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Incarceration

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NY Governor Says No Legalization in State Budget, First Federal Prisoner COVID-19 Death, More... (4/1/20)

It looks like coronavirus has killed marijuana legalization in New York this year, a new nonprofit focused on psychedelic education has emerged, a nonviolent drug offender is the first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, and more.

Prison is no place to be in the midst of a pandemic. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Advocates Call on Governor to End Ban on Recreational Marijuana Sales. Marijuana legalization advocates, doctors, and Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to end his ban on recreational marijuana sales because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most other legal marijuana states are allowing some form of sales. Baker has argued that because Massachusetts is one of the only states in the region that allows recreational marijuana sales, leaving the stores open would attract traffic from other states.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday the state is not likely to legalize marijuana as part of its budget process, dramatically reducing the likelihood that such a measure will pass this year. Cuomo had pushed for inclusion in the budget, but with the budget deadline looming and the state in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said legalization wasn't likely.

Incarceration

First Known Federal Inmate, a Nonviolent Drug Offender, Dies of Coronavirus. The US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has confirmed that a federal prisoner had died from COVID-19. That is the first known coronavirus death in the federal system. He was identified as Patrick Jones, 49, who was serving a 27-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. He was doing time at a low-security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. Fourteen other prisoners and 13 staff members are also infected by the virus.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Orders Prisoner Lockdown. The BOP announced Tuesday that it is moving to Phase Five of its COVID-19 Action Plan, which means all federal prisoners will be confined in their cells for the next 14 days to slow the spread of the virus. The move comes "in response to a growing number of quarantine and isolation cases in our facilities," the BOP said. The BOP also said it is coordinating with the US Marshals Service to "significantly decrease" the arrival of new prisoners. BOP said it would reevaluate after 14 days.

California to Release 3,500 Prisoners Early as COVID-19 Spreads in State Prisons. Lawyers for the state told a panel of federal judges Tuesday the state is taking "extraordinary and unprecedented protective measures" to slow the spread of the virus, including plans to accelerate release and parole dates for 3,500 inmates serving terms for nonviolent crimes and already due to be released within 60 days. The releases are to be conducted "within the next several weeks." The state has already been locking down cell blocks where prisoners exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Psychedelics

Denver-Based Nonprofit Launches National Organization to Educate Public and Develop Leadership in Psychedelic Ecosystem. The Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education ("SPORE") announced today its nonprofit status as an organization that envisions a world where everyone has safe and responsible access to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. SPORE was founded by two proponents of the Denver Psilocybin Initiative, Kevin Matthews and Matthew Duffy, to educate the public and develop leadership in the rapidly growing psychedelic ecosystem to support human wellbeing. The group is being sponsored by the nonprofit group Reconsider and a $50,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

MO and OK Inits Could Fall Victim to Pandemic, COVID-19 Spreads Behind Bars, More... (3/30/20)

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, Pennsylvania says needle exchanges are "life-sustaining" during the pandemic, Vancouver moves to allow "safe supply" of regualted drugs during the crisis, and more.

COVID-19 is in the nation's jails and prisons.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. Missourians for a New Approach, the folks behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that the effort will not be able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign needs 160,000 valid voter signatures by May 3, but at this point has only 60,000 raw signatures. "Yes, it's a terrible setback," said Dan Viets, board chair of the group. "When there's no public gatherings, when people stay in their homes… it's very difficult to find voters."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Doubt as State Shuts Down Signature Gathering. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 is likely to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers has ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. The campaign needs to collect 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the November ballot. It would be "really difficult, if not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an initiative petition campaign could responsibly and feasibly collect the signatures necessary in order to make the 2020 ballot if that campaign doesn't already have the signatures on hand," said campaign spokesman Ryan Kiesel.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Needle Exchanges Are "Life-Sustaining," State Says. Needle exchanges are technically illegal in the state, but the state Department of Health has deemed them a "life-sustaining" service, allowing them to stay open amid the shutdown of other businesses and nonprofits. Some 20 such programs operate in the state, and advocates are hoping this designation could lead to their legalization down the line.

Incarceration

Coronavirus Spread Accelerates in US Jails and Prisons. Jails and prisons across the US are reporting an accelerating spread of COVID-19 with more than 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases. In New York City alone, at least 132 inmates and 104 jail staff have been infected. Jails and prisons are responding in varying ways, including releasing thousands of inmates from detention, some with little or no screening before they are released.

International

Vancouver Moving to Allow Take-Home Doses of Regulated Drugs. Canada's British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with take-home supplies of regulated substances, including opioids, stimulants, tobacco, and alcohol. Vancouver has long called for "safe supply" for drug users, but the combination of two public health crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose epidemic -- has finally made it a reality, with the city drafting new guidelines to allow the practice. "These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they're able to comply with our public-health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines made the move possible.

Mexican Opium Poppy Cultivation Drops 9%, UNODC Says. The land area under opium poppy cultivation decreased by 9% between July 2017 and June 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. Land under cultivation fell from 78,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Poppy cultivation was centered in the Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua meet, but was also grown in northern Nayarit and in the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero. Analysts said the likely explanation for the decrease was a sharp decline in opium gum prices caused by rising demand for synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Chronicle AM: NM Governor Says Legalize This Year, KY Justice Reform Push, More... (1/16/20)

New Mexico could legalize marijuana next month, Virginia activists says marijuana decriminalization is not enough, Kentucky prepares to go to work on criminal justice reforms, and more.

The Virginia state capitol in Richmond. Activists and legislators are jousting over marijuana reforms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Marijuana Financial Services Providers Advances. The Assembly Committee on Business and Professions unanimously approved Assembly Bill 1525 on Tuesday. The measure would protect financial institutions and accountants serving the legal marijuana industry by clarifying that they aren't committing crimes under state law. The measure now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

New Mexico Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization In 2020. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has made marijuana legalization part of her formal agenda for the year. In the agenda she sent to legislators Wednesday, she said she wants a bill "legalizing the use of recreational cannabis in New Mexico and establishing a regulatory framework for its use, including public safety considerations, public health safeguards, and the protection of the state's existing medical cannabis program." A similar effort came up short in the legislature last year, and Grisham created a working group to come up with recommendations in the interim. The legislature comes back for a 30-day session next week, so if all goes well, the state could be the next to free the weed.

Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances, Even as Protestors Demand More. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday sent a marijuana decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2, to a subcommittee to be amended and then returned to Judiciary for further consideration. But the action came amid protests led by the state ACLU, which is calling for full legalization, and says decrim alone doesn't do enough to protect the state's minority communities.

Asset Forfeiture

Kentucky Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Reginald Meeks (D-Louisville) has filed House Bill 250, which would require law enforcement agencies to reveal more details about cash and property seized through asset forfeiture or face financial penalties. The bill does not seek to end civil asset forfeiture but would impose stiffer reporting requirements than currently exist. Under current law, agencies are required to make annual reports on asset forfeitures, but only 11% have actually done so.

Criminal Justice

Kentucky Governor and Legislators Make Criminal Justice Reform a Priority. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and the legislature have committed to advancing criminal justice reform this year and have several proposals for reducing the state's prison population to consider. Among them: defelonization of simple drug possession, increasing the threshold for moving a theft from a misdemeanor to a felony from $300 to $500, and probation and parole reform.

Chronicle AM: MI Jail Task Force Recommendations, Congress Wants Answers on Meth and Cocaine ODs, More... (1/15/20)

The Czech Pirate Party reaches for the stars, House members want answers from the administration about rising meth and cocaine deaths, and more.

A Michigan task force releases recommendations on cutting jail populations in the state. (Creative Commons)
Stimulants

Congressional Concern Over Rising Cocaine, Meth Overdose Deaths. The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are calling on the Trump administration to brief them on rising cocaine and methamphetamine deaths and what it is doing about them by early next month. Deaths involving both drugs increased by more than 30% in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are concerned that while the nation, rightly so, is devoting much of its attention and resources to the opioid epidemic, another epidemic -- this one involving cocaine and methamphetamine -- is on the rise," wrote Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Greg Walden (R-OR), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY). The lawmakers requested briefings from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Criminal Justice

Michigan Jail Task Force Releases Recommendations. A bipartisan task force created last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has released its recommendations for reducing the state's jail populations. The Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force report came up with 18 recommendations, including reducing the number of driver's license revocations for people dealing with crimes unrelated to traffic safety; expanding police discretion to write tickets instead of arresting and taking people to jail; providing crisis response training for law enforcement; and incentivize programs; creating partnerships between law enforcement and treatment providers to divert people with behavioral health needs from the system both before and after arrest, strengthening the presumption of pre-trial release on personal recognizance, and releasing people arrested on certain nonviolent charges prior to arraignment.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bill Would Decriminalize Drug Use, Allow Civil Commitment for Drug Abuse. State Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) has introduced SB 1222, which would decriminalize drug use in private places while at the same time allowing civil commitments for drug abuse. The bill would change the state's criminal code by amending the penalties for drug possession so that they only apply to drug possession with intent to deliver, effectively decriminalizing drug possession. The bill is a private member's bill and unlikely to even get a committee hearing, but Burgoyne said he was "hopeful that my legislation will start the conversation with lawmakers, law enforcement, and others about how we treat Idahoans, especially young Idahoans, who are suffering from drug addiction."

International

Czech Pirate Party to Push for Legalization of Marijuana; Prescribed Access to Ecstasy, Magic Mushrooms, LSD. Opposition MP Tomas Vymazal of the Pirate Party has announced plans to file legislation that would legalize recreational use of marijuana and allow doctors to prescribe psychedelics such as LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin. "Similar to the current practice of cannabis prescriptions, specialized medical workplaces would be able to prescribe the [above] substances," Vymazal said. The plan is opposed by the Health Ministry. The Pirate Party holds 22 seats in the 200-seat chamber of deputies.

Chronicle AM: Another MORE Act Vote, Austin Decrim, FL Init Shifts to 2022, More... (1/13/20)

The MORE Act should get another committee vote this week, the Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign has shifted its sights to 2020, Illinois' governor sketches out criminal justice reforms, and more.

Austin, Texas (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

MORE Act Set for Another Congressional Committee Vote Wednesday. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884) goes before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Wednesday. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's schedules and encourage states to expunge prior low-level convictions. It has already passed the House Judiciary Committee and the House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction, leaving five committees to go.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Shifts to 2022. Sunshine State residents will not vote on a marijuana legalization initiative this year after the Make It Legal Florida campaign announced it was giving up on efforts to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The campaign cited a looming February 1 deadline for signature gathering. The state had certified only 295,000 valid voter signatures on Monday; less than 40% of the total needed. The signatures it has already gathered are valid for two years, and the campaign said it will use them for a 2022 effort.

Florida Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. On the same day an initiative campaign called it quits for 2020, state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed SB 1860, a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult use and replace the current vertical integration structure by allowing growers to wholesale to independent processors or retailers. The bill would also expunge low-level criminal records and study the impact of home-grown marijuana.

Austin, Texas, May End Marijuana Arrests and Fines. In the wake of hemp legalization and the wrench that has thrown into enforcing marijuana laws, the Austin city council will consider a resolution next week that would effectively end arrests and fines for simple marijuana possession. City Council Member Gregorio Casar introduced the resolution last Friday. It would bar the city of Austin from using funds to develop testing procedures for THC or pay for lab tests in minor possession cases and direct police to not take any enforcement actions against people solely suspected of marijuana possession. In July, Travis County (Austin) prosecutors dropped dozens of marijuana cases, but Austin police have continued to arrest people for minor pot busts anyway.

Criminal Justice

Illinois Governor Sketches Out Criminal Justice Reform Plans. Gov. JB Prtiztker (D) laid out plans for criminal justice reform last Thursday. He and Lt. Gov. Julia Stratton (D) said they would "work to end cash bail for low-level crimes, push drug offenders towards treatment, and reduce mandatory sentencing" as part of a Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative. The two said they wanted to build a "fair" criminal justice system and cited current racial bias, especially in the war on drugs.

Is This the Worst State in America on Drug Policy? [FEATURE]

With endless miles of farmland shading into ever higher and drier terrain as one moves West, then on to the Badlands and then the Black Hills, South Dakota has a certain austere beauty. Not so in its approach to drugs. When it comes to drug policy, it is one of the ugliest places in the country.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state is a pretty bad land for drug users, too. (Creative Commons)
The staunchly conservative state holds the dubious distinction of being the only state to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative (although activists are giving it another shot this year, and a more wishful legalization initiative, too). And it is being sued by the state ACLU over the forced drug testing of toddlers and arrestees alike.

South Dakota also boasts the nation's only law making ingestion -- not possession -- of a controlled substance a felony, which helps explains the reflex resort to drug testing arrestees: A positive drug test becomes a prosecutable offense. While 10 other states have ingestion laws on the books, none of them make it a felony.

And now, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that South Dakota jails more people per capita than any other state, that almost half of all arrests are drug- or alcohol-related (compared to 29 percent nationally), and that people of color -- in this case, primarily Native Americans -- are disproportionately arrested at a rate far above the national average.

According to the report, South Dakota jailed 2,888 people per 100,000, nearly twice the national average of 1,506, and narrowly edging out Mississippi, which had 2,814 per 100,000. (Other states that jailed more than one out of 50 of their residents were Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.)

But jail is just the gateway to the incarceration complex, and when it comes to long-term stays behind bars, South Dakota displays the same sort of worrying numbers. According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the state's prison population has increased more than five-fold since the beginning of the drug war era 50 years ago. And despite 2013 reforms designed to reduce the prison population, it stubbornly stays near an all-time high reached in 2017.

In fact, new prison admissions spiked upward by 49 percent between 2015 and 2018. These numbers are largely attributable to drug prosecutions, with nearly one in three prisoners doing time for drugs in 2015, up from one in four the year before.

As the ACLU noted, "This increase was driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of people whose most serious offense was unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance."

That's right -- South Dakota is spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people not for drug dealing, not for drug possession, but for having used drugs and still having traces of them in their system.

And it's doing so in a stunningly racially disproportionate manner. Native Americans make up only 7 percent of the state's population but constitute nearly one-third (31 percent) of the state prison population. Similarly, the state has a tiny African American population (2 percent), but black South Dakotans made up 8 percent of the prison population. The imprisonment rate for both African Americans and Native Americans was seven times that of the state's overwhelmingly white population. For the state's Latino population, the imprisonment rate was three times that of whites.

In a press release in October, the state ACLU reported that it's just as bad in the state's jails, with Native Americans making up roughly half of all jail admissions and accounting for the majority of all drug- and alcohol-related arrests in the state. The group noted that Native Americans between ages 15 and 64 are jailed at 10 times the rate of white people in South Dakota.

"It's time to come to terms with the significant racial disparities that are so ingrained in our criminal legal system," said said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. "This is not something that can be mitigated by solely reducing the number of arrests in South Dakota. Our elected officials need to acknowledge the realities of these racial disparities and commit to tackling them head-on."

State leaders grasp that there is a problem here. The state legislature has set up an interim study group to examine the state's approach to drug offenses, which met for the first time in August. The group includes legislators, law enforcement, court administrators, the South Dakota attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Corrections, but not public health officials or actual drug users.

The panel heard even more disturbing numbers about drug prosecutions. There were 2,104 people convicted of drug possession statewide last year, a more than five-fold increase from 2009, even though drug use levels have remained relatively stable over that period. That is leading panel members to wonder about the role of local prosecutors in generating such large increases in prosecutions.

"Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can't incarcerate our way out of addiction," said the ACLU's Skarin, "The enormous amount of money South Dakota spends on jailing people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities."

That's why the ACLU is supporting initiatives such as reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor.

"Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse," Skarin said.

Pennington County (Rapid City) public defender Eric Whitcher is on the same page as the state ACLU. He told the interim panel that 73 of his last 100 drug possession cases involved only trace amounts of not enough of the drug to be able to be weighed and that if such cases were not charged as felonies, his office could operate with significantly fewer felony prosecutors.

"We are an outlier," Whitcher said of South Dakota. "We are creating more felonies for the same conduct than our neighboring states. What impact does that have on their lives?"

Dropping ingestion from a felony to a misdemeanor would be a step in the right direction, but it's an awfully small step. South Dakota has a long, long way to go to get on the right side of drug policy, and no natural beauty can hide that.

Chronicle AM: House Resolution Condemns Racist Drug War, Prison Racial Disparities Shrink, More.... (12/10/19)

Michigan legal pot sales are off to a hot start, a House resolution demands Congress apologize for racist drug war, a new report finds declining racial disparities in incarceration, and more. 

The Wolverine state is embracing legal marijuana if early sales figures are any indication. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball on Verge on Okaying Marijuana Use. The league has already abandoned testing for marijuana for the major leagues, but now it and the players' union have reportedly agreed to remove it from the list of banned substances for minor leaguers as well as part of a wider deal involving opioid use in baseball. Until now, minor league players had been subject to a 25-game suspension for the first positive pot test, 50 games for the second, 100 games for the third, and a lifetime ban for a fourth offense. This isn't a done deal yet, but both sides said they hoped it would be by year's end.

Michigan Legal Marijuana Sales Off to Roaring Start. After only eight days of legal marijuana sales, Michiganders have bought more than $1.6 million worth of weed. And that's in only five retail shops already open in the state. Three of those shops either sold out their inventory or had only limited supplies of marijuana products. That $1.6 million in sales brought in more than $270,000 for the state in the form of marijuana excise and sales taxes. The state House Fiscal Agency estimates that once the legal marijuana market is fully established, sales will approach $950 million annually, with the state taking in $152 million in pot taxes each year.

Drug Policy

Lawmakers File Resolution Demanding Congress Apologize for Racist War on Drugs. House members led by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) introduced a House resolution on Friday calling on Congress to admit that the war on drugs has been a racially biased failure, provide justice to those negatively impacted by it and apologize to communities most impacted under prohibition. The resolution says "the House of Representatives should immediately halt any and all actions that would allow the War on Drugs to continue." It has 20 sponsors, including Karen Bass (D-CA), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Sentencing Policy

Racial Disparities in Incarceration Narrow, But Black People Still More Likely to Be Imprisoned, Study Finds. A new report from the Council on Criminal Justice finds that racial disparities in incarceration rates shrank between 2000 and 2016, but that blacks were still five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. The black-white imprisonment ratio dropped from 8.3-to-1 in 2000 to 5.1-to-1 in 2016. On a less positive note, black defendants are getting longer state prison sentences even as the number of arrests or incarcerations among black people steadily decreases.

Chronicle AM: OR Psilocybin Initiative Advances, Kamala Harris Rolls Out Criminal Justice Platform, More... (9/9/19)

An Oregon initiative to allow the therapeutic use of magic mushrooms is set to begin signature gathering, an Arizona initiative to legalize marijuana is going to get some minor tweaks, and more.

These psilocybin mushrooms could become available for therapeutic purposes if an Oregon initiative passes. (Creative Commons)
Arizona Legalization Initiative Will Move Forward with Minor Changes. The organizers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act are moving to make "minor" changes to their proposed initiative after changes were recommended by the Legislative Council. Most of the changes are stylistic or grammatical to make the measure consistent with how bills are drafted in the legislature, but one gap identified -- where funds from civil penalties and fines for violations of the act will go -- will be addressed. Backed by medical marijuana operators in the state, the initiative would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of pot but would limit retail sites mainly to existing medical marijuana dispensary locations. Retail sales would be taxed at 16%, with most revenues directed toward community colleges and public safety.

Psychedelics

Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Certified for Signature Gathering. Oregon officials certified the ballot title for the Psilocybin Service Initiative, or Initiative Petition #34, last Friday, opening the way for signature gathering to begin. The measure does not generally decriminalize magic mushrooms and their psychoactive ingredient, but instead would allow "manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities." Backers of the initiative have until July 2, 2020, to get 112,020 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

Criminal Justice

Kamala Harris Rolls Out Criminal Justice Platform. California senator and Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled a proposal for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration, help felons reintegrate into society, and increase oversight of police and prosecutors. She called for marijuana legalization, the end of the death penalty for federal crimes, the end of mandatory minimum sentencing, scrapping the cash bail system, and ending the use of private prisons, among other planks. Rivals for the Democratic nomination, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, have released similar plans.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Criminal Justice Proposals, British Drug Deaths at All-Time High, More... (8/19/19)

Bernie Sanders rolls out a radical criminal justice reform package, marijuana legalization initiatives get moving in Arizona and South Dakota, Atlanta rejects expansion of drug-free commercial zones, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Details Released. The Arizona Dispensaries Association last Friday released details of their proposed marijuana legalization initiative, the Smart and Safe Act. Supporters will need 237,645 valid voter signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The act would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, allow adults to grow up to six plants each (with a maximum of 12 per home), and provide for expungement of past pot convictions. Employers and property owners would have the right to forbid use at their workplaces and on their property. Marijuana sales would carry a 16% excise tax.

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Advances One Step. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) last Friday filed an official explanation of a proposed initiative to legalize marijuana. The initiative would legalize adult use through a constitutional amendment and require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp. Organizers will have until November 3 to come up with16,961 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Lawrence Denney (R) announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow qualified patients to possess up to four ounces and grow up to six plants. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment. Organizers have until April 30, 2020, to gather some 55,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 6% of voters from all 18 state legislative districts signing on.

Criminal Justice

Bernie Sanders Unveils Proposal for Massive Overhaul of Criminal Justice System. Democratic presidential contender Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) on Sunday unveiled a sweeping plan aimed at cutting the country's prison population in half and eliminating "institutional racism and corporate profiteering" in the criminal justice system. The proposal seeks to reform the nation's prisons, police departments, courts, drug laws and treatment of people who have mental illnesses. Sanders is calling for an end to cash bail, solitary confinement, the death penalty, and civil asset forfeiture while at the same time looking to legalize marijuana and safe injection sites for hard drug users, among other proposals.

Atlanta Kills Expansion of Drug-Free Commercial Zones. The city council's Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee voted last Tuesday to kill an ordinance that would expand the geographic boundaries of Atlanta's Drug-Free Commercial Zones. Those are areas where there are heightened penalties for drug crimes and where drug offenders can be banished from returning. Opponents of the expansion cited research showing the zones exacerbate racial disparities in drug policing.

International

England, Wales Drug Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High. The British Office of National Statistics has released drug-related death numbers for 2018 and reports there were 4,359 drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year, the highest number and the highest percentage increase (16%) since the series started in 1993. Between 2017 and 2018, there were increases in the number of deaths involving a wide range of substances, though opiates, such as heroin and morphine, continued to be the most frequently mentioned type of drug. Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 to their highest ever level, while the numbers involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) returned to their previous levels after halving in 2017.

Mexico's Top Court Demands Action on Medical Marijuana Regulation. After months of delays, the country's supreme court last week ordered the health ministry to issue regulations within six months on medical marijuana use. The court said the government's failure to act had put rights at risk for patients, including children. The health ministry said it would comply with the court order. The ruling comes as the country is moving toward recreational marijuana legalization.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

Philadelphia's progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner (KrasnerforDA.com)
Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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