Sentencing

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Fed Bill Would End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, SD MedMJ Will Happen on Schedule, More... (3/11/21)

The South Dakota Senate has blocked the governor's effort to delay the implemenation of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the Mississippi House has killed a bill that would have substituted for the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative there, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has authored a bill to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi House Kills Substitute Medical Marijuana Bill. The House late Wednesday killed Senate Bill 2765, which had been filed as a more restrictive alternative to the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November and now under challenge in the state Supreme Court.

South Dakota Senate Blocks Governor's Effort to Delay Medical Marijuana Rollout. The state Senate has killed Gov. Kristi Noem's (R) effort to delay implementation of the Measure 26 medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. The House had already passed House Bill 1100, which would have enacted the delay, but the Senate amended the bill to include immediate decriminalization, and when the two chambers were unable to reach a compromise on Wednesday, the bill died.

Sentencing

Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Awaits Action in Senate. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has filed S. 79, the EQUAL Act, to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. For years, the disparity was 100:1, but was reduced to 18:1 under legislation passed in the Obama era. This bill would end the disparity entirely, and it would allow for people still serving time for crack sentences under the old law to file motions for reduced sentences. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is sympathetic.

HI & NM Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, NJ Harm Reduction Bills, More... (3/10/21)

Marijuana legalization bills advance in Hawaii and New Mexico, a pot prisoners' group calls on President Biden to grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders, a California bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses advance, and more.

Marijuana legislation is popping up all over the place. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Last Prisoner Project Calls on Biden to Grant Clemency to Federal Marijuana Prisoners. The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis-related criminal justice reform, has launched 'A Time To Heal,' an advocacy campaign calling on President Biden to leverage his clemency power to commute the sentences of thousands of people unjustifiably incarcerated due to federal marijuana-related violations. The advocacy organization is also encouraging the President to issue grants to the tens of thousands more still struggling because of the collateral consequences of a federal cannabis conviction. "President Biden himself has acknowledged that 'nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime'. We're encouraging him to turn his words into action and use the most immediate tool at his disposal to provide this desperately-needed relief," said project director of strategic initiatives Natalie Papillion.

Arkansas Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) on Monday filed SB499, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana an infraction punishable by a $200 fine. Possession is currently a Class A misdemeanor.

Hawaii Senate Approves Expanded Decriminalization, Marijuana Legalization Bills. The state Senate approved two separate marijuana policy reform bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 767 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over, while Senate Bill 758 would expand the amount of marijuana that is currently decriminalized from three grams to 30 grams. Both measures passed by veto-proof margins. The bills now head for consideration by the House.

New Mexico Senate Committee Approves Two Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved a Senate bill to legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 288 on a unanimous vote and also approved a House bill to legalize marijuana, HB 12, on a 7-4 vote. Two other legalization bills were shelved by sponsors as the legislature seeks consensus on a final measure. The two remaining bills now head for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legislation must be approved there and on the Senate floor before the session ends on March 20.

New York Coalition Forms for Final Marijuana Legalization Push. Dozens of organized labor groups, progressive organizations, and businesses are set to launch on Wednesday a coalition to make a final push for the legalization of adult-use cannabis products in New York. All told, more than 40 groups are signing onto the coalition called New Yorkers for New Revenue & Jobs, highlighting what advocates contend is one of the main selling points of legalized marijuana in New York: the millions of dollars in revenue the measure would provide in the coming years for the state and local governments. The coalition includes the New York AFL-CIO, as well as the New York Cannabis Industry Association and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 3248, on Monday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces and 10 ounces at home. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels for Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would cap THC levels in medical marijuana at 10% and 15% for edibles. The vote to advance HB 1455 came despite testimony from doctors and patients that the measure was an assault on medicine. It still needs to be approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee and the House Health Care Appropriations Committee before going to a House floor vote.

Psychedelics

New York Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms Filed. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D) filed a bill to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms on Monday. AO6065 is similar to legislation Rosenthal filed last year that went nowhere. It would remove psilocybin and psilocin from the state's list of controlled substances. It is now before the Assembly Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Coronavirus Relief Bill Includes Funding for Addiction Treatment, Harm Reduction. The American Rescue Plan Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed this week by Congress, includes nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Wednesday. In addition to $1.5 billion for block grants for prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, the act includes $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

New Jersey Harm Reduction Bills Filed. Far-reaching harm reduction expansion legislation was introduced in the Senate Health Committee earlier today. The bill package, sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, would reduce overdose deaths, prevent infectious disease, and connect people who use drugs to non-judgmental support. It would do this by creating a statewide standing order for naloxone (brand name Narcan), the medicine that reverses an overdose (S3491); lifting the onerous municipal ordinance requirement that limits harm reduction services (S3009); decriminalizing syringes and expunging previous convictions (S3493); making HIV prophylaxis medication available at pharmacies without a prescription (S1039); and allowing harm reduction programs to offer mail-based services (S3065). Companion measures have been filed in the House.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Advances. The Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 73, which would repeal state laws enacted in the midst of the drug war that created mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Fed Bill Would Protect Immigrants With Marijuana Records, ME Drug Reform Push, More... (3/9/21)

The South Dakota Senate throws the governor a curve ball, New Jersey lawmakers are considering lessening the penalties for home marijuana grows -- but not legalizing them -- and more.

A Maine bill would remove criminal penalties for the possession of drug paraphernalia. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Would Not Count Against Immigrants' 'Good Moral Character' Under New Congressional Bill. Immigrants who admit having used, possessed, or distributed marijuana in the past would no longer be denied US citizenship under a new bill, HR 1614 filed Monday by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA). The bill would address the use of the "good moral character" requirement used to deny citizenship to people with marijuana histories. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization.A Goucher College poll released Tuesday has a full two-thirds of Marylanders supporting marijuana legalization, an all-time high. And for the first time, even 50% of Republicans are in favor. The poll comes as the state legislature takes on the issue.

New Jersey State Senators Are Working on a Home Grow Bill, But Without Home Grows. Marijuana legalization advocate Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) are drafting a bill on home grown marijuana, but it looks like the bill won't actually allow home grows, only lessen the penalties for what is currently a 10-to-20-year felony for growing more than 10 plants and five years for growing a smaller number.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) were set to file a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, but no details have been released as of press time. Former Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) had called for marijuana legalization, but she is now out of office and serving as secretary of commerce in the Biden administration.

Hemp

Idaho House Approves Hemp Bill. The House on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, HB 126. The bill now goes to the Senate. Idaho is the only state that has yet to legalize industrial hemp production.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Senate Agrees to Medical Marijuana Program Delay, But Only with Decriminalization Now. The Senate approved a House bill to delay implementation of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, HB 1100, but only after dramatically amending it to include the immediate decriminalization of up to an ounce of marijuana and repeal of the state's unique felony drug ingestion law. Now, the House and Senate have to try to come to an accord over the bill, most likely in conference committee.

Drug Policy

Maine Lawmakers Aim to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Legislators have filed a number of bills this year aimed at undoing the state's hardline drug war approach. One bill, HP 713, would decriminalize drug possession; another, HP 732, would remove penalties for the possession or exchange of drug paraphernalia; while yet another, SP 223, would reform the state's drug sales law so that people could not be charged with distribution basely solely on the amount of drugs seized.

Mexico Lower Chamber Takes Up Legal MJ Bill, WV Bill Extending Drug Sales Sentences Advances, More... (3/8/21)

Advocates for a Washington state bill that would decriminalize drug possession now emphasize treatment, the Russians warn against drug legalization efforts, Morocco moves toward legal medical marijuana, and more.

Mexico is on the verge of making the US the laggard when it comes to marijuana legalization in North America.
Drug Policy

Washington Decriminalization Bill Now Emphasizes Treatment. In the wake of a recent state Supreme Court ruling throwing out the state's felony drug possession law, proponents of a drug decriminalization bill, HB 1499, are now saying that decision is an opportunity to shift drug policy paradigms and are emphasizing the bill's drug treatment provisions. Bill cosponsor Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle) said behavioral health services and programs are not typically offered to people until after they have been arrested. "It is a disease, it is a disorder, and it is the only illness we treat with criminalization," Harris-Talley said. The bill has passed the House Public Safety Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee.

Sentencing

West Virginia Bill to Lengthen Supervision for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Offenders Passes House. Delegate Brandon Steele's (R-Raleigh) HB 2257 passed the House last Friday. The bill would add up to 10 years of supervision for those convicted of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl sales offenses. That would be in addition to any prison sentence. "The whole point of extended supervision is to watch someone who has a propensity to have a repeat crime of the same nature," said Steele before the vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

International

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Chamber of Deputies this week is finally taking up a marijuana legalization bill, but it has been significantly amended since passed by the Senate last year. The bill is getting a joint hearing Monday in the Health and Justice committees, with a vote expected Tuesday or Wednesday. The bill's main provisions -- legalizing up to an ounce for people 18 and older and allowing for the home cultivation of up to six plants -- remain unaltered, but deputies have amended the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other aspects.

Morocco Nears Final Vote on Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Government Council is set to discuss a bill about "legal use of cannabis" for the third time on Thursday. If approved, the bill would allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, as well as legalizing the production of hemp containing less than 0.2% THC, the current standard for the European Union.

Russia Warns More Effort Needed to Prevent Drug Legalization. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev warned the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice that the fight against drug legalization is faltering and more efforts are needed to maintain the prohibitionist status quo. "We insist on a comprehensive and balanced solution to the world drug problem on the basis of strict state compliance with obligations under the relevant UN conventions and the inadmissibility of drug legalization," Kolokoltsev said. Russia's anti-drug strategy officially considers drug legalization a national security threat.

VA Lawmakers Approve Legalization... Three Years from Now, Colombia Goes for More Drug War Militarization, More... (3/1/21)

New Mexico lawmakers work to shrink four marijuana legalization bills down to one, Pennsylvania's governor pardons dozens more marijuana offenders, and more.

Virginia State House (Creative Commons)
New Mexico Legislators Agree to Senate Committee Request to Consolidate Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday asked the sponsors of four competing marijuana legalization bills to get together this week and come up with one bill for the committee to consider and vote on this coming Saturday. That would leave legislators with just two weeks to get to a Senate floor vote before the session ends on March 20.

Pennsylvania Governor Grants 69 More Marijuana Pardons. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday announced that he had granted expedited pardons to 69 low-level marijuana offenders, bring his total of pot pardons to 95. He also pardoned another 241 non-marijuana offenders. The move comes as Wolf calls for marijuana legalization and as a bipartisan bill is now before the legislature.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization… Three Years from Now. The House and Senate reached a deal on marijuana legalization Saturday, but in an attenuated way. The measure would not actually legalize marijuana until 2024 and would require the legislature to vote on parts of the bill again next year, both positions that have legalization advocates complaining loudly. The need for additional votes next year exposes legalization to the chance it could depend on Republican majorities in the House and/or Senate or a new Republican governor who would not be as supportive. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports legalization, and now some Democrats are calling on him to amend the bill and send a more complete measure to the statehouse later this year.

Washington, DC, Mayor Filed Bill to Legalize Marijuana Sales. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Friday that she had filed a bill to legalize pot shops in the nation's capital. DC voters approved marijuana legalization in 2014, but have been blocked from setting up a legal, regulated system of marijuana commerce because federal budget provisions bar the District from using funds to regulate and tax still federally illegal marijuana. With Democrats in control of Congress now, advocates that budget rider will now be killed, clearing the way for legal sales. The measure is B24-0114, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021.

Sentencing Policy

Virginia Legislative Bid to End Mandatory Minimum Sentences Dies. Although both chambers passed bills doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing --HB 2331to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses and SB 1443to end them for all offenses -- House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise, and the bills died as the session ended Saturday.

International

Colombia Launches New Elite Military Unit to Target Coca Crops, Drug Trafficking, Armed Groups. The Colombian government announced last Friday it had launched a new, elite military unit to heighten the fight against coca cultivation, drug trafficking, and the armed groups who benefit from prohibited activities. "The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and -- of course -- any transnational form of terrorism," President Ivan Duque said. The new unit of some 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela and the coca-producing provinces of Cauca and Putamayo.

With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Canada Seeks an Off-Ramp from the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

On February 16, Canada's governing Liberal Party finally moved to enact long-promised reforms to criminal justice by introducing a sweeping new bill that would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But is it enough?

Canadian parliament building, Ottawa (Creative Commons)
The government's move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces mounting pressure for reform on two fronts. First, Canada is facing an unprecedented drug overdose crisis, with the province of British Columbia especially hard-hit. Last year, the provincial Coroners Service reported, BC saw a whopping 1,716 drug overdose deaths, up a startling 74 percent over 2019. The province has always been on the cutting edge of drug reform in Canada, and spurred by the crisis, BC formally asked the federal government in early February for an exemption to the country's drug laws to allow it to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs. That request is still being considered by Ottawa.

But the pressure for drug decriminalization isn't just coming from British Columbia, it's coming from inside the criminal justice system. In July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for drug decriminalization, recommending the "current enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system." The following month, the federal prosecution service issued a directive permitting prosecution of drug cases only in the most serious cases.

And public opinion supports decriminalization. An Angus Reid poll released after the government announced the new bill found that seven out of 10 Canadians felt the country's opioid crisis had worsened in 2020, and 59 percent supported the decriminalization of all illegal drugs.

Second, just as last summer's massive protests in the United States channeled and amplified long-standing demands for racial and social justice here, so they echoed north of the border. Canada has its own not-so-noble history of racism and discrimination, and the number of Black and Indigenous people swept up in the country's criminal justice system demonstrates that the legacy of the past continues to this day.

Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population but accounted for 25% of all federal prisoners in 2019. Similarly, Black Canadians accounted for about 3% of the population but more than 7% of prisoners that year. As the Justice Ministry noted in a 2017 report, after Conservatives passed tough anti-crime measures early this century, Black and Indigenous were disproportionately targeted for mandatory minimum sentencing in the decade ending in 2017. And as the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported, non-white inmates are more likely to sent to maximum security prisons, have forced used against them, and be denied parole.

As the government rolled out the bill, C-22, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," Justice Minister David Lametti made clear that not just public health but also racial justice was on its mind.

Trudeau had asked him to "address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system," he told a press conference. "We are turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy," he added. "It was an approach that did not make our communities safer. It did not deter criminals. It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair. Its singular accomplishment has been to incarcerate too many Indigenous people, too many Black people and too many marginalized Canadians."

The bill envisions reforms in policing, prosecuting, and sentencing drug offenders and sets out statements of principle for dealing with drug offenses, including "problematic drug use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue," state actors should recognize human rights and harm reduction imperatives, and criminal sanctions are stigmatizing and not consistent with public health practice.

Under these principles, when encountering people using or possessing drugs, police would be granted the discretion to "consider whether it would be preferable... to take no further action, or warn the individual, or, with the consent of the individual, to refer the individual to a program or to an agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual."

Similarly, the bill mandates the prosecutors open drug possession cases only when a warning, referral, or alternate measures are "not appropriate, and a prosecution in appropriate in the circumstances." And it gives judges much broader discretion to order probationary sentences instead of confinement.

C-22 looks as if it were designed to cut off inputs to the Canadian prison system at every level of the system. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented Toronto's Beaches-East York riding (district) since 2015 and is a longtime proponent of full drug decriminalization, says that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

He filed private member's bills this session for decriminalization (C-235) and for an evidence-based diversion model (C-236) to reduce drug arrests and prosecutions. It is that latter bill that the government has now largely adopted as C-22.

"I favor drug decriminalization because the war on drugs is an absolute failure that harms the people we want to help," he told the Chronicle. "Our opioid crisis has taken more than 16,000 lives since 2016, and there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including around drug charges."

"My goal was to call for full decriminalization, with a second bill to show the government if they weren't inclined to favor decriminalization, here's an alternative that would get us closer to the goal and would be more politically feasible. This bill seriously restricts the discretion of police and prosecutors to proceed, according to a set of principles that will ensure a stronger focus on human rights and harm reduction," he said. "It doesn't go as far as I want it to go, but it is unquestionably a step forward. It will be virtually impossible for the state to move forward with drug possession charges and prosecutions."

Donald Macpherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of Vancouver's groundbreaking Four Pillars drug strategy in the 1990s, has a more jaundiced view of both the Liberals and C-22.

"The things that are in this bill are all things the Liberals promised when they were elected in 2015, and if they had done this then it would have been seen as a good move, getting rid of egregious stuff the Harper government had implemented," he told the Chronicle. "But now, the discussion has moved so far that even police chiefs are calling for decriminalization. It's too little, too late."

Even the limited support he gave the bill was filled with caveats.

"Overall, though, it is a good thing, it is incremental progress, getting rid of the mandatory minimums is probably the most powerful aspect in terms of criminal law," McPherson conceded. "But the bill was supposed to deal with the disproportionate impact of drug law enforcement on people of color, and it won't do it. There will be more probationary sentences and more alternatives to imprisonment, but arrests and prosecutions will be 'at the discretion of' and Black and Indigenous people will now be caught up in kinder, gentler diversion programs."

Still, passage of C-22 would be a step in the right direction, Macpherson said.

"It is preparing the ground for the next step, full decriminalization, which I think is now inevitable. The harms of criminalization in Canada are now so evident to everyone that the question now is not whether to but how to," he said. "We saw this with cannabis -- at a certain point, the change in the discourse was palpable. We're now at that point with drug decriminalization."

Long-time Vancouver drug user activist Ann Livingston, cofounder of the pioneering Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and currently executive project coordinator for the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, had an even more jaundiced view than Macpherson, scoffing at more police discretion and expanded probationary sentences.

"I'm glad to see the mandatory minimums gone, but the Liberals want more police, and we say don't do us any more favors," she told the Chronicle. "And the police have always had discretion to not make drug arrests; they just never exercise it. And probation -- many of the people in jail are there for probation violations, even administrative ones, like missing appointments."

For Livingston, the cutting edge is now no longer criminal justice reforms or even decriminalization but creating a safe supply of currently illegal drugs. Limited opioid maintenance programs, including heroin, are available in the city, but they aren't enough, she said.

"Here in British Columbia, we had 900 COVID deaths last year and 1,700 overdose deaths. What we need is a safe drug supply," she argued. "We have to have clear demands and what we are demanding is a pure, safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. This is a crisis; this is the time to do this drug law stuff right. And to get serious. The feds tell us they place no barriers on heroin prescribing, but then they fight about who is going to pay for it."

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals think passing C-22 is going to quiet the clamor for more fundamental change in Canadian drug policies, they should probably think again.

Canada

Biden AG Nominee Addresses Marijuana & Mandatory Minimums, El Chapo's Wife Busted at Dulles, More... (2/23/21)

Republcan legislators continue to try to wreak havoc with voter-approved marijuana initiatives, Judge Merrick Garland speaks out on marijuana and sentencing policy at his confirmation hearing, and more.

Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland, here chatting with Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Attorney General Nominee Sets Gentler Line on Marijuana, Cites Discriminatory Enforcement. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's pick as attorney general, said Monday that prosecuting people complying with state marijuana laws is not "a useful use of limited resources" and that there is "a question of prioritization about resources and discretion" around the issue. Garland was responding to a question from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also said during the hearing that the enforcement of marijuana prohibition is a "perfect example" of how the criminal justice system is racially biased and imposes disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

Montana GOP Bill Would Delay Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Saying the voters' decision to legalize marijuana with a quick timeline "doesn't make any sense," State Representative Bill Mercer (R) has filed a bill that would push back the October 1 deadline until sometime in 2023. The bill is set to be heard this week in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Medicial Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Bill Would Give Protection to Overdose Victims. Representative Janet Yang Rohr (D-Napierville) has filed House Bill 3445, which would mandate that people seeking assistance for a drug overdose would not be criminally charged or prosecuted if they make a good faith effort to seek drug treatment. It also includes language protecting parolees from having their status revoked in case of an overdose. The bill would expand a Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 to include the person who is actually overdosing.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo's Wife Busted on Drug Trafficking Charges at DC Airport. Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug trafficking kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested Monday night after flying into Dulles International Airport. She faces federal charges of conspiring to help distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the US. She is accused of helping El Chapo continue to run his enterprise while behind bars. She is a joint US and Mexican citizen.

Sentencing

Biden Attorney General Nominee Endorses Ending Mandatory Minimums. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, said Monday that he agrees with a Biden administration policy of ending the use of mandatory minimum sentences. His comments came in response to a question from Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and can be heard at the 28-minute mark of the linked video.

NJ Governor Signs Marijuana Bills, VA Considers Mandatory Minimum Repeal, More... (2/22/21)

New Jersey finally gets marijuana legalization done, Virginia lawmakers are trying to do the same, a Massachusetts drug decrim bill is filed, and more.

The Nevada legislature is considering legislation that would limit but not ban raids with no-knock warrants. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Makes It Official; Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization Bills. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed into law a pair of bills implementing voter-approved marijuana legalization (A21) and decriminalizing marijuana possession (A1897). He also signed into law a bill setting penalties for underage use, S3454, an issue that had held up legalization for more than two months after the legislature passed the first two bills.

Virginia Legislators Meet in Conference Committee to Reconcile Marijuana Legalization Bills. House and Senate negotiators are meeting this week to try to reconcile marijuana legalization bills passed by the respective chambers, HB 2312 an SB 1406. They need to thrash out differences over local authority, licensing rules, and timing to reach a consensus.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D) have filed HD 3439, which would remove all criminal penalties for personal amount drug possession and replace them with a maximum fine of $50. People caught with drugs could avoid the fine by attending a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Julian Cyr (D), SD 2248, is virtually identical.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Bill to Study Psychedelic Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mike Connolly (D) has filed HD 3829, which would create an interagency task force to "study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi." The task force would be charged with developing recommendations on how to legalize natural psychedelics "in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants."

Law Enforcement

Nevada Bill to Restrict No-Knock Warrants Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on Senate Bill 50, which would restrict but not entirely ban no-knock arrest warrants. The bill would ban no-knock warrants for misdemeanors, property crimes or simple drug possession. In other cases, law enforcement would have to show a risk to public safety by not using a no-knock warrant, explain why just knocking on the door isn't appropriate, and certify that a no-knock warrant is the last resort. A proposed amendment from the ACLU of Nevada and defense attorneys and public defenders would exclude evidence gathered in no-knock raids if police don't follow the guidelines for no-knock warrants. But that amendment threatens to derail law enforcement support for the bill.

Sentencing

Virginia Legislature Ponders Ending Mandatory Minimums. The House has passed a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, HB 2331. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed another bill, SB 1443, which ends all mandatory minimum sentencing under state law. A conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and House will try to hash out the significant differences between the bills, though it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be struck.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, by Carl Hart (2021, Penguin Press, 290 pp., $28.00 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart is a one-man drug and drug user destigmatization machine. In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, the Columbia University psychology professor blasts drug prohibition as both an affront to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness and as a tool of racial oppression. And he makes a strong, informed argument that recreational drug use can be, and usually is, a good thing.

You could hardly find someone more qualified to make the case. Hart has spent years in the trenches of neuropsychopharmacology research, handed out drugs (or placebos) to thousands of research subjects, published numerous scientific papers and popular articles in the field, and risen to the top of his profession along the way. And here is his bottom line:

"[O]ver my more than 25-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even 'recreational' drugs can and do improve day-to-day living... From my own experience -- the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities."

Hart is refreshingly -- and deliberately -- open about his own recreational drug use. Given the stigmatization and persecution of people identified as "drug users," he feels that justice demands privileged partakers come out of the closet and give voice to their own, non-destructive drug use histories as a necessary remedy for that demonization. He certainly does so himself, revealing a disciplined yet curious mind most definitely not averse to sampling various substances.

Those substances include heroin, which he describes as his current favorite drug, one that he's been using episodically for years now: "There aren't many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day... Heroin allows me to suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head... The world is alright with me. I'm good. I'm refreshed. I'm prepared to face another day, another faculty meeting, another obligatory function. All parties benefit."

But Hart is not quite so mellow when it comes to people and institutions he sees as helping to perpetuate overly negative depictions of various drugs or the persecution of drug users. He rips into Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) over her "addiction is a brain disease" mantra and the rigid ideological control she has over research funding. He rips into journalists for uncritically and sensationally reporting salacious scientific findings about the evils of drugs that he argues are not supported by the evidence they are supposedly based on. He even calls Bernie Sanders "ignorant" (that word shows up more than a few times) for complaining that marijuana shouldn't be in the same drug schedule as "killer drugs like heroin."

Dr. Carl Hart (Columbia University)
Hart doesn't deny the potential dangers of drug use but makes the case that they are dramatically overstated. In that sense, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a corrective to more than a century of anti-drug propaganda. In a deep dive into opioids, for instance, he notes that most opioid overdose deaths are actually opioid/benzodiazepines/alcohol deaths, and that a large number of them are due to ignorance (there's that word again) -- in that, in the black market that currently exists, drug users do not and cannot know what exactly is in that pill or powder they purchased.

As long as we are in a prohibition regime, the least we can do is widespread drug testing for quality control, as is done at some European music festivals, Hart argues. But that's the only kind of drug testing he's down with; he calls the urine drug testing industry "parasitic," a sobriquet he also applies to the drug treatment industry.

But hang on, he's not done yet. Although he is an advocate for harm reduction practices, he has a bone to pick with the term itself: It's too damned negative! Drug use doesn't typically involve harm, he argues, but pleasure-seeking. As I pondered this, I came up with "benefit enhancement" as an upbeat alternative to harm reduction, but Hart went with "health and happiness."

And he's got a bone to pick with "psychedelic exceptionalism," the notion, dear to folks like Decriminalize Nature, that psychedelics, or better yet, "plant entheogens," are somehow "better" than dirty old drugs like meth or heroin and thus deserve to be treated differently, more gently. He also snarks at the notion that taking drugs for spiritual or religious purposes is of a higher order than taking them for fun and rebels at the notion of having a shaman or guide during a tripping session: "Some people find this comforting. I find it creepy and have never done so myself."

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is bracing, informative, and provocative contribution to the literature. Even the most ardent drug reformers and defenders would benefit from reading it and reexamining their own assumptions. Maybe Carl Hart is onto something.

AZ "Drug Trafficking Homicide" Bill Filed, HI Marijuana Legalization, Decrim Bills Advance, More... (2/17/21)

Hawaii legislators take up marijuana reform bills, Maryland legislators take up marijuana legalization, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogues are the object of a harsh new drug sentencing proposal in Arizona. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee voted on Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 767. It would legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana or less by anyone who is 21 years old or older.

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs also voted on Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 758 would increase from 3 grams to 1 ounce the minimum amount of marijuana that a defendant must possess to be charged with a petty misdemeanor. It would also permit persons previously convicted of possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana to have the conviction expunged from their criminal record.

Maryland Legislators Hold First Committee Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 32. No vote was taken. Another marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 708, is set to be heard in committee on March 4. HB 32 would legalize up to four ounces of pot by adults, allow home cultivation, allow an unlimited number of microbusiness licenses. That is the main difference with SB 708.

Sentencing Policy

Arizona Bill Would Charge Those Who Provide Drugs Linked to Overdoses with Murder. People who sell or share drugs linked to overdose deaths could face as much as 25 years in prison under a measure, House Bill 2779, that would create the crime of "drug trafficking homicide." The bill would also make people convicted under the charge ineligible for probation or early release. And it would create tougher mandatory minimum sentences for people caught selling or even possessing small amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues.

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