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MA Drug Decrim Bills Move to Study Phase, New San Francisco DA Pledges Drug Crackdown, More... (7/13/22)

DC's congressional delegate files an amendment to allow marijuana use in public housing in places where weed is legal, Connecticut hands out its first social equity marijuana growing licenses, and more.

San Francisco's Tenderloin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Amendments to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing in Jurisdictions Where It Is Legal. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced Wednesday that she has filed two amendments at the House Rules Committee to the fiscal year 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to allow marijuana in public housing in jurisdictions where marijuana is already legal. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. The other would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. The amendments are co-led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Connecticut Social Equity Council Awards First Commercial Marijuana Licenses. The state took another step toward getting retail marijuana sales up and running Tuesday as the Social Equity Council awarded its first commercial marijuana licenses. The 16 licenses are for marijuana growers. The marijuana grows must be located in areas "disproportionately impacted" by the war on drugs. "Our actions today will be transformative for social equity applicants, but more importantly will bring change to communities most harmed by the war on drugs," said Andrea Comer, Connecticut Social Equity Council chair. It's not quite a done deal, though: Licensees must still pass a background check and pay a $ 3 million (!) fee before being officially licensed.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bills Move to Study Phase. After the legislature's Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery approved a pair of companion drug decriminalization bills, Senate bill 1277 and House bill 2119, last month, the legislation has now advanced to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. That committee has now referred the measures for further study, with a report issued at an unspecified later date. Most bills referred to study die there, and bill sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D) has expressed doubts about its future. Still, a decriminalization bill has advanced in the state legislature.

Law Enforcement

New San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins Announces Large Reversal of Boudin Policies Over Drug Arrests. After progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin was recalled by voters last month, incoming District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is now working to undo his policies. She announced that she would be going after drug dealers in the city, singling out the Tenderloin district as areas that need the most help. She also singled out fentanyl as the big drug to crack down in the city. "The days of giving dealers a free pass to flood the streets with fentanyl are over," said Jenkins during a press conference in the district on Tuesday. "I told the public that on day one I will begin enforcing drug crime law. I mean what I say and I am focused on delivering on my promise to hold serious and repeat offenders accountable for wreaking havoc in our communities like the Tenderloin." Jenkins said she would offer more details on policy changes soon.

HUD to Continue Evicting Residents for Marijuana Use, Singapore Drug Execution Delayed, More... (11/9/21)

Another poll has a solid national majority for marijuana legalization, an Ohio judge gets punished for jailing a court spectator for refusing a drug test, and more.

You still can't do this in public housing--even in states where marijuana is legal. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rasmussen Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Rasmussen poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, with only 23 percent opposed. The poll comes just days after a Gallup poll reported support for marijuana legalization holding steady at 68 percent. Even 54 percent of Republicans support legalization, along with 68 percent of Democrats and 62 percent among independents. When respondents were asked if legalization should be done at the local, state, or federal level, 47 percent said the federal government should be in charge, 32 favored the states, and 11 percent wanted local action.

Infrastructure Bill Includes Provision Allowing Research with Marijuana from Pot Shops. The massive infrastructure spending bill approved by the House last Friday includes a provision that will eventually allow researchers access to the marijuana actually being consumed by users instead of relying only on government-grown marijuana from its farm in Mississippi. That provision will require the transportation secretary to work with the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a report within two years with recommendations on allowing scientists access to storefront marijuana to study impaired driving.

Federal Housing Authority to Continue Taking Punitive Actions Against Marijuana Consumers. In response to a request for clarification from to Rep. Elizabeth Holmes-Norton (D-DC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reaffirmed its longstanding policy of banning marijuana users from federally-subsidized housing, even in states where it is legal. In a letter to Holmes-Norton, the agency says that it will continue to enforce policies that involve the "termination of the tenancy of any household" in instances where a tenant is found to have engaged in the use of a controlled substance while on the premises — "including [the use of] state legalized medical marijuana." Because marijuana remains classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance, "HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana," the letter reads.

South Dakota Activists Miss Initiative Signature Deadline but Look to Federal Court Decision for More Time. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws announced Sunday that they would not turn in signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative by a Monday deadline, but are hoping that a federal court ruling will give them until next May to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. In August, the federal district court in the state ruled that the state's election law requiring signatures be handed in a year before the election was unconstitutional, pushing the deadline to the May before the election and enjoined officials from enforcing that provision. The administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is appealing the decision, but the activists argue that "the May 3 deadline is the law in South Dakota and we feel confident that we can rely on that extension." Voters in the state approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it has been blocked by lower courts and a final decision is still pending at the state Supreme Court.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Suspended for Jailing Spectator over Drug Test Refusal. The state Supreme Court has suspended a Seneca County judge for a year without pay for ordering a courtroom spectator to undergo a drug test and then holding that person in contempt and jailing her for refusing to do so. In the unanimous opinion, the court held that Judge Mark Repp violated rules of professional conduct for judges in the state, including a failure to perform all his judicial duties fairly and impartially. The woman, who was the girlfriend of the defendant before the court "suffered great personal indignities and emotional distress as the result of the security and medical screenings she had to endure during her incarceration, on top of the anxiety regarding the care and well-being of her two young children." The boyfriend was a drug court participant, and the Supreme Court held tat Repp's behavior toward him and his girlfriend was "undignified, improper, and discourteous."

International

Malaysia Okays Use of Medical Marijuana. Heath Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has formally acknowledged that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes. The acknowledgement came in response to a question from parliament. Jamaluddin said the medicinal use of marijuana complies with Malaysian drug laws, but that imports and the wholesale trade must be licensed. Medical marijuana should be sold by a registered medical practitioner or pharmacist. "Therefore, if there are parties who have sufficient scientific evidence to use cannabis (hemp) for any medicinal purpose by taking into account the aspects of quality, safety and effectiveness, then the application to register cannabis products for medicinal purposes can be submitted to DCA [Drug Control Authority]] to be evaluated and registered under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984 in order to be marketed in Malaysia," Khairy said in a written reply to the enquiry.

Singapore Delays Appeal Hearing on Man Set to Be Executed for 1.5 Ounces of Heroin. The nation's top court has postponed an appeal hearing for Malaysian national Nagenthran K. Dharmalingam, who was sentenced to death for trying to smuggle 1.5 grams of heroin into the country. Dharmalingam, who his attorneys say is intellectually disabled, was set to be executed Monday, but was delayed amidst an international campaign by human rights groups when the high court accepted an appeal. The hearing was originally set for Tuesday, with Dharmalingam set to be executed Wednesday if he lost on appeal. The appeals court noted that Dharmalingam had tested positive for COVID-19 and sent him away from the courtroom Tuesday, saying, "We have to issue a stay of the execution until all proceedings are concluded. That is the proper order of things."

DEA Agent Arrested for Role in US Capitol Riot, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (7/21/21)

A new Republican bill would bar food stamp recipients from using their cards for any marijuana purchases -- even medical, a Mississippi city reaches a settlement in the death of a man hog-tied by police while under the influence of LSD, and more.

Then DEA-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim was packing heat as he unlawfully entered the Capitol during the January 6 uprising. (DOJ)
Marijuana Policy

DC Delegate Files Amendment to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing, Protect Legal Medical Marijuana States. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday filed an amendment to the House appropriations bill dealing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would prohibit the department from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. A second amendment would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) are cosponsors of both amendments.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development should not be allowed to remove people from their homes or otherwise punish them for following the marijuana laws of their jurisdictions," Norton said. "More and more states are moving toward legalization of marijuana, especially of medical marijuana. It is time for HUD to follow the rest of the country and allow marijuana use in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it is legal. This should especially be the case for individuals living in jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana. Nobody should be evicted for following the law and the advice of their doctors."

Medical Marijuana

GOP Lawmakers File Bill to Block Even Medical Marijuana Marijuana Purchases by People Getting Federal Assistance. In the latest iteration of a continuing Republican push in recent legislative sessions to block people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF -- the food stamp program) funds from using them to buy marijuana, Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) filed a bill Monday that would bar TANF recipients from using their benefit cards for medical marijuana purchases. Similar measures already bar the use of such cards casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores. But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas. "Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,"said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis' medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people." It is woth noting that other Republican congressmembers have supported marijuana reform bills.

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, on a voice vote. Under the bill, patients with specified medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, would be allowed to use medical marijuana. The bill also sets up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana production and distribution. The bill now heads to the Senate Health Care Committee before moving toward a floor vote if successful there.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Arrested for Participating in Capitol Riot. A man who on January 6 was a probationary DEA agent (on the job for less than a year) has been arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. Then-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim faces federal charges of unlawfully entering the capitol building, and the Department of Justice provided photos that show him flashing his DEA badge and DEA-issued handgun during the riot. Ibrahim had submitted his resignation notice from the DEA weeks before the riot but was still an employee. The DEA clarified that he was off-duty at the time. One of Ibrahim's friends told FBI agents he went to the protest "to promote himself" as he considered launching a podcast and a cigar brand. [Editor's Note: No comment.]

Mississippi City Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Case of Man Who Died After Being Restrained by Police While Under Influence of LSD. The city of Southaven announced Tuesday it had reached a settlement with the family of Troy Goode, 30, who died in police custody six years ago after flipping out on LSD after attending a Widespread Panic concert. Goode died after police hog-tied him and placed him face down on a stretcher while being transported to a hospital. A preliminary autopsy report attempted to argue that he died from a heart related issue, possibly related to LSD, but LSD has no known links to heart failure. The details of the settlement were not released.

International

 

 

Belize Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Kareem Musa, the Minister of New Growth Industries, has filed a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana production and sales. The bill also has the support of the leader of the opposition party, the Honorable Shyne Barrow. Belize decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams in 2017, but there is no place to legally purchase it. This bill would change that. Belize borders Mexico, which is poised to enact marijuana legalization itself, and that could be propelling advances in the much smaller neighbor.

 

The Push to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition This Year Is Now Underway [FEATURE]

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) took to the House floor last Friday to begin the push to end federal pot prohibition this year with the introduction of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.

Can marijuana legalization get through Congress this year? And would Biden sign it? (Creative Commons)
"For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one's views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the federal level has proven unwise and unjust," Nadler said as he addressed his colleagues. "In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society. The MORE Act comprehensively addresses this injustice, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation."

The bill's initial cosponsors are Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY. A similar version of the MORE Act passed the House last year, only to die from inaction in the Republican-controlled Senate. But this year, the Democrats are in control, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he is preparing to file a bill in the upper chamber soon.

"Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level. Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition," said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in a press release. "With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set. It's past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research, as well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more."

The MORE Act has three main provisions:

  • It removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, making it legal at the federal level and clearing the way for states to legalize it at home.
  • It mandates that federal courts must expunge past marijuana convictions and allows them to hold resentencing hearings for those still behind bars or under non-custodial supervision.
  • It makes an effort to redress drug war wrongs and racially disparate enforcement by assessing a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana and pot products, which will be used fund three different grant programs for drug war victims, loans to small businesses "owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals," and to eliminate licensing and employment barriers for people "most adversely impacted" by drug prohibition.

The bill would also make legal marijuana businesses eligible for Small Business Administration funding, bar discrimination against people who use or possess marijuana (such as in federal housing) and require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on industry demographics to monitor how much poor people and minorities are actually participating in the industry.

"The MORE Act would not only decriminalize marijuana federally, but also take steps to address the harmful impacts of federal prohibition, particularly on communities of color," said Rep. Jackson Lee, Chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. "We need to pass the MORE Act as an important component of a broader effort to reform our drug laws, which disproportionately harm racial minorities and fuel mass incarceration. That is why I am also working to advance additional legislation to achieve comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is part of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups (155 organizations in all) that are backing the bill. It worked closely with Rep. Nadler on the original language of the bill last year and has been closely involved ever since.

"It is clear, by the overwhelming extent to which they passed the MORE Act last session, that the House understands this for the urgent racial and social justice issue it is," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement. "Our communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition have waited long enough for justice. We urge House leadership to move swiftly to bring the bill back to the floor this session, so that we can continue the momentum and move a marijuana justice bill in the Senate as well."

Unsurprisingly, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is also onboard.

"It's clear that Americans overwhelmingly support ending cannabis prohibition. Reintroducing the MORE Act is a powerful way to reorient negotiations around legalization that gives our entire nation the power to choose cannabis for medical and adult use, strengthens a blossoming industry that is creating jobs and fueling economic growth, and begins to rectify the harms of the racially motivated war on cannabis and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities through criminal justice reform and social equity initiatives, MPP Executive Director Steve Hawkins said in a statement. "We endorse this bill and urge Congress to pass it."

But the leader of the loudest anti-marijuana reform group in the country, Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, also unsurprisingly, thinks it's a bad idea.

"As we have said since the initial introduction of this short-sighted bill two years ago, the MORE Act is a complete non-starter and the wrong approach we need when it comes to federal drug policy," he said in a statement warning of Big Pot. "This bill would fully legalize marijuana; it will not simply decriminalize the drug -- which would only remove criminal penalties for possession. Rather, it's nothing less than the wide-scale commercialization and normalization of a drug that does not resemble the old marijuana of the 1970s."

It's pretty lonesome where Sabet is, though. The most recent Gallup poll had more than two-thirds (68 percent) favoring legalization and still trending up. Now, if somebody will just tell the Senate. And the president, who is so far standing firm not for legalization but for decriminalization. The question is: What will Biden do if he MORE Act lands on his desk?

Milwaukee Pot Fine to Drop to $1, Baltimore Ends Prosecutions for Drug Possession, More... (2/26/21)

Democrat lawmakers in Congress ask the Biden administration to reconsider its policy on past employee marijuana use, a Minnesota bill to provide protections for informants passes the Senate, and more.

France has embarked on a two-year experiment with medical marijuana.
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats Ask Biden to Reverse Employee Policy on Past Marijuana Use. Some 30 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Thursday to President Biden calling on him to reverse his administration's policy of removing or relocating staffers who had admitted to past marijuana use. The letter comes after reports came out that five staffers had been fired for past marijuana use. While they praised the administration's overall orientation, they said: "We, however, were dismayed to learn that several White House staffers were reportedly suspended, put on probation, or asked to resign after honestly disclosing past cannabis use. We ask that you clarify your employment suitability policies, remove past cannabis use as a potential disqualifier, and apply these policies with consistency and fairness."

Wisconsin's Most Populous County Drops Marijuana Fine to $1. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to drop the fine for small-time marijuana possession from $275 to $1. The measure passed on a 16-1 vote, and County Executive David Crowley says he will sign it into law.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Senate Approves Bill to Protect Police Informants. The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved "Matthew's Law," a bill named after Matthew Klaus, who died of a drug overdose while working as an informant for the Rochester Police. "Matthew had been a confidential informant in Rochester, working with the Rochester Police Department on drug buys, and during that whole process Matthew himself became the victim of a heroin overdose and passed away," Sen. Dave Senjem told his colleagues before they passed Senate File 304. The bill would require law enforcement entities in the state create and abide by statewide standards for handling informants and ensuring their rights are protected. The bill has now gone to the House, where it is before the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform and Finance and Policy committees.

Baltimore State's Attorney Makes No Prosecution Policy for Minor Offenses Permanent. Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) announced the city would no longer prosecute drug possession and other minor charges, and then crime dropped in Baltimore. On Friday, Mosby announced that the changes will be permanent and the city will continue to decline to try drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic, and misdemeanor cases. "A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore," Mosby said. "What we learned in that year, and it's so incredibly exciting, is there's no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses. These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against Black and Brown people. Prosecutors have to recognize their power to change the criminal justice system."

International

British Private Members' Bill Calls for Review of Drug Laws. MP Tommy Sheppard (Labor) has filed the Problem Drugs Bill, which seeks to reframe drug policy as a health issue, rather than one oriented around criminalization. It also calls for a basic review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This would allow not only a review of the classification system, but a fundamental reconsideration of Britain's legal framework for drug policy. The bill also calls for drug decriminalization and the approval of safe injection sites. Because it is a private member's bill, it is unlikely to pass, but can provide an opportunity to advance debate on the issue.

France Embarks on Two-Year Medical Marijuana Trial. The Health Ministry has announced that some 3,000 patients will be given medical marijuana while the national medicines watchdog monitors their health. The trial will go on for two years. The parliament had approved the project in 2019, but it was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fixing the Federal Criminal Justice System: The Establishment Weighs In [FEATURE]

In a just issued report on reforming the federal criminal justice system, a blue-ribbon task force of the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice calls for sweeping changes in the system from its approach to drug offenses to significant sentencing changes, support for getting ex-inmates successfully reintegrated into society, and more.

To make things better in the federal criminal justice system, Congress has some work to do. (Creative Commons)
Formed in July 2019, the Council on Criminal Justice is relatively new on the scene but contains some real heavy hitters. The co-chairs of its advisory board of directors are former US Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates and Koch Industries Senior Vice President Mark Holden, while its founding president is criminal justice expert Adam Gelb and the chair of its board is former head of the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs Laurie Robinson.

The members of the task force that issued the report, Next Steps: An Agenda for Federal Action on Safety and Justice, are also prominent figures from across the political spectrum. They include former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former Washington, DC and Philadelphia police chief Gordon Ramsey, American Conservative Union general counsel David Savakian, former director of the Open Society Foundation's Addiction Program's Dr. Kima Taylor, as well as Yates and Holden.

Noting in the report's executive summary that both crime and incarceration rates have receded -- although with a considerable lag between the two -- and that the federal prison population finally peaked in 2013, they write that "[y]et there is broad agreement across the political spectrum that more must be done to make communities safe and guarantee justice -- not just by states and localities, where the majority of the criminal justice system operates, but also by the federal government, which runs the country's largest correctional system and helps set the tone of the national conversation."

The task force sought "to craft a consensus view of the actionable, politically viable steps that the federal government can take now and in the near future to produce the greatest improvements in public safety and the administration of justice." With a nod to the ongoing pandemic, the task force noted that although it "concluded its deliberations before the outbreak of COVID-19, several of the recommendations are highly relevant to the federal response, in the short term and beyond."

So, what does this consensus view on federal criminal justice reforms look like?

The task force came up with 15 policy recommendations for actions by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, along with detailed rationales for each and equally detailed plans for implementing them. Here are some of the highlights:

Marijuana Policy

Reflecting the task force consensus but not quite catching up with public opinion, which now consistently favors legalization in opinion polls, the task force calls not for federal marijuana legalization but for instead allowing states to set their own marijuana policies through a system of waivers. It finds the status quo where "states are, in effect, licensing individuals and businesses to commit federal felonies" as untenable as "states and the industry continue to operate under an illusion of sovereignty where circumstances can change at any moment."

Instead, they recommend formalizing the status quo, acknowledging that states can enact legalization without fear of federal interference, unless and until marijuana is rescheduled or legalized at the federal level.

Sentencing Policy

The task force makes a number of pointed recommendations when it comes to sentencing policies that have made the land of the free the home of the world's largest prison population. They note that the US Sentencing Commission, which is responsible for setting guidelines for federal prison sentences, is currently paralyzed and "has been unable to modify sentencing guidelines to reflect current law, including the bipartisan reforms of the FIRST STEP Act of 2018," because the Trump administration has failed to fill vacancies on it.

The task force's recommendation here is: "The President and the Senate should fully reconstitute the US Sentencing Commission so it can fulfill its statutory duties to make necessary and timely adjustments to the sentencing guidelines, make recommendations to Congress for needed changes to federal criminal and sentencing statutes, and conduct research on the policies and operations of the federal sentencing and corrections systems."

One of the main drivers of the mushrooming federal prison population -- it grew from 24,000 in 1980 to nearly 220,000 before peaking in 2013 -- is mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, leaving federal prisons stuffed "not just with major traffickers but also with thousands of lower-level players in the drug distribution chain, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities," the task force notes.

While, over the years as the incarceration fever began to break, various efforts to mitigate the pernicious effects of mandatory minimums were implemented (and have helped reduce the number of federal prisoners), the task force is ready to be done with them. "Congress should eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for all drug crimes and consider eliminating non-drug mandatory minimums while refraining from enacting any new mandatory minimums pending study," it recommends.

Also on sentencing, the task force notes that neither Congress nor the courts have acted to restrict judges from sentencing someone based on conduct for which they have been acquitted in court, a practice that mainly occurs in drug conspiracy cases. The task force calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend federal sentencing guidelines to prohibit such sentencing.

And the task force is calling for federal prisoners serving lengthy sentences approved by "tough on crime" legislation in the 1980s and 1990s to be able to appeal to have their sentences reconsidered after serving at least 15 years, with a chance for review every 10 years after that.

Reentry

Giving federal offenders a chance of actually succeeding on the outside upon their release from prison is another main focus of the task force. It starts with recommending that Congress ensure the Bureau of Prisons is working as it should by creating "an independent performance, oversight, and accountability board (Board) to oversee and advise the Bureau of Prisons (BOP)."

To help prisoners prepare for post-carceral careers while still behind bars, the task force calls for the restoration of Pell grants and other expanded educational opportunities, and it recommends several measures to increase their chances once they're back on the street. Among them are sealing low-level criminal records from public view to help employment prospects, expanding public housing access for people with convictions, and providing guidance on closing Medicaid reentry gaps.

The task force also calls for Congress "to support and incentive increased access to residential and community-based treatment services that are evidence-based, including access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in order to strengthen reentry programs, prevent recidivism, and promote better health outcomes."

The Council on Criminal Justice is about as establishment and mainstream as it gets. When people like this are shouting for the federal criminal justice system to be fixed, you know it needs to be fixed (if you didn't already). The task force has shown us what needs to be done; now it's up to Congress, the courts, and the administration to act. We shall see.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legal Pot Bill Set to Move, Los Angeles DA Clears 66,000 Pot Convictions, More... (2/14/20)

The clock is ticking on getting marijuana legalization done in Mexico, a Pennsylvania patient fights for the right to have access to public housing, the LA DA clears 66,000 old pot convictions, and more.

Marijuana legalization draws ever nearer in Mexico. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmaker Announces Planned Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D), who filed an unsuccessful legalization bill last year, has announced in a letter to colleagues that he will try again this year. Wheatley's bill would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10% wholesale tax on business-to-business transactions and a 6% retail sales tax that would rise to 12% after two years and 19% after another two years. The bill would also expunge past marijuana convictions and promote social equity and restorative justice.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Clears 66,000 Marijuana Convictions. District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Thursday that she had secured the dismissal of some 62,000 felony marijuana convictions and 4,000 misdemeanor convictions. Her announcement came after she filed motions last week to erase those convictions and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ohta signed the order on Tuesday.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Patient Fights for Right to Stay in Public Housing. Medical marijuana patient Mary Cease has no criminal record and a low income, but the Housing Authority of Indiana County has twice denied her application for Section 8 housing because Section 8 is a federal program and federal law considers marijuana to be illegal, period. She sued and lost in the Court of Common Pleas last April, but has appealed, and on Thursday, a panel of three Commonwealth Court judges heard oral arguments in her case. Her attorneys asked them to reverse the lower court decision and order Indiana County to give her access to Section 8 housing. No decision is expected for weeks, and final resolution of the case could take months.

International

Key Mexican Lawmaker Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Be Approved This Month. Sen. Julio Menchaca of the ruling MORENA Party and head of the Senate Justice Committee said a bill to legalize marijuana was "already circulated to members" of key legislative panels and that "we hope to get it out in the Senate this month." Under a Supreme Court ruling, the Congress has until April to get it done. If the bill indeed passes the Senate this month, it would still have to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies.

Chronicle AM: NM MJ Legalization Bill Filed, San Francisco Heroin/Fentanyl ODs Double, More... (1/24/20)

A New Mexico marijuana legalization bill backed by the governor has been filed, Montana activists file a second legalization initiative, San Francisco authorities report a doubling of heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths last year, and more.

Heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths doubled in San Francisco last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. The activist group MontanaCan filed a marijuana legalization initiative, Ballot Issue 13, on Monday. That makes two potential legalization initiatives that could be on the ballot in November. The MontanaCan initiative would legalize marijuana for people 18 and up and cap the tax rate at 5%. That contrasts with the New Approach Montana initiative, which sets the age of consumption at 21 and the tax rate at 20%. Both are waiting to be cleared for signature gathering.

New Hampshire Legislature Has Marijuana On Its Mind. As the legislative session gets underway, lawmakers are confronting at least a dozen marijuana bills that have already been filed. Some have to do with medical marijuana, including one that would allow patients to grow their own medicine. Similar legislation has passed the General Assembly in previous years, only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu (R). Also on the agenda is a marijuana legalization bill, HB 1686, which was set for a public hearing Friday. That bill would legalize the possession of up to ¾ ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants, but does not envisage a legal commercial market.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque) and Antonio "Moe" Maestas (D-Albuquerque) filed marijuana legalization legislation, HB 160, on Thursday. The bill would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, as well as emphasizing social equity and local entrepreneurship. There would be a 9% excise tax on sales. The bill heads first in the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee and then in the House Judiciary Committee. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is pushing for the bill to be passed during the current 30-day legislative session.

Austin, Texas, City Council Walks Away from Marijuana Arrests. The city council approved a resolution Thursday directing city police to not spend city funds on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from low-THC hemp. The measure passed unanimously, and effectively ends arrests and prosecutions for small-time pot busts in most cases.

Chicago Housing Authority Relaxes Policy on Evicting Marijuana Users. The Chicago Housing Authority has relaxed its hardline approach to marijuana after the state legalized weed this year. Under federal law, people living in subsidized housing are subject to eviction for any drug law violations, and the CHA last year sent letters to its 63,000 households warning that families could be evicted for marijuana violations. But under pressure from Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D), the CHA has revised its policy to now say that each marijuana complaint would lead to "consideration of relevant facts on a case-by-case basis."

Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in March. Members of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will vote on legalizing medical and recreational marijuana and allowing alcohol in casinos in May. The move comes after council members voted in favor of a referendum earlier this month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

San Francisco Opioid Overdose Deaths Doubled Last Year. Preliminary statistics gathered by city officials show that overdose deaths involving heroin, fentanyl, or the two drugs together hit 290 last year, more than double the 134 reported in 2018. Of those 290 deaths, 234 resulted from fentanyl alone. Just a decade ago, the number of city residents who overdosed on fentanyl and/or heroin was only 17. "It's devastating. It's awful. It's the most deadly epidemic that we've seen in our city since the HIV/AIDS crisis was killing thousands of people," said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin district where the opioid crisis has hit the city hardest. "It is painful that this is not something being talked about every day at City Hall."

Drug Testing

Iowa Bill Would Make Cheating on a Drug Test a Crime. A bill that would make it a misdemeanor crime to cheat on a drug or alcohol test in a private-sector workplace has passed its first legislative hurdle, being approved Thursday by a Senate Commerce subcommittee. SSB 3013 is being advanced by business interests concerned about the use of synthetic urine and urine additives to beat drug tests.

Chronicle AM: Chicago Mayor to End Pot Car Seizure Strategy, Fed Court Upholds Life Sentence in Drug Death, More... (11/13/19)

While Chicago's mayor is trying to ease post-legalization pot penalties, the city's housing authority is warning public housing residents can be evicted for smoking at home; a federal court upholds a life sentence for a drug-related death; and more.

Chicago is getting ready to grapple with legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Campaign Raised More Than $1 Million Last Month. The Make It Legal Florida campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2020 ballot is benefiting from a large cash injection last month. The campaign raised nearly $1.1 million, almost entirely from two medical marijuana companies who stand to benefit from legalization. Surterra Holdings kicked in $544,000, while MedMen gave $540,000. The campaign spent $1.6 million in October, mostly on paid signature gathering. It needs 766,200 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the ballot, and because it's a constitutional amendment, would require 60% of the vote to be approved.

Massachusetts Regulators "Quarantine" All Marijuana Vaping Products Except Medicinal Use Buds. The state's Cannabis Control Commission moved on Tuesday to "quarantine" all marijuana vaping products except those that contain only buds and are intended for medical marijuana patients. The commission cited a CDC report that pointed a finger at Vitamin E acetate as the culprit in the recent wave of vaping-related illness and injury and said it was acting "in order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Massachusetts." The quarantine will stay in place until the commission develops regulations for the use of vaping products. according to a press release from the CCC.

Chicago Mayor Moves to Stop Impounding Cars Found with Marijuana. With marijuana legalization looming, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is drafting an ordinance to end the city’s practice of impounding vehicles found with marijuana inside and dramatically reduce fines for those caught using pot in public. "For far too long, unjust and outdated cannabis enforcement laws have adversely and disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods," she said. The ordinance would drop fines for public consumption from $250 to $500 down to $50 and end a "zero tolerance" rule requiring the seizure of vehicles with marijuana.  Lightfoot said in a news release.

Chicago Housing Authority Warns No Pot in Public Housing. The Chicago Housing Authority has warned residents of public housing they would be evicted if they use marijuana at home. "While federal law prohibits marijuana use and possession in federally subsidized housing, the Chicago Housing Authority is working to educate and inform residents so they understand all applicable laws related to cannabis and federally funded housing," CHA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said.

Sentencing Policy

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Life Sentence for Drug-Related Death. A federal appeals court in Michigan has upheld the life sentence of a man blamed for the drug-related death of another man. Steven Whyte was convicted of providing heroin to a man who overdosed and died. The court said the sentence was "severe and perhaps even misguided as a matter of criminal justice policy" but still constitutional.

Drug War Issues

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