Sentencing

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MN House Votes to Legalize Marijuana, AZ Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test-Strips Goes to Governor, More... (5/14/21)

A Mississippi appeals court upholds a life sentence for a man busted with 1.5 ounces of marijuana, the Minnesota House votes to legalize marijuana, a South Carolina medical marijuana bill dies, and more.

Allen Russell is doing life without parole in Mississippi for 1.5 ounces of weed.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Protect Marijuana Users from Losing Public Housing Filed. Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) has refiled a bill that would let people who live in federally subsidized housing use marijuana in compliance with state laws without fear of losing their housing. Under current federal law and policy, marijuana users can be evicted from public housing even in states where it is legal. "Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product," Norton said on Thursday. "Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Minnesota House Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The House on Thursday evening approved an omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600. The bill would legalize weed for people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The bill has the support of Gov. Tim Walz (D), but faces dim prospects in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Mississippi Man's Life Sentence for Marijuana Possession Upheld. A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld a life without parole sentence for Allen Russell after he was arrested with 1.5 ounces of marijuana in 2017. His sentence came after he was designated a habitual offender for having previous burglary and firearms possession convictions. The usual sentence for possessing 1.5 ounces of marijuana is up to three years in prison.

Medical Marijuana                                                   

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Initiative After Legislature Blocks Bill. After medical marijuana foes in the legislature filibustered and killed a bill there on Wednesday, activists aren't wasting a minute in relaunching a campaign to put the issue before voters next year. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who led the legislative effort, took to Twitter Thursday to urge supporters to go to a website to volunteer and/or sign the petition.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 150House Bill 3361, has died as the legislative session came to an end Friday. "Quite frankly, I thought this was the year of medical marijuana, which I think has great public support," said Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto. "That will be at the top of the agenda when we come back."

Harm Reduction

Arizona Bill Legalizing Drug-Testing Strips Heads to Governor's Desk. The House has approved a bill that legalizes test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl, SB1486. Under current state law, the strips are considered drug paraphernalia. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

WA Governor Signs Misdemeanor Drug Possession Bill, VT Senate Approves Buprenorphine Bill, More... (5/13/21)

Look for a Nebraska medical marijuana initiative next year after the legislature killed a bill this week, a Pennsylvania poll finds broad support for criminal justice reforms, and more.

The Vermont legislature has approved a bill legalizing the possession of limited amounts of buprenorphine. (Pixabay)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Killed, Setting Stage for New Initiative. A bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana, LB 474, was killed in the legislature Wednesday night. That sets the stage for another drive for a medical marijuana initiative, which is likely to be less restrictive than the bill that just died. The bill died when supporters were unable to go up with enough votes to stop a filibuster by opponents.

Drug Policy

Washington Governor Signs Bill Making Drug Possession a Misdemeanor. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 5476, which makes the possession of personal use amounts of drugs a misdemeanor, not a felony. The bill came after the state Supreme Court threw out the state's felony drug possession law earlier this year, and the legislature grappled with whether to do nothing and effectively decriminalize drug possession or act to ensure drug possession remained a criminal offense, even if not a felony.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Approves Bill to Legalize Buprenorphine Possession. The state Senate on Wednesday voted to approve a bill legalizing the possession of limited amounts of the opioid maintenance drug buprenorphine, House Bill 225. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It would allow people to possess up to 224 milligrams of the drug, enough for a two week supply, without a doctor's prescription.

Law Enforcement

House Democrats File Bill to End Pentagon Shipments of Excess Equipment to Police Departments. Eighteen House Democrats led by Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) filed a bill Thursday to end the program that lets the Pentagon ship surplus equipment to local police departments. At the same time, more than 150 organizations signed on to a letter to lawmakers backing the bill. "The 1033 program has contributed to a military-style police culture and has endangered countless lives, particularly in communities of color," the 155 organizations wrote in the letter. "It is our assessment that the 1033 program is irreparable and should be abolished, especially in light of the fact that past attempts to reform the program were ineffective."

Pennsylvania Voters Support Criminal Justice Reforms, Poll Finds. A a new poll from Data for Progress and The Lab finds broad support for criminal justice reforms in the state. Voters approved of sentence reductions for good behavior in prison (75%), ending probation when supervision is no longer necessary (68%), limiting the use of cash bail (64%), and decriminalizing drug possession (60%).

Supreme Court Hears Crack Sentencing Case, Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps, More... (5/5/21)

An Alabama medical marijuana bill struggles to get past final obstacles, a watered-down Tennessee medical marijuana bill is moving, a Swiss parliamentary committee votes to legalize marijuana, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow and grow and grow as cultivation jumped dramatically last year. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama House Republicans Filibuster Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill. House Republicans blocked a vote on a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, by tying the chamber up in a nine-hour debate Tuesday afternoon and evening. Now, the House may try to get it passed again on Thursday.

Tennessee Legislature Moving on Watered Down Medical Marijuana Bill. After a medical marijuana bill was narrowly defeated in the House last month, legislators have now approved a watered down version of House Bill 607 that would allow only for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and create a commission to study legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bill Lee (R) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Case. The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Tarahrick Terry, who is seeking to get his sentence cut by citing a provision in the First Step Act, passed by Congress in 2018. The act was aimed at redressing racial inequities around crack versus powder cocaine sentencing and made the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity, retroactive. But justices appeared skeptical that the law applied to low-level offenders such as Terry. He had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute less than four grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 15 ½ years in 2008. Higher-level crack offenses are already covered by the First Step Act, and more than 2,500 people have already been released under its provisions, but hundreds of lower-level crack offenders remain behind bars, hoping for some relief from the Supreme Court.

International

UN Reports Afghan Opium Cultivation Leaped Last Year. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's largest producer, jumped a whopping 37% last year to more than 500,000 acres of poppies planted, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan government reported Tuesday. The study estimated the crop could produce about 6,300 tons of opium, one of the largest figures in the past quarter-century. Helmand province in the southwest appears to be the poppy heartland, accounting for more than half of all poppy plantings.

Swiss Parliamentary Committee Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Health Commission of the National Council, the country's lower legislative chamber, voted 13-11 last week to federally legalize marijuana for adults. The measure calls for expanding a current pilot program that allows legal access for some 5,000 registered participants to the entire adult population. If the proposal is fully approved by the National Council, it would move next to the Council of States, the upper body of Switzerland’s Federal Assembly. Marijuana has been decriminalized there since 2012.

White House Staffers Hold Virtual Meeting with Ex-Incarcerated, Mexico Cartel Drone Attacks, More... (5/3/21)

A drug decriminalization bill is winning support in Maine, so is a buprenorphine legalization bill in Vermont, and more.

White House staffers held a virtual meeting with formerly incarcerated people to talk policy last Friday. (Whitehouse.gov)
Drug Policy

Maine Drug Decriminalization Bill Garners Support at Committee Hearing. A bill that decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs, LD 967, won support from medical and religious groups during a hearing before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last Thursday. Testifying in support of the bill were the Maine Medical Association and a coalition of religious groups. The bill would make drug possession a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. The fine could be avoided if people submit to an "evidence-based assessment for proposed treatment for substance use disorder." No vote was taken in committee, but the testimony suggested strong support for the move.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Committee Poised to Pass Buprenorphine Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health Committee heard testimony largely in support of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The bill, House Bill 225 , has already passed the House. The Judiciary Committee didn’t vote on the bill because it is currently before the House Rules Committee, but they did express unanimous support for it and expected to approve it once it reaches the committee. The Health Committee must also approve it before it goes for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

White House Officials Meet Virtually with Formerly Incarcerated Criminal Justice Reform Advocates. White House officials met virtually last Friday with a group of former drug war and other prisoners to listen to ideas about how to change criminal justice policies to advance prison and sentencing reform. Domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, public engagement director Cedric Richmond, and White House counsel Dana Remus heard recommendations on how "to reduce incarceration, end racial disparities, and facilitate successful reentry," they said in a White House readout of the event. The trio heard from 10 differerent advocacy groups, including Forward Justice and JustLeadershipUSA.

International

Mexican Drug Cartels Are Attacking Security Forces with Explosive-Laden Drones, Defense Minister Says. Mexican Defense Minister Luis Sandoval said last Wednesday that drug cartels are employing bomb-carrying drones to attack security forces. "We have found that there are some cartels using drones with explosives," the general said during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily news conference. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is among those using the drones, Sandoval said, pointing to an attack last Monday in Aguilla, Michoacan, where police clearing roads that had been blocked by cartel members came under attack, leaving two wounded. But the drones are big enough to carry more lethal loads, Sandoval said. "They cannot carry amounts (of explosives) that are harmful to personnel or to a facility," Sandoval said.

WA to Make Drug Possession a Misdemeanor, FL Supreme Court Throws Out Legal Pot Initiative, More... (4/26/21)

The Philadelphia City Council votes to bar most pre-employment drug testing for marijuana, leading Democratic senators call on the attorney general to undo a Trump-era ruling that federal prisoners freed because of the pandemic must return to prison once it ends, and more.

Prisons in Washington could be a bit emptier once the state makes drug possession a misdemeanor. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out a proposed voter initiative constitutional amendment, holding that the measure's ballot summary was misleading because it says it "permits" the possession, production, and sale of marijuana when marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The state's Republican attorney general challenged the initiative on those grounds last year and the state's all Republican-appointed court justices agreed. Now, its back to the drawing board for legalization supporters in the state.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Prohibit Pre-Employment Drug Screening for Cannabis. The city council voted overwhelmingly to approve a municipal ordinance, Bill No. 200625, that "prohibits employers from requiring prospective employees to undergo testing for the presence of marijuana as a condition of employment, under certain terms and conditions." Some safety-sensitive positions, such as police officers or those who supervise children or medical patients will be exempted, as well drug testing mandated under federal law. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Drug Policy

Washington Legislature Passes Bill to Make Drug Possession a Simple Misdemeanor. The legislature on Saturday gave final approval to a bill designed to overhaul the state's drug sentencing scheme after the state Supreme Court in February threw out the state's felony drug possession law. The bill, Senate Bill 5476, passed the Senate with language making drug possession a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, but the House amended it to make possession a simple misdemeanor punishable by only up to 90 days in jail. The House also amended the bill so that it expires in two years, leaving the state with no drug possession law unless the legislature acts again.

Incarceration

Leading Democratic Senators Call on Attorney General to Rescind Trump-Era Ruling That Federal Prisoners Released Because of Pandemic Must Return to Prison When Pandemic Ends. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, last Friday sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that he rescind the Office of Legal Counsel's January 15, 2021, memorandum opinion entitled "Home Confinement of Federal Prisoners After the COVID-19 Emergency" (OLC opinion). In their letter, Durbin and Booker write that the OLC opinion, issued during the Trump Administration, incorrectly finds that following the emergency period of the pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) must recall federal inmates released to home confinement pursuant to the CARES Act and require these inmates to complete their sentences at BOP facilities. In fact, the CARES Act neither requires nor permits BOP to recall these prisoners, according to the letter.

VA Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law, IL House Approves Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (4/22/21)

A Lebanese hash field. Other farmers are now turning to hash to survive. (Cannabisculture.com)
The House votes to temporarily keep fentanyl analogues in Schedule I, the Minnesota pot legalization bill wins an eighth (!) committee vote, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Eighth House Committee Vote. A bill to legalize marijuana, House File 600, won its eighth committee vote Thursday, advancing out of the House Education Finance Committee on an 8-6 vote. It still has at least one more committee to clear before heading for a House Floor vote. It now goes to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

North Carolina Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Four House members have filed a bill to legalize marijuana, House Bill 617. "We all know someone or have a constituent that has contacted House Member's offices for help with a relative or friend being jailed for possession of small amounts of marijuana," Rep. Pricey Harrison said. "We took great care in writing this bill to include items to encourage bipartisan support. This bill will ensure appropriate guidelines and restrictions." The bill includes a provision allowing up to 12 plants for personal cultivation.

Virginia Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law. Marijuana will become legal on July1 after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the bill into law. People will be allowed to possess up an ounce of pot and can grow up to four plants at home. Legal sales will follow once rules and regulations are established.

Birmingham, Alabama, to Issue Blanket Pardons for 15,000 Marijuana Convictions. Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Tuesday that the city will issue blanket pardons for some 15,000 people with misdemeanor pot convictions dating back to 1990. The pardons will be automatic, he said, adding that the move would help people rejoin the work force.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 12-1 Thursday to advance House Bill 391, which would allow medical marijuana patients to smoke their medicine. Louisiana's dispensaries sell medical marijuana in liquids, topical applications, inhalers and edible gummies. But they are barred from offering raw marijuana in smokable form. The proposal heads next to the full House for debate and a vote.

Drug Policy

House Votes to Approve Temporarily Keeping Fentanyl Analogues in Schedule I. With a voice vote, the House on Wednesday approved an extension of an emergency designation that places fentanyl-like substances in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The emergency designation is set to expire May 6. In both the House and Senate, there are various bills extend the scheduling of fentanyl analogues for varying lengths of time. This vote gives legislators some time to reach a more permanent agreement. Organizations have criticized the designation as effectively extending the use of mandatory minimum sentencing -- which President Biden has said should be abolished -- and circumventing the science-based process intended to be used in drug scheduling.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Bill to Ban "Drug Masking" to Defeat Drug Tests. The state Senate on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 134, which would criminalize using someone else's urine or taking a pill or vitamin to mask the presence of drugs in one's system. The bill makes the offense a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Sentencing

Illinois House Approves Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors, House Bill 3447. "This approach not only strengthens communities across Illinois but addresses fundamental problems in our criminal legal system, rejecting decades of failed policy under the moniker of the War on Drugs," said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director with the ACLU of Illinois. "We know that taking a proven public health approach to reducing harms associated with drug use will benefit everyone in the State of Illinois."

International

Lebanese Farmers Turn to Hash Amidst Economic Crisis. Buffeted not only by the coronavirus pandemic but also by the country's deep economic crisis, farmers who for years grew potatoes and other crops are now turning to hashish. "It's not for the love of hashish", explained one farmer. "It's just less expensive than other crops... and allows you to live with dignity."

House Passes SAFE Banking Act, NJ AG Says No Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Crimes, More... (4/20/21)

Dallas police will no longer arrest people possessing small amounts of pot, a North Carolina bill seeks to restrict needle exchange programs, and hemp is now legal in all 50 states.

(Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Marijuana Banking Bill (Again). The House on Tuesday approved the SAFE Banking Act (House Resolution 1996), which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to access banking and other financial services. The House also passed the bill last session, but it went nowhere in the then Republican-led Senate.

Alabama Democratic Party Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party announced Tuesday that it supports the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana in the state. "Nearly 100 years of marijuana prohibition and criminalization has trapped thousands of Alabamians, mostly Black, in our broken criminal justice system," said state Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa). "Reforming policy surrounding cannabis not only serves our state in producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, but is an important step in reducing arrests and expunging records. Nobody should be sitting in jail for carrying a little bit of weed."

Dallas Cops Will Finally Stop Charging People for Small Amounts of Pot. Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia has ordered his officers to stop charging people found with small amounts of marijuana. Garcia revealed the policy change in a memo to the City Council last Friday. Under the new policy, people will be arrested only if they possess more than two ounces or if there is evidence of sales. Those caught with between two and four ounces will be ticketed, but not jailed.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Lawsuit Challenges Governor's Delay in Seeking Federal Exemption for Medical Marijuana. Veteran activist Carlo Olsen has filed a lawsuit against Governor Kim Reynolds (R) after she has failed to move forward with an effort to win an exemption from federal drug laws. The legislature passed and Reynolds signed a bill to do that last year but has failed to act. The lawsuit is an attempt to prod her to move on it.

Hemp

With Idaho Governor's Signature on Hemp Bill, Hemp is Now Legal in All 50 States. Gov. Brad Little (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 126, which legalizes industrial hemp production in the state. Idaho was the last state to legalize hemp after it was federally legalized in 2018.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina NIMBY Bill Would Hamper Needle Exchanges. Spurred by an Asheville neighborhood group that has tried for years to put restrictions on an Asheville needle exchange program, friendly lawmakers have filed Senate Bill 607, which would ban mobile needle exchanges and require engraved needles, background checks, and forced drug treatment. The bill is currently before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Sentencing

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Mandatory Minimum Prosecutions in Noviiolent Drug Cases. Calling mandatory minimum sentencing "outdated policy," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive Monday telling prosecutors not to seek such sentences in nonviolent drug cases. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy applauded the new directive in a statement. The policy change means that mandatory minimums are "off the table" in current and future nonviolent drug cases. It also allows people currently serving mandatory minimums for such offenses to seek early release.

MedMJ for Vets Bill in Congress, Pfizer Donating One Million Naloxone Doses, More... (4/16/21)

A medical marijuana bill moves in Tennessee, Idaho lawmakers defeat an anti-drug legalization constitutional amendment, and more.

the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (gov.pa)
Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Military Vets Filed in Congress. A bill that would federally legalize medical marijuana for veterans was refiled in Congress Thursday. Reps. Barbara lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and nine other original cosponsors filed the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act on the House side, while in the Senate, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he's joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The bill would allow vets in states with legal medical marijuana programs to use it with a physician's recommendation, and it would allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs to make such recommendations.

Idaho House Kills Bill That Would Have Blocked Medical Marijuana. The House on Thursday defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have blocked the state from ever legalizing any illicit drug by requiring a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to do so. House Joint Resolution 4 failed after a half-dozen House Republicans voted against it saying Idahoans want medical marijuana.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana, Senate Bill 667, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and now heads for the Senate Calendar Committee. Companion legislation, House Bill 880, is also moving, having passed out of one House Health subcommittee and scheduled for a House Health Committee vote net week.

Harm Reduction

Pfizer to Donate One Million Doses of Naloxone in a Bid to Blunt Overdose Deaths. Responding to a record number of drug overdose deaths in the United States, Pfizer has made a commitment to Direct Relief to donate 1 million doses of the drug naloxone, which saves lives by reversing opioid overdoses.The newly committed 1 million doses are in addition to the more than 1 million doses Pfizer has donated since 2017, which Direct Relief has distributed at no cost to nonprofit, community-based organizations across the United States. Deaths and emergency room visits from opioid overdoses have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 87,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in September 2020 -- the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

Drug Policy

Washington Senate Approves Bill to Make Drug Possession a Misdemeanor. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 5476, which would make drug possession a misdemeanor. The bill comes after the state Supreme Court threw out the state's felony drug possession law, leaving drug possession decriminalized. Some legislators argued for decriminalizing drug possession; others argued for refelonizing it but making it a misdemeanor is what the Senate passed.

International

Canada Opposition MP Files Drug Decriminalization Bill. New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Don Davies, who also serves as the party's health critic, has filed a private member's bill to remove provisions criminalizing drug possession from the Criminal Code. "Decades of criminalization, a toxic illicit street supply and a lack of timely access to harm reduction, treatment and recovery services have caused this ongoing catastrophe. It's time to treat substance use and addiction as the health issues they truly are," he said at a news conference. A Liberal bill to reform drug laws filed in February doesn't go far enough, Davies said.

Biden's Drug Policy Priorities Are a Small Step in the Right Direction, But Old Attitudes Linger [FEATURE]

On April 1, the Biden administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. The result is a definite mixed bag: a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, along with an acknowledgement of harm reduction and a nod in the direction of racially-sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And nothing about the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The word "marijuana" appears not once in the heavily annotated 11-page document, and the word "cannabis" only once, in the title of an academic research paper about the onset of teen drug use in the footnotes. That's perhaps not so surprising, given that, in response to a reporter's question, Vice President Harris said last week the administration was too busy dealing with other crises to worry about making good its campaign pledges about marijuana reform.

What is on the administration's mind is "the overdose and addiction crisis." Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says "addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for [the] administration." But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that "President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead." (Underlying that seemingly humane approach is the errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts in need of treatment when, depending on the drug, only between one in five and one in 10 drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.)

Here are the Biden administration's drug policy priorities, all of which are gone into in detail in the statement:

  • Expanding access to evidence-based treatment;
  • Advancing racial equity issues in our approach to drug policy;
  • Enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts;
  • Supporting evidence-based prevention efforts to reduce youth substance use;
  • Reducing the supply of illicit substances;
  • Advancing recovery-ready workplaces and expanding the addiction workforce; and
  • Expanding access to recovery support services.

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices in Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR noted the administration's statement without comment.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration's failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction -- it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example -- is another indication that the administration is in no hurry no rush down a progressive drug reform path. And its prioritizing of supply reduction implies continued drug war in Latin America ("working with key partners like Mexico and Colombia") and at home, via support of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and "multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations." Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," issued on Biden's first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an "interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2020 Roadmap for the incoming administration released in November, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms ranging from ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counter-narcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the DEA. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA's politically attuned language "overdose prevention centers."

"We're glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis -- by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications -- especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it's clearly not enough. We need action," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement responding to the administration's statement. "Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police."

"And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job -- past drug convictions and arrests -- we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace," Perez continued. "It's time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms."

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration's priorities. In their own statement in response to the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities such as more access to treatment and more research on racial equity, it complained that the administration priorities "fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country" -- especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

"There are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs," SSDP said. "Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity."

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the Biden administration is looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step, and its policy prescriptions are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps they can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

Record Support for MJ Legalization in Quinnipiac Poll, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (4/15/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill continues to move in the House, the acting drug czar pledges more funds for drug treatment and greater access to overdose reversal drugs, and more.

Coca and cocaine are on the mind of the Colombian government this week. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record High Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 69%, the highest number ever reported in the poll. That's an increase of 18 points since Quinnipiac first polled the question in 2012. There was majority support for legalization in every demographic group, even people over 65 (51%) and Republicans (62%).

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins 6th Committee Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, won a sixth House committee vote Wednesday in the Judiciary Finance and Criminal Law Committee. It now goes to the State Government Elections and Finance Committee.

Drug Treatment

Acting Drug Czar Pledges to Expand Drug Treatment as Overdose Deaths Rise. Regina M. LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) told House lawmakers Wednesday the administration is moving to muster significant federal resources to close gaps in drug treatment availability and make overdose reversing medications more available. She noted that the administration last week submitted its proposed budget to Congress, which included more than $10 billion for addiction programs, an increase of 57% from current funding levels.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 Wednesday to a bill to decriminalize the possession of a variety of psychedelics, Senate Bill 519. The legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

International

Colombia Government Issues Decree Setting the State for Resumption of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crop. In a joint message this week, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz and Defense Minister Diego Molano announced Presidential Decree 380, which sets guidelines for the "program for the eradication of illicit crops by aerial spraying." While ministers clarified that the framework "does not automatically reactivate the Program," it is another step in Conservative President Ivan Duque's long-desired effort to reactivate the program, which was halted by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2015 after the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed it "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Colombia Congress Debates Bill to Regulate Coca and Cocaine. The Congress has begun debate on a bill that would regulate coca and its derivatives. The bill is from two opposition parties, the Green Alliance and the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS). "Ending the drug trafficking business implies turning drug trafficking into a bad business for the mafias, and this is achieved by regularizing the business by the State. Let's remove it from the logic of violence," said Liberal Senator Luis Fernando Velasco. The debate continues.

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