanyl-related substance offenses would hinder prosecutorial efforts against serious drug traffickers and could even incentivize sophisticated criminal organizations to import and traffic fentanyl-related substances." Jordan and Grassley also asked for a list of stakeholders that influenced the administration's proposal, as well as "a list of examples in which federal law enforcement authorities have found that mandatory minimum penalties associated with fentanyl-related substances have supported criminal investigations to pursue high-level drug traffickers."

OH Marijuana Legalization Campaign Can Gather Signatures, Biden Considers Drug Sentence Commutations, More... (8/31/21)

An effort to force the DEA to reconsider the Schedule I status of marijuana has been shot down by the 9th Circuit, an Ohio marijuana legalization campaign gets the go-ahead to start signature gathering, and more.

Will the president commute some drug sentences to avoid sending people out on home confinement back to prison? (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Okay to Start Signature Gathering. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was approved for signature gathering Monday by the Ohio Ballot Board. The board determined that the initiative indeed addresses a single issue -- marijuana legalization -- and can proceed. Backers must now come up with 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the proposal before the legislature. If the legislature refuses to act, rejects the proposal, or amend it within four months, backers could then collect another 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the issue directly before the voters in 2022.

Medical Marijuana

US 9th Circuit Rejects Bid to Make Feds Rethink Stance on Medical Marijuana. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday refused to make the federal government reconsider its decades-old position that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. The ruling came in a case brought by medical marijuana researcher Dr. Suzanne Sisley and three veterans who claim harm from marijuana being classified as a Schedule I drug. The plaintiffs asked the court to force the DEA to revisit its stance, with plaintiff's attorney calling the DEA's stance "a relic of a bygone era." In their 16-page opinion Monday, a three-judge panel rejected the petition, finding Sisley and her co-petitioners failed to exhaust other avenues of relief that they could have pursued before coming to court.

Criminal Justice

President Biden Considering Commuting Sentences of Some Drug Offenders. In a bid to avoid forcing drug offenders released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic back to prison after the emergency ends, President Biden is considering commuting their sentences by using his clemency powers. The proposal is aimed at nonviolent drug offenders with fewer than four years left on their sentences. Those with longer sentences or who committed other types of crimes would be out of luck. Normally, federal prisoners are only eligible for home confinement in the final six months of their sentences, and as many as 2,000 who were sent home are outside that limit and subject to being returned to prison when the COVID emergency ends (although thanks to recalcitrant Americans, that end date seems to be constantly receding). A Trump-era Justice Department memo concluded that once the emergency ends, legal authority to keep inmates in home confinement would "evaporate," but inmates advocates and some Democratic lawmakers are urging the administration to reject that memo and come up with a rationale to extend home confinements.

Drug War Issues

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