Mandatory Minimums

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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.

RI Legal Pot Bill Heads for Final Votes Next Week, FL Governor Signs Fentanyl Murder Bill, More... (5/20/22)

A Delaware bill to tax and regulate marijuana comes up short but remains alive after a parliamentary manuever, Michigan uses court settlements to fund a massive response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a punitive fentanyl bill into law. (fl.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legal Marijuana Regulation, Sales Bill Falls Short—For Now. A bill that would have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, House Bill 372, failed in the House Thursday even though it won a majority of votes. The bill needed a two-thirds majority in the House because it had tax provisions, but cam up short on a 23-15 vote. But the bill is not dead because sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), changed his vote to "no," which gives him three legislative days to rescind the roll call vote and bring the bill forward for reconsideration before the end of this year’s legislative session. With Osienski voting "yes" next time, along with a bill supporter who missed the vote because he is sick with COVID, the bill has the votes to pass next time.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House, Senate Floor Votes Next Week. With approval Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary and House Finance committees, an amended marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430, is now headed for final floor votes in the House and Senate, which are scheduled for next Tuesday. As well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, the bill contains social equity components and allows for automatic expungement of past marijuana possession offenses.

Opiates and Opioids

Florida Governor Signs Bill to Make Murder Charges Easier in Drug Overdose Deaths. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed into law House Bill 95, which would make it easier for prosecutors to seek first-degree murder charges against drug sellers if an overdose leads to someone's death. Currently, drug sellers face life in prison or the death penalty if the drug they sold verifiably caused the death of a consumer, but prosecutors complained it was hard to win convictions in cases involving multiple controlled substances and/or alcohol. Under the new law, prosecutors will only have to show that the drug was a "substantial factor" in the person's death. As the session wound down, legislators also added language that increased mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking between 4 and 14 milligrams of fentanyl and its analogs from three to seven years, and for trafficking between 14 and 28 milligrams of fentanyl to 15 to 20 years. They also stripped out a provision that would have legalized fentanyl test strips, signaling no room for compassion but plenty of space for punishing policies.

Michigan Governor Signs Bills Aimed at Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a package of bills that invest $800 million in treatment, prevention, and mental health in response to the opioid crisis. Senate Bills 993, 994, and 995 will handle the disbursement of settlement funds from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as creating an Opioid Advisory Committee to help craft policies to prevent, treat, and support people using opioids. "The opioid crisis touches families across our state, which is why it’s so crucial to ensure that Michiganders facing substance use issues have the support and resources they need to get better," said Governor Whitmer. "The legislation I signed today will be instrumental in preventing more deaths and will provide Michigan families impacted by the devastating opioid epidemic with some semblance of relief. These funds will bring millions of dollars to support our neighbors, family, and friends in treatment and recovery. I will continue to work with anyone who wants to help those who are struggling."

DC Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Allow Legal Pot Sales, Cops Being Killed in Mexico's Zacatecas, More... (4/6/22)

A Georgia bill that would actually get cannabis oil into the hands of patients goes down, the DC city council narrowly rejects a bill that would effectively legalize adult pot sales, and more.

The Sentencing Project is warning of new mandatory minimums in a bill now before the Senate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Legalize Pot Sales for Adults, Crack Down on "Gifting." The District of Columbia city council narrowly voted down a bill that would have allowed people 21 and over to "self-certify" themselves as medical marijuana patients but would have also cracked down on unlicensed operators who have been "gifting" marijuana to people who buy token products and services. The District legalized marijuana possession in a 2014 initiative, but has been blocked from implementing legal sales by Congress. The bill that went down in defeat Monday actually had majority support but needed nine of the council's 13 votes to pass. It got eight.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill to Allow Patients Access to Medical Marijuana Falls One Vote Short. State legislators approved a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but that bill left patients in the lurch because it did not provide any means of providing cannabis oil. A bill that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil, House Bill 738, passed the House earlier this year, but the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote in March, and now, the legislative session has ended without the Senate taking any further action.

Sentencing

Sentencing Project Urges Senate to Oppose Hawley Bill to Impose New Mandatory Minimums. In a letter submitted to the Senate, The Sentencing Project’s Amy Fettig urged the U.S. Senate to oppose the request for unanimous consent on S. 3951 – the PROTECT Act of 2022 – and vote no on the bill. The bill, from Trumpist rightist Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), seeks to build on recent GOP talking points around child pornography by creating new mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses, but as the Sentencing Project noted, "The US Supreme Court, Congress and the US Sentencing Commission have acted in a bipartisan way for almost 20 years to address federal mandatory minimum sentencing policies in order to create more fairness, proportionality and equity in sentencing. Unfortunately, this bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing policies, including an attempt to establish mandatory sentencing guidelines – previously ruled unconstitutional – for certain offenses. This legislation would have far-reaching implications for eroding fairness and justice, including the potential to usher in a new era of mandatory minimums." The Senate was set to vote on a unanimous consent request for the bill on Wednesday.

International

Mexico's Zacatecas State Sees 16 Cops Killed So Far This Year. An ongoing turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in the west-central state of Zacatecas has seen at least 16 police officers killed in the first quarter of 2022, according to a register of killings of police. The most recent killing was March 26 in Fresnillo, when an off-duty officer was killed when armed civilians at a roadblock opened fire on his vehicle, then lit it on fire. For the last week, police across the state have gone on strike, demanding better pay and healthcare, the reinstatement of fired officers, and deploring the security situation in the state. The state is currently short about 3,000 police officers. Zacatecas is now the state with the highest number of police killingsso far in 2022 and also currently has the highest homicide rate of any state in the country. 

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

With 2021 now receding in the rear view mirror, we look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the arena of drug policy around the world.

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

Protestors denounce Duterte's bloody drug war. (hrw.org)
Rodrigo Duterte's term as Filipino president may be coming to an end, but his bloody legacy of drug war murders is going to haunt him. For us, last year actually begins in December 2020, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its preliminary examination of the Filipino drug war showed evidence of crimes against humanity, clearing the path toward a formal investigation into what are estimated to be more than 30,000 killings. At that point, the ICC had to determine whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines couldn't or wouldn't hold perpetrators accountable, the court could take the case.

ICC attention was only one piece of the mounting international pressure over the Duterte killings. For example, in February, US Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the full exoneration and release of Philippines drug war critic Senator Leila De Lima, who had then been detained on bogus, politically-motivated charges for four years. Now, it's been nearly five years, and she is still behind bars.

In May, a blustering Duterte vowed he would not open up police records about the killings and warned drug dealers that: "If I am there, I will really kill you. I don't care if there's TV around. I will really kill you."

In June, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded its preliminary investigation and announced there was sufficient evidence to request authorization to proceed with an official investigation, which prompted the Duterte administration to say it would not cooperate with the ICC investigation.

In August, Duterte again resorted to bluster, this time taunting the ICC during his last State of the Nation address and daring the court to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country."

But while Duterte blustered, his Justice Department was attempting to blunt the ICC investigation by announcing it had finished a review of 52 drug war killing cases. It was a weak effort though: The cases represented only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 killings for which the Philippines National Police took responsibility. And it wasn't enough to stop the ICC, which announced in September that it would open an official investigation into the killings, setting the stage for summonses and possible arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan.

In October, once again moving to blunt the investigation, the Justice Department announced that 154 police could be liable for drug war misconduct and then announced it would review thousands of drug war killings. The government also invoked a provision of the ICC's Rome Treaty to suspend the investigation while its request to defer it got considered. The following month, the ICC temporarily did suspend its official investigation, as per the treaty. "The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote.

The year ended with human rights groups urging the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

Afghanistan has been the world's largest producer of opium since the 1990s, except for one year when the Taliban banned it the first time they held power. Opium never went away during the nearly two-decade long occupation by the US and NATO forces, and despite Taliban declarations to the contrary, it does not look like the trade is going anywhere.

When the Taliban completed their conquest of the country by seizing Kabul in August, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced," Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

By October, the price of opium was rising in local markets, having tripled since the Taliban took power as buyers anticipated an opium shortage because of the possible ban, but the ban has yet to materialize.

And a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report that same month made it clear why the ban is unlikely to materialize. In a country now in economic crisis because the foreign spending that propped up the previous regime has vanished, UNODC reported that the spring opium crop had generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, also noting that "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan."

The 2021 crop was some 6,800 tons, up 8% over 2020. Given the devastation of the Afghan economy and the unlikelihood that the Taliban will move against a crop that supports hundreds of thousands of Afghan families, it's entirely possible that the crop next spring will be even larger. As one farmer told the UNODC, "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium."

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

Sixteen years after then-President Felipe Calderon called out the military to combat rising violence, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence continued unabated in 2021, with more than 25,000 killed by the end of November.

Amidst the quotidian violence, some notable incidents stand out: in March, an attack on a police convoy in Mexico state left 13 officers dead; in May, presumed cartel gunmen ambushed Joel Ernesto Soto, director of the Sinaloa State Police, on Monday, killing him on the outskirts of Culiacan, the state capital; in June, gunmen in SUVs representing warring factions of the Gulf Cartel ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead; in August, masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. And on and on.

The west central state of Michoacan was particularly plagued by cartel violence in 2021, beginning with an April massacre by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla. In May, warring cartels blocked highways and burned vehiclesin Aguililla and neighboring municipalities.

As violent clashes and blockades continued through the year, residents of those municipalities took to the streets in September took to the streets in Septemberto excoriate the military for staying in its barracks and demand military intervention to fight the cartels. It didn't work. That same month, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel beheaded five men manning a checkpoint on the edge of Tepalcatepec designed to keep the drug gangs out. And in November, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel struck again, killing five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco as it pursued its war with local criminal gangs.

When it comes to US-Mexico cooperation in the war on drugs, 2021 was not a good year. It began with a huge diplomatic spat around the DEA's arrest in late 2020 of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was subsequently released after loud protests from Mexico, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who personally accusing the DEA of making up the case against Cienfuegos. The US retorted with the Justice Department sharply rebuking Mexico for releasing a massive trove of evidence in the aborted drug trafficking case against Cienfuegos. Mexico then countered with a call for a DEA internal probe of the "fabricated" case.

Amidst the controversy, US investigations into the cartels were paralyzed as a law enacted in December requiring US officials to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom they view as largely corrupt, went into effect. In May, US and Mexican officials told Reuters the fight against Mexican drug trafficker had "ground to a halt"because of strained relations between the two counties.

But in October, there was a glimmer of hope for fans of continued anti-drug coordination between the two countries. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting came after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations.

4. Mexico Didn't Get Marijuana Legalization Done (Again)

Two years after the Mexican Supreme Court found marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and ordered the government to legalize it, the Senate finally passed a legalization bill in late 2020. The measure appeared to have momentum on its side, especially after the Chamber of Deputies approved it in March. Under the bill, people 18 and up would be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also created a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce.

The momentum appeared to hold through April, when the bill won two Senate committee votes in as many days but then hit a last-minute snag when it ran into opposition from unhappy with the revised version of the bill. With that, the bill was dead in the water until the congress returned to work in September.

Progress remained slow when lawmakers returned. It was only in November that a draft legalization bill was being circulated among senators, and while there were hints that a vote could happen in December, it didn't. Maybe in 2022.

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

In May, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved an anti-drugs campaign aimed at methamphetamines, and by mid-month police had killed 86 people and arrested 7,000. About the killings, police claimed they were only defending themselves in confrontations with drug traffickers, but family members and activists claimed they were executions. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also said the anti-drug campaign was part of an effort to target and intimidate it.

By the end of May, the toll had risen to 115, with more signs of extrajudicial killings and complaints from the BNP that some party workers had been killed during the campaign despite no connection to the drug trade. Authorities continued to claim that dead dealers had died in crossfire or in gunfights with police, but more families complained that their relatives had been arrested and then killed in custody. Most of the raids were carried out by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), a controversial force that human rights groups have repeatedly accused of abuses, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

By June, the United Nations was responding, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein saying the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers must be "immediately halted" and the perpetrators brought to justice. "Every person has the right to life and they do not lose their human rights because they sell drugs," he added. At that time, the toll stood at 130 dead and 13,000 arrested.

After that, the campaign quieted down, but there is no sign of any Bangladeshi investigations into the killings and human rights abuses in in the late spring. The United States, however, was paying attention, and in December, imposed sanctions on the RAB for human rights abuses, abductions, and hundreds of extrajudicial killings going back to 2018, targeting not only drug dealers, but also opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

Canadian cities, provinces, and activists pressed the Liberal federal government on drug reform issues throughout the year, with important struggles being waged around drug decriminalization and the vanguard issue of a safe drug supply, as well as a noteworthy milestone reached in opioid maintenance therapy.

The Liberals started the year off by introducing a sweeping criminal justice reform billthat 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 critics who demanded deeper reforms scoffed that it was too little, too late.

In April, British Columbia showed what deeper reforms might look like when it formally requested permission from the federal government for provincial drug decriminalization. That same month, saying the Liberal's reform bill didn't go far enough, the New Democratic Party's health critic, MP Don Davies filed a federal drug decriminalization bill.

VANDU is the vanguard.
The city of Vancouver also sought an exemption from federal drug laws to enact decriminalization.The city recommended the decriminalization of one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine, 1.5 grams for amphetamines, two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, and three grams for cocaine. That did not sit well with the city's vanguard drug user activists, who harshly criticized the possession limits. At that point, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) announced that it is withdrawing from talks with the city, and it and other drug policy advocates complained that drug users were largely excluded from the decriminalization process and that police have too large a role.

The push for decriminalization continued throughout the year. In October, nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, urged Prime Minister Trudeau to decriminalize drug possession. And in November, Toronto moved toward decriminalizationas the city's top health officer, Dr. Eilenn de Villa, recommended that the board of health approve a request to the federal government to exempt city residents from criminal charges for small-time drug possession.

But even though decriminalization is in the Liberals' platform, the party under Justin Trudeau is not ready to go there yet. After calling elections in August, necessitating a restart on January criminal justice reform bill, and despite the rising clamor for decriminalization, the Liberal government refiled the bill anyway.

In the summer, an even more direct challenge to drug prohibition was underway as British Columbia moved toward providing a "safe supply" of illicit drugs to street users.A provincial policy directive in British Columbia requires all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths.

A Vancouver elected official and local activists got in on the action, too, when Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the Downtown Eastside in a bid to dramatize the need for a safe drug supply. They also wanted to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

The following month, they were at it again, handing out a "safe supply" of drugs to mark International Overdose Awareness Dayto show the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. And in September, DULF and VANDU formally asked the federal government to allow buyers' clubs for hard drugs. They requested a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs.

And in October, the province of Alberta expressed interest in a safe drug supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them.

Meanwhile, magic mushroom shops were sprouting in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in in the city even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said.

And last but not least, in September, a Vancouver clinic began providing take-home prescription heroin,a North American first. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days, but now the patients can take it home themselves.

7. Malta Becomes First European Union County to Legalize Marijuana -- Germany, Luxembourg Next?

The Maltese parliament approved a bill legalizing marijuanaon December 14, and President George Vella signed it into law four days later, making the country the first member state of the European Union to do so. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law does not envision commercial sales but allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500.

Either Germany or Luxembourg could be next. In October, the government of Luxembourg unveiled its marijuana legalization proposal, which would allow people 18 and over to grow up to four plants and possess up to three grams in public. Like Malta, the Luxembourg law does not envision commercial sales, but people would be allowed to buy and trade marijuana seeds for their home gardens. The proposal still has to be approved by parliament.

And in November, the three parties who have formed Germany's new governing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats -- agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The coalition is prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

8. Italy's Pending Referendum on Marijuana and Plant Psychedelics

Italy is on the cusp of a bold drug reform move. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties including the Radicals launched a ballot campaignin for a referendum to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and other psychoactive plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms. They faced several challenges: First, they had to obtain half a million valid voter signatures by month's end and have the signatures validated by the Supreme Court of Cassation, then the Constitutional Court would have to rule that the measure is in line with the constitution, and only then, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing the cultivation of marijuana and psychoactive plants should be stricken.

In October, activists met their first challenge, turning in some 630,000 raw signatures. They were able to meet their signature-gathering goals so quickly because a pandemic-related policy change allowed them to collect signatures online instead of only in person.

Now, after having staved off an attempt by rightist parties to block it, the fate of the referendum is before the courts. If it wins final approval from the Constitutional Court, which will determine whether it conflicts with the constitution, international treaties, or the country's fiscal system, voters could go to the polls on the issue sometime between April 15 and June 15.

There's tons of cocaine around these days. (Pixabay)
9. Cocaine Production Has Doubled in the Course of a Decade

In June, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its annual estimate of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, the three perennial coca and cocaine producing nations. What is at first glance most striking in the current report is that for the first time, one nation -- Colombia -- produced more than 1,000 metric tons of cocaine.

But a closer reading of the report, which details coca cultivation and cocaine production going back to 2010, produces an even more striking finding: Over the decade that the report covers, the total amount of potential cocaine production in the three countries has more than doubled, from 914 tons in 2010 to a whopping 2,132 tons in 2020. In other words, Colombia alone produced more cocaine in 2020 than the whole region did a decade earlier.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does its own annual estimates of global potential cocaine production, and while they differ from those of the United Status, they outline the same massive expansion of cocaine. According to UNODC numbers compiled at Statista, beginning in 2004, 1,000 tons or more (slightly more in most years) was produced every year except 2012, 2013, and 2014, when it dipped down into the 900s. That series, which ended in 2019, has cocaine production topping out at 1,976 tons in 2017.

In the most recent edition of the UNODC's World Drug Report, that organization also reported that cocaine production had doubled, but put the period of doubling from 2014 to 2019, when it registered 1,784 tons.

Take your pick of the numbers. Either way, there is a lot more cocaine being produced these days than just a decade ago, tons more of it.

10. World Health Organization Declines Move Toward Labeling Kratom a Controlled Substance

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recommended in November that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review.

WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine [the active alkaloid in kratom] has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

Washington Post Endorses Safe Injection Sites, NIDA to Look at Ibogaine Derivative, More... (12/8/21)

The Canadian federal government has again filed a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses, WHO declines to recommend a "critical review" of kratom, and more.

kratom (Creative Commons)
Kratom

WHO Declines to Recommend "Critical Review" of Kratom. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) has recommended that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review. WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

Drug Treatment

US Government Will Test Ibogaine Derivative as An Addiction Treatment. A private startup will work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test its patented version of ibogaine as a potential treatment for drug addiction. "The therapeutic potential for ibogaine is huge," says David Olson, cofounder of the company, Delix. "There are some indications that a single dose can keep people with opioid use disorder drug-free for months." Derived from the iboga shrub in West Africa, ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that has been found to help people get off heroin and other opioids, but the Delix version is non-psychedelic and does not cause cardiac arrhythmias.

"We started with the ibogaine structure because of its fantastic efficacy, and we whittled it down to its essential feature," says Olson, describing how he modified ibogaine to remove the psychedelic-inducing properties. "By cutting it down, we got rid of these undesired side effects." NIDA's Addiction Treatment Discovery Program is set to contract a lab to do preclinical tests on the Delix compouond. If the preclinical data finds the drug could be a safe and effective potential addiction treatment, the company will apply to the Food & Drug Administration to launch human clinical trials.

Harm Reduction

Washington Post Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "Tough-on-drugs policies have failed. Supervised injection sites will save lives," the Washington Post editorial board has come down firmly in favor of the harm reduction intervention. Noting that New York City has just become the first in the US to officially allow safe injection sites, the Post notes that "this strategy may seem counterintuitive as US drug overdose deaths reach unprecedented levels. In fact, a smart and compassionate approach, which other countries have already tested, will save lives where tough-on-drug policies have failed."

After examining New York City's approach and noting questions about the legality of allowing supervised drug use, the Post editorial concludes thusly: "There is no magic bullet to combat drug addiction, but one thing is clear: A trained person on-site to respond to someone in the throes of an overdose can save that life. More US cities should embrace the opportunity to prevent needless death; the Biden administration should stay out of the way; and Congress should change federal law to clarify that local governments can authorize this lifesaving work. No more people should have to die before attitudes finally change."

International

Canada's Liberal Government Files Bill to Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses. The federal government filed a bill in the House of Commons Tuesday that would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, as well as some gun-related offenses. The bill would return sentencing discretion to judges and would also allow for the greater use of probationary sentences, as well as house arrest, counseling, or drug treatment. The bill revives legislation that was introduced in February but was not approved before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election in August. Mandatory minimum sentences "simply did not work," Justice Minister David Lametti said as the bill was rolled out.

MN MedMJ Patients to Get Access to Edibles, DEA Increases Research Quotas for Psychedelics, More... (12/2/21)

Georgia's parliament toughens that country's drug laws, the Rhode Island ACLU announces a settlement in a medical marijuana employment discrimination case, and more.

The DEA has set a whopping increase in research quotas for psilocybin, among other psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program to Add Edibles as New Option. The state Health Department announced Wednesday that its medical marijuana program is adding edibles as a new option for patients. The department said it is adding infused edibles in gummies and chews as approved delivery methods for marijuana. Other approved delivery methods are pills, vapor oil, liquids, topicals, powdered mixtures, and orally dissolvable products, like lozenges, but not smokeable flowers. Smokeable flowers will be allowed in March 2022, based on a law approved by the legislature this year.

Rhode Island ACLU Announces Settlement of Lawsuit Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Discrimination.The ACLU of Rhode Island on Thursday announced the settlement of a lawsuit dealing with the rights of medical marijuana patients in employment. The settlement comes four years after Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Richard Licht ruled in the case that a Westerly fabrics company discriminated against Christine Callaghan when consideration of a paid internship was rescinded because of her participation in the state's medical marijuana program and her acknowledgment that she therefore would not be able to pass a required pre-employment drug screen. In its decision, the court held that the state's medical marijuana law, which bars discrimination in employment against cardholders, applies to job applicants like Callaghan. Under the settlement agreement, the company has agreed to pay Callaghan $3,500 in back pay and compensatory damages, and to pay attorneys' fees. The company has also agreed to amend its drug use policy to consider applicants who are authorized medical marijuana cardholders.

Psychedelics

DEA Again Boosts 2022 Production Goals for Psychedelics Such as Psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT. In a notice in the Federal Register Thursday, the DEA has again increased the quota for the production for research purposes of illegal controlled substances such as psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT. The agency has repeatedly raised the quotas beginning with 2021 quotas in response to increasing scientific interest in psychedelics. In some cases, the increases are quite dramatic. With psilocybin, for instance, the DEA first set a 2021 quota of 30 grams. That quota is now set at 8,000 grams for next year -- a 26,567 percent increase.

International

Georgia Parliament Toughens Penalties for Illegal Drug Dealing. Parliament has adopted amendments to the criminal code, voting 84-1 to increase penalties for drug dealing. Sales of narcotic drugs will see penalties increase from a mandatory minimum of six years to 10 years, with the maximum penalty increasing from 11 years to 15 years. There a higher penalties for large quantities of narcotics. The penalty for selling psychotropic drugs (marijuana psychedelics) increases to a three-year mandatory minimum from what was a three-year maximum sentence. Again, there are more severe penalties for sales of larger quantities.

Drug ODs Top 100,000 in One Year, GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/17/21)

A Czech marijuana magazine editor gets convicted of promoting "toxicomania," the DEA has to return money it stole from Americans in two separate cases, New Yorkers rally for sentencing reform, and more.

Another bumper crop of Afghan opium this year. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

GOP House Member Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced 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 3 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.

Wisconsin Bipartisan Bill Would Lighten (Most) Marijuana Penalties. Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) have filed a bill that would lessen penalties for marijuana possession in most of the state, but increase fines in some of the state's largest cities, including Madison and Milwaukee, where the fine for pot possession is $1 in the former and $0 in the latter. Under current state law, pot possession is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Under the new bill, the maximum penalty would be a $100 fine with no possibility of jail time. Marijuana reforms have so far gone nowhere in the Republican dominated legislature, which has refused to pass even medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Forced to Return $100,000 Stolen from Two Victims. Twice in the past week, the DEA has been forced to return money it seized from travelers as they tried to board flights at domestic airports. Although it is not illegal to carry large sums of cash, in both cases, the DEA decided the cash had to have been illegally obtained and seized it. In one case, New Orleans resident Kermit Warren had $30,000 he was carrying to buy a tow truck seized by agents in Cincinnati. Only afte Warren's lawyers presented corroborating evidence to prosecutors back down, agree to return his seized money, and dismiss the case "with prejudice," being they cannot go after the money later. In the second case, with the same elements -- a US airport, a domestic flight, the presence of cash, and unsubstantiated claims about drug trafficking -- the DEA seized $69,000 from New York filmmaker Kedding Etienne. But Etienne, too, fought back and prevailed, but only after rejecting an offer to drop the case after the DEA skimmed 10% off the top.

Harm Reduction

US Overdose Deaths Topped 100,000 in One Year, CDC Says. An estimated 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period from May 2020 to April 2021, the highest one-year death toll ever, according to provisional estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a jump of 30 percent over the previous year. Experts point to the prevalence of fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply and the social isolation of the coronavirus pandemic as major drivers of the increasing toll. "This is unacceptable and it requites an unprecedented response," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Fentanyl was implicated in nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths, other opioids in about 12 percent, and non-opioid drugs were implicated in about a quarter of the deaths.

Sentencing

New York Activists Rally for Sentencing Reforms. Activists rallied all across the state on Wednesday to demand sentencing reforms under the rubric Communities Not Cages. Arguing that current laws are unfair and disproportionately target communities of color. The campaign is also calling for the passage of a trio of reform bills, the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, the Second Look Act, and the Earned Time Act. The first would eliminate mandatory minimums and the state's three-strikes law, the second would allow imprisoned people to seek resentencing after serving either half of their sentence or 10 years, and the third would increase "good time" laws to allow prisoners to earn more time off their sentences.

International

Afghanistan's Opium Production Continues to Rise, UN Report Says. Even as the country's Western-backed government was crumbling in the face of a Taliban advance this past summer, Afghan opium production was on the increase, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday. The 2021 harvest was some 6,800 tons of opium, up 8 percent over 2020. That generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, but "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan," it added. The Taliban has threatened to ban the crop, but faces the reality that opium -- which accounts for 10 percent of the national economy -- is a mainstay for thousands of families. "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium," farmer Mohammad Wali explained.

Czech Marijuana Magazine Editor Convicting of Promoting "Toxicomania." Robert Veverka, the editor of the magazine Legalizace, and the magazine itself have been convicted in a district court in the town of Bruntal of inciting and promoting "toxicomania." Veverka was sentenced to 2 ½ years of probation, with a one-year jail sentence hanging over his head. Judge Marek Stach conceded that the magazine provided comprehensive information and expert opinion, as well as insight into medical marijuana, but ruled that some articles could "incite" readers to acquire the means to grow marijuana themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

Hemp

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

Drug Policy

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

Opioids

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

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