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Gallup Says Nearly Half of US Adults Have Smoked Pot, Sri Lanka Drug War Abuses Called Out, More... (8/17/21)

Washington state's governor is moving to commute hundreds of drug possession sentences, a new Gallup poll has the number of Americans who admit ever using marijuana at an all-time high, and more.

The number of Americans who admit to having tried marijuana is at an all-time high, says Gallup. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Percent of US Adults Who Have Ever Smoked Pot at Highest Point Ever. A new Gallup poll has the percentage of US adults who have ever tried marijuana at 49%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded to date. In 1969, just 4% said they had tried it, with that figure rising to 20% in 1977, 30% in 1985, and 40% in 2015. But the number of people who say they currently "smoke marijuana" is much smaller, staying steady at between 11% and 13% after jumping from the 7% in 2013, the first year Gallup asked the question. Trends in marijuana use are generational, with only 19% of people over 75 having tried it, compared with about half of millennials (51%), Generation Xers (49%) and baby boomers (50%).

Drug Policy

Washington State Governor Unveils New Process to Commute Hundreds of Drug Possession Sentences. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday rolled out a new method for hundreds of people seeking to commute their sentences for low-level drug convictions to do so. The move comes after the state Supreme Court invalidated the state's drug possession law because it did not require people to knowingly possess, leading the state legislature to pass a bill allowing people caught with drugs to be referred to a health evaluation and possible drug treatment for their first two offenses. Now, the governor is pushing expedited clemency for those eligible under the new policy and those currently on probation or paroled for low-level drug possession can directly petition the governor for a commutation.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls for Suspension of International Assistance to Sri Lanka Police over Abuses in War on Drugs, Fight Against COVID. Human Rights Watch has called on international donors and "partners" of the Sri Lankan police to suspend assistance to them because they "are increasingly killing and abusing people under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic measures and an anti-drug campaign." The group cited recent police abuses including alleged extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention. It called on the government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to "restore independent oversight of the police and meaningfully investigate and prosecute alleged police abuses." "Sri Lanka's police seem intent on building on their past record of serious abuses, instead of cleaning up their act," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The UN, UK, and others working with Sri Lankan law enforcement should recognize that without the political will to reform on Sri Lanka’s part, their engagement risks appearing to endorse abusive agencies." Human Rights Watch noted two cases in May where men in arrested on drug charges were fatally shot while in police custody. It also noted that the Sri Lankan government placed the police and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board under the Defense Ministry last year. The police crackdown on drugs has allegedly involved planting drugs on suspects, torture, and other ill-treatment in police custody or at "rehabilitation" centers run by the Army. A new report from Harm Reduction International  found that "treatment" at those centers includes near-daily beatings and other physical abuses amounting to torture.

White House Considering Clemency for Federal Drug Offenders, WY Marijuana Initiatives Advance, More... (8/13/21)

A major drug crackdown in India's Assam state is raising fears of another bloody drug war like the one in neighboring Bangladesh, Wyoming marijuana inititives pass a first hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Marijuana Initiatives Pass First Hurdle. The secretary of state has certified the first one hundred signatures for two marijuana-related marijuana initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one for recreational legalization. That certification means that the initiatives are now clearly for broader signature gathering to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. To qualify, petitioners must gather 41,776 valid voter signatures before February 14, 2022.

Criminal Justice

White House Says Biden Exploring Clemency for Federal Drug Offenders. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden is looking into using his executive authority to grant clemency to people with certain non-violent drug convictions. Her comments came in response to a question about plans for federal inmates who had been released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic. The administration is "working hard every day to reform our justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy, give people a chance at a better future," Psaki responded. "As part of this, the president is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are incarcerated—too many are black and brown. And he is therefore exploring multiple avenues to provide relief to certain nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power."

International

India's Assam State Launches War on Drugs. The northeastern Indian state of Assam has for years served as the primary transit corridor for drugs from neighboring Myanmar, particularly methamphetamine, and now the state government has launched a major crackdown, seizing record amounts of drugs and arresting more than 2,000 people since May, more than full-year totals for any previous year. Assam connects the northeast to the rest of India, and experts estimate that 80% of the drugs flowing into the state end up in the rest of the country. The crackdown comes after an ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Himanta Biswa Sarma, became the state's chief minister in May, saying he was giving police a free hand to suppress drugs, including shooting suspects when necessary. So far only two people have been killed in police raids. Some experts fear Assam could descend into drug war violence like that which has occurred in neighboring Bangladesh, where methamphetamine use is rife, and police have have killed hundreds of suspected drug dealers since 2018.

US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

Drug distributors agree to pay out big-time for their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Two different efforts to get an initiative before the voters last year were quashed by the state Supreme Court, and the Republican-led state legislature this year passed a bill making it more difficult to finance initiatives, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. Translating public support into marijuana reform is going to be more difficult than ever now.

Opioids

Major Drug Distributors Reach Agreement on $26 Billion Opioid Settlement. The three largest US pharmaceutical drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have reached an agreement with a group of state attorneys general to pay out $26 billion to settle lawsuits related to their roles in the widespread prescribing of prescription opioids and the subsequent wave of addiction and overdose deaths. "The numerous companies that manufactured and distributed opioids across the nation did so without regard to life or even the national crisis they were helping to fuel," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys general from 15 states involved in the deal. "Today, we are holding these companies accountable and infusing tens of billions of dollars into communities across the nation." Responding to that wave of addiction and overdoses, the states and the federal government have moved to restrict opioid prescribing, even though chronic pain patients have found their access to their medications more difficult.

Sentencing

US Correctional Population Drops for 12th Straight Year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2019, the number of people in the US in jail or prison or on probation or parole was 6,344,000, down 65,200, or 1%, over the previous year and marking the 12th year in a row that that figure has declined. At the end of 2019, 4,357,700 people were under community supervision (probation or parole), while there were 2,086,000 people behind bars in jails or prisons. The BJS report did not discuss the types of offenses for which people were under correctional supervision, but a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative report found 190,000 doing time for drug offenses in state prisons, 157,000 in local jails, and 78,000 in the federal prison system, meaning drug prisoners account for about one-fifth of the US incarcerated population.

Justice Department Drops Appeal of First Step Act Releases. The Justice Department has dropped an effort to re-imprison four New Jersey men who were released from prison under the First Step Act's retroactive crack cocaine sentencing provision. The men had been released in November 2019 after serving more than 20 years on crack charges, but the Trump Justice Department then sought to send them back to prison. The Biden Justice Department had been under pressure from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which applauded the decision, saying: "We raised this case among others with the Biden transition team as an appeal that should be dropped right away. It would have been cruel and unjust it would be to send these guys back."

ME Senate Defeats Drug Decrim Bill, House Approves Marijuana Research Language, More... (7/1/21)

Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota, Austin activists roll out a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative, and more.

You can expect to see these continue in Maine after the Senate defeated drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Let Researchers Access Marijuana from State-Legal Dispensaries. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus transportation bill that also includes language allowing researchers to get marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to study impaired driving. The measure would mandate a federal report with recommendations for creating a national clearinghouse with different marijuana samples for researchers from non-legal states. A transportation bill with similar marijuana research language is also moving in the Senate. The passage of the bill would be especially significant given the federal government's long history of stymying medical research through its historic monopoly on marijuana for research purposes, which puts medical marijuana in the Catch-22 of not winning FDA approvals becuase there has not been enough research.

Texas Activists Unveil Austin Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative. A new progressive group, Ground Game Texas, on Wednesday rolled out a campaign to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on the ballot in the state capital, Austin. The city currently handles small-time pot busts by issuing tickets, but the proposed initiative would end both arrests and citations, as well as barring citations for paraphernalia or residues. "Marijuana reform is a winning issue and local efforts will drive voter engagement. State lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- failed us during the legislative session," said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "Maybe this level of political pressure will get their attention and bring them on board with meaningful reform statewide." To get on the November ballot, advocates will need 20,000 valid voter signatures by July 20.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

Drug Policy

Maine Senate Votes Down Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Senate on Wednesday voted to kill a drug decriminalization bill, LD 967. The bill was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) and by both some Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who argued that arresting and prosecuting drug users can help them get into treatment and stay straight. The bill had already passed the House amidst a drug overdose epidemic that saw deaths at a record rate in 2020 and early this year. "The Senate had an opportunity to provide people with desperately needed relief, and it failed," said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. "We need to change our drug laws if we want to save lives. LD 967 would have saved the state money and reinvested resources from the criminal system into access to recovery services. People need treatment and support to enter sustained recovery, not arrest and a criminal record."

Federal Appeals Court Taps the Brakes on Drug Induced Homicide Prosecutions of Drug Users [FEATURE]

A woman who bought heroin with a pair of friends, one of whom shortly afterward suffered a fatal overdose on the drug, is not a murderer, at least according to the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. That was the June 1 ruling in US v. Semler, a case that may not set binding precedent, but does send a signal to the prosecutors and the judiciary that the federal courts do not want to see a federal law aimed at so-called drug kingpins applied to mere drug users.

As described in the decision, the case began when two heroin-addicted Philadelphia women, Emma Semler and her old drug rehab buddy Jennifer Werstler, went to score heroin together at Wertsler's request. They were joined by Semler's sister Sarah, who drove them to the West Philadelphia locale where they bought their heroin. It is unclear who actually purchased and then shared the heroin. The trio then shot up in the restroom of a nearby KFC restaurant. Werstler began to show signs of overdosing, and the Semler sisters "attempted to revive Werstler by splashing cold water on her, then left the bathroom and called their mother for a ride home. They did not call 911 or alert anyone to Werstler's condition."

Werstler was later discovered by a KFC employee, who called 911, but EMTs arrived too late to save her and she was pronounced dead. Her official cause of death was "adverse reaction to heroin."

Semler was then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with "distribution of heroin resulting in death," punishable by a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. As an added bonus, she was also charged with doing so within 1,000 feet of a school, as well as aiding and abetting on both counts. She was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Semler appealed, arguing that friends sharing jointly procured drugs did not qualify as drug distribution and that the district court had erred in refusing to allow a jury instruction to that effect, as well as erring in failing to instruct the jury that there had to be a "proximate cause" for it to convict.

Scott Burris, JD, is a professor of both law and public health at Temple University and directs Temple's Center for Public Health Law Research. He is also Semler's appellate counsel and coauthor of an amicus curiae brief supporting Semler, which nicely laid out the issues at play.

"This case presents the Court with an opportunity to determine the proper scope of the Drug Distribution Resulting in Death (DDRD) sentencing enhancement provision," the abstract explains. "The provision, its parent statute, and the totality of modern federal law and policy to stem the overdose crisis are intended to target major drug traffickers. Research suggests that DDRD prosecutions routinely pervert this intent, indiscriminately deploying DDRD and similar provisions to target end consumers of illicit drugs affected by addiction. Rather than deterring drug trafficking, such prosecutions deter help-seeking during overdose events and interfere with overdose prevention measures. This cuts at cross purposes to overdose crisis response, leading to more, not fewer deaths."

The 3rd District Court of Appeals agreed, vacating Semler's conviction and sending her case back for retrial using proper legal instructions for jurors. "We hold that the definition of 'distribute' under the Controlled Substances Act does not cover individuals who jointly and simultaneously acquire the possession of a small amount of a controlled substance solely for their personal use," wrote Judge Jane Richard Roth.

It was a victory, if not a complete exoneration, for Emma Semler and any other drug user federal prosecutors in the 3rd Circuit might have been thinking about charging under that statute. Hopefully it also serves as a distant early warning signal for states that have passed drug induced homicide laws, as well as for state-level prosecutors, who are zealously embracing them to convict low-level drug users as murderers.

The Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law reported that the number of states with such laws jumped from 15 to 25 in from 2009 to 2019, while the number of drug induced homicide prosecutions hovered at near zero from the 1970s until the early 2000s. Then, as overdose deaths jumped, so did prosecutions, rising to 100 per year by 2011 before skyrocketing to nearly 700 per year by 2018.

In a 2019 Utah Law Review article, Northeastern law professor and faculty director of the Health in Justice Action lab faculty adviser Leo Beletsky found while the laws are ostensibly aimed at drug dealers, "half of those charged with drug induced homicide were not, in fact, 'dealers' in the traditional sense, but friends and relatives of the deceased." He also found that in cases that involved a traditional "drug dealer," half of those prosecuted were black or brown people who sold drugs to whites -- a fact he noted does not fit the demographics of the United States or of drug dealers.

"In view of that context," he wrote, "these findings suggest that drug-induced homicide charges are being selectively and disproportionately deployed to target people of color. This disparate application can further reinforce already dire racial disparities, particularly in the enforcement of drug laws and the length of sentencing for drug-related crimes."

And, as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) pointed out in its 2017 report, An Overdose Death is Not a Murder: Why Drug Induced Homicide Laws Are Ineffective and Inhumane, those laws don't work to reduce overdoses: "Prosecutors and legislators who champion renewed drug induced homicide enforcement couch the use of this punitive measure, either naively or disingenuously, as necessary to curb increasing rates of drug overdose deaths. But there is not a shred of evidence that these laws are effective at reducing overdose fatalities. In fact, death tolls continue to climb across the country, even in the states and counties most aggressively prosecuting drug-induced homicide cases."

"The Semler case is one more example of how the Drug War has warped our legal system and led to mass incarceration," DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner told the Chronicle in an email exchange. "Prosecutors twisted the law to criminalize this young woman and subject her to a more than 20-year sentence after several friends bought drugs to use together and one suffered a tragic fatal overdose. Urging the jury to convict one of them of drug distribution when each of these users were suffering from substance use disorder and using together was not only overreaching, it highlights the arbitrary nature of our drug laws."

It is also counterproductive, he added: "This prosecution and those like it do nothing to make people safer, but instead put people in greater danger. By elevating the threat of prosecution, they make it less likely that people close to an overdose victim will call for help," he pointed out.

"Thankfully in this case the Court of Appeals rejected the prosecution's overbroad definition of distribution, but what's clear is that we need an entirely new approach," said DPA's Gardner. "Instead of the failed War on Drugs, we need to stop turning to the criminal legal system and spending billions on these ineffective policing strategies. Instead we need better approaches -- such as investments in drug checking, overdose prevention centers, and expanded access to naloxone -- to protect those who are experiencing addiction and are at the greatest risk."

"The court seemed sympathetic to the view that criminal law is not the best way to get at substance use disorder and the behavior of people coping with it," Burris told the Chronicle in an email exchange.

The appeals court labeled its decision as non-precedential, meaning it is not binding on federal district courts in its region, but it still may have a broader impact in the federal courts, Burris explained.

"I think her lawyers are going to ask the court to reconsider that," he said. "It is at least what we call 'persuasive authority' in that its reasoning may be adopted voluntarily by other courts."

As for impact on state and local prosecutions, not so much, he added.

"It has no impact other than as persuasive authority," Burris said. "The state attorney general and local district attorneys pursuing these cases seem to think they are sensible and just, and they are hard to shake," he confessed.

"The overdose crisis is just one symptom of the fundamental disease of inequality and inequity in our country," was Burris's bottom line. "Getting at that root cause requires a sea change in policy such that government at all levels -- and the people who elect the government -- commit to ensuring the basics of decent life to everyone: good work, good housing, good education, good transportation, and a place of respect in the community. In this the 'deaths of despair' idea seems to be to get the problem just right. Of course, short of that, there are many things to do: stop criminalizing drug use; create safe injection sites everywhere they are needed; eliminate regulations that make methadone and buprenorphine harder to get than the drugs whose use they are meant to reduce."

White House Supports Bill Ending Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Mexico Marijuana Mess, More... (6/22/21)

A New York City DA drops thousands of pending marijuana cases, an Ohio's judge's courtroom temper tantrum will get him off the bench for a year, and more.

There's a move underway in Congress to finally do away with the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Sees More Than 3,000 Marijuana Cases Dismissed by Queens DA. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz moved to dismiss some 3,255 pending marijuana cases, citing the "disproportionate impact" of marijuana enforcement on people of color, and a judge immediately granted the motion. The move comes after the state legalized marijuana earlier this year and is in line with similar decisions in district attorney's office across the state. Since legalization, New Yorkers have been able to possess up to three ounces. All of the cases dismissed were for possession of less than three ounces.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Faces Justice for Jailing Courtroom Attendee for Refusing to Take Drug Test. Seneca County District Court Judge Mark Repp is facing a year-long suspension from the bench after Repp called the girlfriend of a defendant who was observing his case "a drug addict," ordered her to take a drug test, and then jailed her when she refused. Repp ordered the woman, who had no criminal record, jailed for 10 days, but she was released the following day when prosecutors declined to file any charge against her. She and her attorney complained to the state Board of Professional Conduct, which recommended the one-year suspension. Repp has now waived his objections to the findings and is set to be suspended. A possible civil lawsuit is pending, but the US Supreme Court has ruled in the past that judges are immune from lawsuits if they are acting in an official capacity within the courtroom.

Sentencing

Biden Administration Endorses Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), said the Biden administration supported passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act, or Equal Act, S, 79. Sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill would end the disparity between sentences in federal crack and powder cocaine cases. Biden helped create that disparity decades ago, has been ready to end it since at least 2008, when he sponsored the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Act of 2008 (S.1711). "The current disparity is not based on evidence, yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families and communities of color," LaBelle testified. "The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end. Therefore, the administration urges the swift passage of the ‘Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act.’" Biden championed a 100:1 disparity in a 1986 anti-drug bill, but that disparity was reduced to 18:1 in 2010. 

International

Mexico Supreme Court Moves to End Marijuana Prohibition After Lawmakers Fail to Act. After the Mexican congress has missed repeated Supreme Court-imposed deadlines to end marijuana prohibition, the high court is moving toward ending it on its own. Court member Norma Lucia Pina Hernandez has filed a general declaration of unconstitutionality on the country's marijuana laws, and the whole court is expected to take up the issue this week. The court deemed marijuana prohibition unconstitutional in 2018 and ordered the congress to legalize marijuana, but the congress has been slowed by political infighting and the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, if the politicians continue to fail to get it done, the court is hinting it will just nullify the law.

FL Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Pot Initiative, ME Legislature Passes Drug Trafficking Reform Bill, More... (6/21/21)

Possession of more than two grams of heroin or fentanyl would no longer be considered prima facie evidence of drug trafficking in Maine after the legislature passes a reform bill, the Decriminalize Nature movement gets a Vermont chapter, and more.

Maine lawmakers move to rein in the state's harsh drug trafficking law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative; Only One Remains Alive. The state Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Sensible Florida, the second time it has blocked a proposed 2022 initiative. The court held the initiative's ballot language was misleading because it said recreational use would be limited, but the actual language would allow for state and local governments to remove those restrictions. The state's Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, petitioned the court to block the initiative. An earlier initiative was struck own because it failed to mention marijuana would remain illegal under federal law. A third initiative, from Floridians for Freedom, remains alive. It includes language about marijuana remaining federally illegal and it is very short, leaving less room for the Supreme Court to rule it deceives voters. It needs a million valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Drug Policy

Maine Bill to Restrict Drug Trafficking Law Passes Legislature. A bill that would amend the state's harsh drug trafficking law to require that the state actually prove drug trafficking instead of charging a person with trafficking for merely possessing an amount of drugs above a certain limit, LD 1675, won final floor votes in the House and Senate last Friday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D) . Current law makes possession of more than two grams or 90 wraps of heroin or fentanyl evidence of drug trafficking. The bill would also end the 3.5-to-1 state sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Psychedelics

Vermont Decriminalize Nature Chapter Forms Amid Push to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. As the state legislature ponders a bill to decriminalize natural entheogens, House Bill 309, psychedelics advocates have formed a state chapter of the nationwide group Decriminalize Nature to help prod lawmakers to act. And they need the prodding: The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee since it was filed in February. "People are all about nature in Vermont and healing with beautiful nature," Decriminalize Vermont leader Carly Nix said. "And also, I already believe that people should be able to grow their own cannabis and heal with cannabis so this seems like a pretty natural next step."

International

Mexican Border Town of Reynosa Sees 14—Or is it 18?—People Killed by Presumed Cartel Gunmen. Gunmen in SUVs ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead. The likely perpetrators were warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, which has long dominated drug trafficking in Reynosa but has recently been riven by splits. The last two years have been the bloodiest yet in Mexico's drug war, with more than 34,000 people being killed in both 2019 and 2020, and the toll this year shows no signs of slowing. By contrast, when Mexico's prohibition-related violence earned sustained international attention during the 2012 presidential election year in the US and Mexico, the death toll was around 15,000. It has steadily increased ever since.

Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed, LA Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, More... (6/15/21)

An historic federal drug decriminalization bill is filed, the AMA speaks out for better drug treatment access in jails and prisons, and more.

You'll no longer go to jail for this in Louisiana--at least the first time you get caught. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill into Law. Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana, making a first offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine. Subsequent offenses could, though, earn jail time.

Rhode Island Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill advanced by Senate leadership. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) and House members have each also sponsored competing legalization bills.  

Drug Policy

Historic Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) unveiled the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decriminalization. The bill would do away with federal criminal penalties for drug possession, a huge step away from drug war orthodoxy.In line with shifting from a law enforcement approach to drug use to a public health approach, the bill significantly would move regulation over drugs from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill also features a number of other provisions, from expunging past records and allowing currently serving inmates to seek resentencing to removing many of the collateral consequences of a drug possession conviction, such as the loss of voting rights and employment opportunities, the denial of public benefits such as food stamps, and deportation for non-citizens.

Drug Treatment

AMA Calls for Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Prisons and Jails. Physicians, residents, and medical students adopted policy during the first day of the Special Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates strengthening the efforts to increase access to evidence-based medical treatment for justice-involved individuals. Specifically, the policy expands and updates the AMA’s longstanding recommendations to require medication treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) as the standard of care for patients in jail and prison settings, including patients who are pregnant, postpartum, or parenting. The updated policy also reiterates the need for screening upon entry and post-incarceration treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

National Poll Find Majority Supports Drug Decrim, CT Legal Pot Bill Delayed, More... (6/9/21)

Connecticut's marijuana legalization bill gets bumped to a special session later this month, Washington state marijuana regulators allow pot shops to hand out free joints to people who get vaccinated in-store, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Delayed to Special Session. Facing threats of a filibuster from Republican House members on the last day of the regular session, House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said he was delaying a planned vote on Senate Bill 1118 and would take up the topic during a special session later this month. That means the bill, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, will technically die at midnight tonight and will have to pass both chambers during the special session.

Washington State Regulators Okay Joints for Jabs. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board announced Monday it will allow licensed dispensaries to provide a free joint to customers who get vaccinated at in-store clinics. "Participating cannabis retailers may only provide a pre-roll joint, and no other product may be provided as part of this allowance," the board said. The temporary allowance will expire on July 12.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Patient Sues Former Employer for Firing Him for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use. A medical marijuana patient, Jamal Campbell, is suing his former employer, Watco Companies and Watco Transloading LLC, in federal court for firing him for using doctor-recommended medical marijuana to treat an injury he got at work. Campbell says the state's medical marijuana law should protect him. The state's top court ruled last year that employers cannot fire medical marijuana patients for marijuana use as long as they don't use it at work.

Pennsylvania Court Okays Unemployment Claim After Medical Marijuana Firing. A state appeals court ruled Tuesday that a warehouse worker fired from his job testing positive for marijuana is entitled to unemployment benefits because his employer was aware he was a medical marijuana patient. With its ruling, the court upheld an earlier decision by the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Governor Signs Therapeutic Psilocybin Study Bill. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill1083, which includes a provision mandating that the state carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms. "Such study shall include, but need not be limited to, an examination of whether the use of psilocybin by a person under the direction of a health care provider may be beneficial to the person's physical or mental wellbeing," the text of the measure states.

Drug Policy

On 50th Anniversary of "War on Drugs," New Poll Shows Majority of Voters Support Ending Criminal Penalties for Drug Possession, Think Drug War is a Failure. Wednesday, ahead of the 50th anniversary of when President Richard Nixon declared the "war on drugs," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a Bully Pulpit Interactive (BPI) poll showing strong support for eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and replacing it with a new approach centered in public health. The poll found 66% of voters support "eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and reinvesting drug enforcement resources into treatment and addiction services," 63% say drug use should be addressed as a public health issue while only 33% say it should be addressed as a criminal justice issue, 65% support ending the "War on Drugs," 64% support repealing mandatory minimums for drug offenses, 61% support commuting sentences of drug war prisoners, and a whopping 83% say the "War on Drugs" has failed.

LA House Passes Legal Pot Study Resolution, Peru Coca Zone Massacre, More... (5/25/21)

An Illinois marijuana equity bill heads for a House floor vote, a loosening of medical marijuana regulations during the pandemic may be made permanent in Pennsylvania, the Texas legislature advances bills to reduce penalties for pot concentrates and to study the therapeutic use of psychedelics, and more.

The Shining Path is suspected of massacring villagers in a coca-producing region of Peru. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Marijuana Equity Licensing Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill designed to get more people from drug war-ravaged communities involved in the legal marijuana industry, House Bill 1443, has passed out of the House Rules Committee and is now headed for a House floor vote.

Louisiana House Passes Marijuana Study Resolution. The House on Monday approved House Resolution 1, which directs the House Criminal Justice Committee to conduct a study of the impact of the use and legalization of marijuana. The move comes after efforts to approve legalization stalled in the legislature last week.

Texas Legislature Approves Bill to Lessen Penalties for Marijuana Concentrates. The Senate has approved House Bill 2593, which would reduce the penalty for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana concentrates to a class B misdemeanor. The measure has already passed the House and now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Make Pandemic-Era Lessening of Delivery Restrictions Permanent Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health Committee on Monday approved a proposal to make permanent pandemic-related loosening of the state's medical marijuana rules permanent, House Bill 1024. The state Health Department allowed curbside pickups and the purchase of three-month supplies during the pandemic, and this bill would retain those changes. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Texas Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted Monday to approve House Bill 1535, which would expand the state's medical marijuana program to include all forms of PTSD and cancer, but not chronic pain. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, and if it does, then go back to the House for approval of changes made in the Senate.

Methampheamine

Oregon Bill Would Re-Legalize Over-the-Counter Pseudoephedrine Sales. In 2006, Oregon became the first state to ban OTC sales of cold and allergy remedies because they contain pseudoephedrine and could be used in home meth manufacture. Now, a new bill, House Bill 2648, would end the ban and allow anyone over 18 to buy products containing pseudoephedrine without a prescription, has been filed. It is currently before the Senate Health Care Committee.

Psychedelics

Texas Senate Approves Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill. The Senate has approved House Bill 1802, which would require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA. The bill now goes back to the House for approval of a budget-neutrality amendment passed in the Senate.

International

Peru Coca Zone Massacre Leaves 14 Dead. At least 14 men, women, and children were killed in a massacre in the Ene River Valley, one of the country's most important coca-growing areas. Pamphlets from a Shining Path splinter group were left at the scene, and authorities were pointing the finger at the group. Shining Path, a Maoist-inspired guerrilla group, led a brutal insurgency that left 70,000 dead in the 1980s, but had largely been eliminated since 1992. But remnants remain in the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), where they have morphed into coca and cocaine traffickers.

Philippines Senator Lobbies for Death Penalty for Drug Offenses. Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who once led the Duterte administration's bloody war on drugs, argued that the death penalty for drug offenses should be reinstated Tuesday during a hearing on a bill that aims to toughen the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. He complained that imprisoned Chinese drug lords were still running their businesses from behind bars, saying "the frustration of law enforcement is that had these drug lords been executed, we would not have these problems now." But drug reform advocate Dr. Lee Edson Yarcia pointed out that under the proposed bill, the death penalty is not imposed on top drug lords or syndicates: "This was included in the provision about persons who are in possession of dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings," he noted. The House passed a reform bill last year, but the Senate has yet to file one. This was a preliminary hearing.

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