Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

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OK Legalization Init Won't Be on November Ballot, House Committee Advances Marijuana Bills, More... (9/22/22)

Jockeying over marijuana reform legislation in Congress continues, the Oklahoma Supreme Court says a marijuana legalization initiative won't be on the November ballot but can be voted on later, and more.

Marijuana remains a hot topic on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says Schumer Reaffirms Commitment to Passing It. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the House sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996) says he spoke recently with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about passage of his bill in the upper chamber and Schumer said he is "working on it" and is "going to get going" on the measure. "Whether that was just lip service or reality, there is momentum," said Perlmutter. "We're going to get this done. It probably won't happen until the lame duck session after the elections, but I've always felt confident that commonsense will prevail and we'll get this finished, and I think we will." The SAFE Banking Act has repeatedly been passed by the House, only to have consideration in the Senate blocked by Schumer, who has been holding out for a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill. But that bill is now not expected to move this session because it does not appear to have 60 votes in the Senate to get past a Republican filibuster.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Criminal Justice Bills, Including Sealing Records of Federal Marijuana Offenses. The committee led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has approved a number of criminal justice measures, including bipartisan proposals to expunge records for prior federal marijuana offenses (HR 2864), provide funds for states that create systems of automatic expungements (HR 5651) and write into law retroactive relief for people imprisoned because of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity (HR 5455). The move comes as expectations increase that the Senate will soon see a package of modest marijuana reforms after prospects for the passage of a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill sponsored by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) fade.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Keeps Marijuana Legalization Initiative Off November Ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the State Question 820 marijuana legalization initiative will not be on the November ballot. The court held that it could not be printed on ballot in time to comply with the deadline for mailing them to voters. The initiative met signature-gathering requirements, but got bogged down by a new state law requiring state officials to verify signatures in addition to counting them. But the initiative will eventually go before the electorate. The question "will be voted upon by the people of Oklahoma, albeit either at the next general election following November 8, 2022, or at a special election set by the Governor or Legislature," the court ruled.

Supreme Court Sides with Inmate in Crack Cocaine Resentencing Case [FEATURE]

In a Monday decision little-noticed amidst the rising clamor over recent Supreme Court decisions on guns, abortion, and religion, the highest court in the land ruled in favor of a federal crack cocaine prisoner seeking a sentence reduction under the terms of the 2018 First Step Act. The ruling could affect thousands of other mostly Black inmates sentenced under the nation's harsh crack cocaine laws.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes for the majority. (Creative Commons)
During the crack panic of the 1980s, Congress passed legislation creating a 100:1 disparity in the weight of the drug required to trigger a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence. Confronted with the increasingly unassailable evidence that the sentencing disparity was neither scientifically justified nor racially neutral -- nearly 80 percent of federal crack prosecutions targeted Black people by 2009 -- Congress in 2010 passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced but did not eliminate the weight disparity, setting it at 18:1.

The Fair Sentencing Act provided relief to people sentenced after its passage, but it was not retroactive, meaning people sentenced under the old standard still had to do those harsh sentences. In order to address that oversight and reduce racial inequities, Congress in 2018 passed the First Step Act, making those sentencing changes retroactive and opening the door for people sentenced under the old law to seek resentencing.

The case in question, Concepcion v. United States, began when Carlos Concepcion pleaded guilty to selling crack in 2009 and was sentenced to 19 years in prison based on the 100:1 sentencing disparity in effect at the time. After passage of the First Step Act and having already served a decade of his sentence, Concepcion filed for a reduced sentence. Part of his argument was that he was no longer considered a "career offender" subject to harsher sentencing because of changes in the federal sentencing guidelines unrelated to the First Step Act.

Without that "career offender" designation, Concepcion would have been a free man after serving just less than six years [Ed: six years is itself a very long time], but a Massachusetts federal district court judge declined to consider factors unrelated to the First Step Act and denied his resentencing request. That denial was upheld by the 1st US Circuit Court in Boston, and Concepcion and his attorneys then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in a 5-4 decision.

The majority on the court was an odd one, consisting of the three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor -- joined by hard conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor wrote the opinion.

In it, she argued that judges enjoy broad discretion at sentencing and that discretion continues in any later proceedings that may change the sentence.

"Federal courts historically have exercised broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing, consistent with their responsibility to sentence the whole person before them," she wrote. "That discretion also carries forward to later proceedings that may modify an original sentence. District courts' discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence."

There is nothing in the First Step Act that limits that discretion, she added.

"Nothing in the text and structure of the First Step Act expressly, or even implicitly, overcomes the established tradition of district courts' sentencing discretion," she wrote. "The text of the First Step Act does not so much as hint that district courts are prohibited from considering evidence of rehabilitation, disciplinary infractions, or unrelated Guidelines changes. The only two limitations on district courts' discretion appear in §404(c): A district court may not consider a First Step Act motion if the movant's sentence was already reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act or if the court considered and rejected a motion under the First Step Act. Neither limitation applies here."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the First Step Act only authorized judges to cut sentences related to changes in the crack sentencing ranges, but not unrelated factors.

"Congress enacted the First Step Act to provide a targeted retroactive reduction in crack-cocaine sentencing ranges, not to unleash a sentencing free-for-all in the lower courts," Kavanaugh wrote.

But that was the minority opinion. And if reducing unduly harsh crack cocaine sentences that were based on panic and prejudice is "a sentencing free-for-all," that would be a small price to pay for some restorative justice.

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

MA Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill, Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring, More... (4/8/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, the Senate is poised to vote soon on a bill to finally eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

Singapore is the object of international condemnation over its resumption of the death penalty for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at helping minority entrepreneurs and people adversely impacted by previous drug law enforcement gain a foothold in the legal marijuana industry. Senate Bill 2801 has numerous provisions, including creating a new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, redirecting tax revenue equivalent to 1 percent of a social equity business’s sales from the state to the city or town where the business is located; directing the Cannabis Control Commission to make rules for localities to "to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry" by individuals from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to Require Communities Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Wins Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1186, which restores voter-created access to medical cannabis across the state by requiring cities to provide consumers access to purchase medicinal cannabis, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee by a vote of 8-3 on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Under current California law — which arguably allows cities to ban any and all cannabis sales — 62% of cities have banned all cannabis sales, including medical cannabis sales. As a result, residents of those cities, including people living with HIV, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, frequently have no option other than to buy on the illicit market. California’s thriving and growing illicit cannabis market both undermines the legal, regulated market and risks people obtaining contaminated cannabis. SB 1186 requires cities to allow some form of medical cannabis access. Cities can choose how to provide that access, either by authorizing medical cannabis delivery, storefront, or both. However, under SB 1186, cities will no longer be able to ban all medical cannabis access.

South Carolina House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill, Sending It to House Floor. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150) Thursday after making minor changes. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of 12 qualifying conditions to access a two-week supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, topicals and patches with a doctor's recommendation from their doctor. The committee amended the bill to add criminal background checks for medical marijuana distributors and security plans for their businesses.

Sentencing Policy

Congress on Verge on Passing Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. This week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) became the 11th Republican to sign onto the EQUAL Act (S. 59), which would eliminate the sentencing disparity in crack and powder cocaine offenses. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also met Tuesday with advocates and formerly incarcerated leaders, where he described the legislation as "a priority." He also said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor, though he did not say when. The bill would apply retroactively and would allow thousands of crack offenders—mainly Black men—to have their sentences reduced and get out of prison. The 100:1 disparity was created by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, but reduced to an 18:1 disparity by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, and that reform was made retroactive by the 2018 First Step Act.

International

Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring. As this year's opium harvest gets underway, the price of opium has hit an all-time high after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation across the country. Farmers in Kandahar reported harvesting their crops without interference and were happy with high prices, but said they might stop growing opium because of the decree. The price of a kilogram of raw opium jumped to a record high of around $330, but has now declined slightly to about $300.

Singapore Drug Executions Spark International Condemnation, Rare Public Protest. Singapore resumed executions of drug offenders on March 30, with others in line to be hung shortly, and that is sparking both condemnation abroad and rare public protests at home. The UN Human Rights office expressed concern about what it feared would be "a surge in execution notices," Amnesty International charged that "the use of the death penalty in Singapore violates international human rights law and standards,"  and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, now the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, wrote that Singapore’s 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for 20 different drug offenses, "has not fulfilled its intention of preventing and combatting illicit drug trafficking and drug use." She added that the country’s "use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the [international law] threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ … and thus clearly violates international human rights law." And on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the resumption of the death penalty in a rare public protest.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

Whew! Another year to put in the rear view mirror, but not before we reflect on the year that was. It was a year of tragic overdose death numbers and groundbreaking responses; it was a year of advances on marijuana reform in the states but statemate in Congress; it was a year of psychedelic advance in the states and cities -- but not enough political will to reform policing, at least not federally.

As always, there was a lot going on in the realm of domestic drug policy, and here are ten of the year's most important stories. Check back next week for our Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021.

1. Fentanyl, Pandemic Drive Drug Overdose Deaths to Record High

The nation either neared or surpassed the one millionth drug overdose death since 1999 in 2021. Driven largely by two factors -- pandemic-related isolation and lack of access to treatment services, and the increasing presence of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply -- overdose deaths hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported.

That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in October. And as if that were not bad enough, CDC reported in November provisional estimates that drug overdose deaths had topped 100,300 in the period from May 2020 to April 2021 -- the highest one-year overdose death toll ever.

As for that million overall dead figure, the CDC reported that through 2019 the toll had reached 841,000. We are now two years past that, and while that figure hasn't been officially recorded, just adding up the numbers makes it likely that we have already reached that horrific benchmark.

2. Nation's First Official Safe Injection Site Opens in New York City

The legality of safe injection sites -- where drug users can consume their substances in a clean, well-lit place under medical supervision -- remains unsettled under federal law, but officials in New York City decided they couldn't wait. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began calling for them in 2018, and the city Health Department announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center [safe injection site] services in the nation have commenced."

The move was quickly lauded by editorials in leading newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and by Christmas Eve, the city reported that 59 overdoses had already been reversed amid 2,000 visits to the facilities. Meanwhile, a safe injection site in Philadelphia whose opening was blocked in January by a federal appeals court after the Trump administration Justice Department moved against it, is awaiting a March filing by the Biden administration to see if it will take a more positive position allowing the facility to open.

Bills to allow safe injection sites were introduced in a number of states, including California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah, although only the Rhode Island bill passed and was signed into law. Still, the opening of the New York City facilities is a historic harm reduction first for the United States, and a likely harbinger of more to come.

3. Marijuana Reform Progress in the States

Nearly half the population now lives in legal marijuana states after five states this year joined the 13 others that had previously done so, mostly at the ballot box. But the states that legalized it this year all did so via the legislative process. Those are Connecticut (Senate Bill 1201), New Jersey (Assembly Bill 21/Senate Bill 21 and Assembly Bill 897), New Mexico (House Bill 2), New York (Senate Bill S854A), and Virginia (House Bill 2312/Senate Bill 1406).

This movement comes as marijuana legalization continues to garner strong public support, with a November Gallup poll reporting "a new high" of 68 per cent report. There was other marijuana-friendly legislative action in the states as well: Louisiana decriminalized it, four states (Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, Virginia) passed expungement laws, Alabama approved medical marijuana (although not in smokeable form), and 17 states approved medical marijuana expansion laws. Weed is on a roll.

4. Democrats Haven't Got Federal Marijuana Legalization Done, and It's Not Looking So Great for Next Year, Either

With Democrats in control of Congress after the November 2020 elections, hopes were high that this could be the year federal marijuana prohibition would be ended. The House had already passed a legalization bill at the end of the last Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) was pushing for it, and even if President Biden opposed full legalization and would only go as far as supporting decriminalization, that was a bridge that could be crossed when we came to it.

Now, at the end of 2021, that bridge is still a ways down the road. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), passed the House of Representatives a year ago. But that was a different Congress, meaning it has to pass the House again. In this Congress it's only passed the Judiciary Committee, in late September, and hasn't moved since. On the Senate side, Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) rolled out an initial draft of their legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in mid-July, but have yet to formally file legislation.

One big reason for the impasse is that Democrats are at odds among themselves, tussling over whether to hold out for full legalization replete with social equity measures, or to go for incremental measures in the meanwhile, such as banking access for state-legal cannabusinesses through the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996). That bill passed the House and was inserted into the annual defense funding bill, only to be removed at the insistence of Senate leadership in the former camp, including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The fight over how to approach marijuana reform federally has split not only the Democrats, but also the drug reform movement, with groups like the Drug Policy Alliance calling for not passing banking except as part of a full legalization bill, while NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project lobbied hard for the SAFE Act.

As the year came to an end, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) told the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that Congress would take up marijuana reform in the spring. But with an election year looming, Congress evenly divided, and not even all Democratic senators sure votes on marijuana legalization, Congress looks more likely to be nibbling at the edges of federal pot prohibition rather than ending it -- or perhaps to do nothing. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills filed, from expungement to veterans' access to easing research barriers and more. In 2021, nibbling at the edges may be the best we can do.

Meanwhile, in November, a GOP legislator, Sourth Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace filed her own bill, the States Reform Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level. It would do so by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, leaving it up to the states to set their own marijuana policies. The bill would also set a three percent federal excise tax, and release and expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana offenses. Mace said her bill represented a compromise that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Last year's mass mobilization around George Floyd's death has yet to translate to new laws restraining police misbehavior. (CC)
5. Even in the Wake of George Floyd, Police Reform Can't Move in the Senate

Following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police and the massive mobilizations it generated, the impetus grew to reexamine and reform police practices. The spirit of reform in response to the crisis took root in both houses and both parties, with Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott filing a tepid Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act last year. But that bill lacked key provisions demanded by Democrats, such as an end to qualified immunity for police officers in civil lawsuits, and it died at the end of the last session.

That spirit of reform was embodied in February, when the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 1280), sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). That bill would make it easier to convict a police officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution and limit qualified immunity as a defense against liability in a private civil action against an officer. It also restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds and creates a National Police Misconduct Registry, among other provisions.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) envisioned something similar in the Senate when in June he announced his framework for comprehensive police reform legislation. Like the House bill, it too reformed qualified immunity so that people could actually recover damages from police who violate their constitutional rights. It too would make it easier to federally prosecute police misconduct. And it too would create a National Police Misconduct Registry, as well as banning racial profiling and providing incentives for states to adopt policies banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and other airway-restrictive holds in their use-of-force policies.

Booker and Scott would become the point men in a month's long effort to craft a police reform bill with bipartisan support over the course of the summer. But by September, the negotiations had hit a dead end, with Booker telling reporters: "We weren't making progress -- any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform to America's policing," he said. And with that, federal police reform was dead for the year.

One of the irresolvable issues was qualified immunity, on which Scott and the Republicans refused to budge. Instead, in a statement noting the end of negotiations, Scott claimed "Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement" and then, with a complete unawareness of irony, complained about using "a partisan approach to score political points."

So far in the Congress, it has been justice delayed. Will it end up being justice denied? There is still a year left in the session, so stay tuned.

6. The Biden Administration's Partial Embrace of Harm Reduction

From the outset, the Biden administration is proving to be the friendliest ever toward harm reduction, even though it has yet to acknowledge one of the most effective harm reduction interventions: safe injection sites (or "supervised consumption sites" or "overdose prevention centers"). The first signal came in March, when the administration included nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services in the coronavirus relief bill. The bill allocated $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

Then, on April 1, the 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. That document contains a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, but also prioritizes "enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts." The same month, it allowed federal funds to be used to buy rapid fentanyl test strips.

After a quiet summer, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra made news in October when he announced the department's overdose prevention strategy and committed to more federal support for harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. He even suggested the agency might be open to safe injection sites, but in a sign of the delicacy of the subject in this administration, HHS quickly walked back the comments: "HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites," the statement read. "The issue is a matter of ongoing litigation. The Secretary was simply stressing that HHS supports various forms of harm reduction for people who use drugs."

In November, the administration released model naloxone legislation. The administration on Wednesday released model legislation to help states improve access to naloxone treatment for opioid overdoses. The model bill encourages people to obtain naloxone, protects them from prosecution when administering it, requires health insurance to cover it, and provides increased access to it in schools and correctional facilities.

Also in November, that $30 million from the coronavirus relief bill got real when SAMHSA announced it had launched $30 million harm reduction grant funding opportunity to "help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use."

The Biden administration is clearly moving in the direction of harm reduction, but where it comes down on safe injection sites is still muddy. The Justice Department is preparing a brief in the case of Safehouse, a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site that was blocked from opening after the Trump administration Justice Department persuaded the 3rd US Circuit Court of appeals that it violated the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" provision. That brief will be a key indicator of whether the administration is prepared to fully embrace harm reduction, but we are going to have to wait until next year to find out.

7. Oregon Leads the Way on Drug Decriminalization, Others Are Vying to Follow

With the November 2020 passage of Measure 110 with 59 percent of the vote, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession, and by year's end, the initial results were looking pretty good. Because the measure tapped into marijuana tax revenues to fund treatment and harm reduction services, those programs are getting a hefty $302 million in much needed funding over the next two years.

While the numbers are not in yet for this first year of decriminalization, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

In the wake of the Oregon vote, a number of other states saw decriminalization bills introduced -- Florida, Kansas, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington -- and so did Congress, when Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO in June filed the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decrim. DPRA is the first time decriminalization bill to be introduced in Congress.

Also on the decrim front this year, efforts are underway in Washington, DC and Washington state to put initiatives on the ballot next year. The public seems to be ready: A summer poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71 percent of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed and 59 percent supported decriminalizing drug possession. A slightly earlier ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll around the same time had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting decrim. Decriminalization is starting to look like an idea whose time has come.

8. Conservative State Supreme Courts Negate the Will of the Voters

The November 2020 elections resulted in a clean sweep for drug reform initiatives, with marijuana legalization being approved in four states and medical marijuana in two states. But in two cases, marijuana legalization in South Dakota and medical marijuana in Mississippi, Republican-dominated state Supreme Courts moved to effectively negate the will of the voters.

In South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote, but acting at the behest of South Dakota anti-marijuana Republican Governor Kristi Noem, a county sheriff and the head of the Highway Patrol sued to block the measure. They won in circuit court and won again when the state Supreme Court threw out Amendment A, ruling it unconstitutional because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. Noem's victory may prove ephemeral, though: The activists behind Amendment A are already collecting signatures for a 2022 initiative, and the state legislature didn't even wait for the Supreme Court decision to decide it is ready to legalize marijuana in the next session.

In Mississippi, Initiative 65 won with 74 percent of the vote, but a Republican local official successfully challenged it, and in May, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court threw it out -- managing to wipe out the state's initiative process as it did so. Under the state constitution, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

The state has seen numerous initiatives since 2000, with none of them challenged. When faced with the conundrum, the Supreme Court could have found that constitutional language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," but instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five-district requirement.

The legislature has been working to craft a medical marijuana bill, but Republican Governor Tate Reeves is not happy with the legislative language and has refused to call a special session on medical marijuana. Mississippians will have to wait for 2022.

9. House Votes to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, But Senate Dallies

In September, in an effort to undo one the gravest examples of racially-biased drug war injustice, the House voted to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021, passed on a vote of 361-66, demonstrating bipartisan support, although all 66 "no" votes came from Republicans. Amidst racially-tinged and "tough on drugs" political posturing around crack use in the early 1980s, accompanied by significant media distortions and oversimplifications, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, cosponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Under that bill, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence.

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

After years of effort by an increasingly broad alliance of drug reform, racial justice, human rights, religious and civic groups, passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act took a partial step toward reducing those disparities. The FSA increased the threshold quantity of crack cocaine that would trigger certain mandatory minimums -- instead of 100 times as much powder cocaine than crack cocaine needed, it changed to 18 times as much.

The 2018 FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. And now, finally, an end to the disparity is in sight. The Senate version of the bill is S. 79, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by fellow Democrat Dick Durbin (IL) and GOP Senators Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). After the vote, they prodded their Senate fellows to get moving. But the Senate bill has yet to move after being filed 11 months ago.

10. Psychedelic Reform Movement Broadens in States and Cities

The movement to ease or undo laws criminalizing psychedelic substances continued to broaden and deepen in 2021. Detroit and Seattle joined Denver and Oakland in the ranks of major cities that have embraced psychedelic reform, with the Seattle city council approving a psychedelic decrim measure in October and Detroit voters approving a psychedelic decrim measure in November.

A number of smaller towns and cities went down the same path this year too, including Cambridge, Massachusetts in February, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September (joining Ann Arbor), Easthampton, Massachusetts in October (joining Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville), and Port Townsend, Washington, in December.

Psychedelic reform bills are now making their way to statehouses around the country, with bills showing up in eight states by March and a handful more by year's end. Most of them have died or are languishing in committee, and a much-watched California psychedelic decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 519, has been pushed to next year after passing the state Senate only to run into obstacles in the Assembly. Two of them passed, though: New Jersey S3256, which lessens the penalty for the possession of any amount of psilocybin from a third degree misdemeanor to a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, became law in February. Then Texas House Bill 1802, which would expand research on therapeutic psychedelics, became law in June.

Meanwhile, building on Denver's pioneering psilocybin decriminalization in 2019, a national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed therapeutic psychedelic and full psilocbyin legalization initiatives aimed at 2022. Oakland activists have announced a "Go Local" initiative under which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from community-based local producers. The move aims to build on the city's current psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, passed in 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing Policy

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

International

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

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."

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