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Chronicle AM: WA SIJs Win Court Ruling, Houston DA Goes Deep on Reforms, More.. (10/19/17)

Hemp farming comes a step closer in Wisconsin, safe injection sites win a court battle in suburban Seattle, Houston's DA is proving to be a real criminal justice reformer, and more.

Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg is unleashing a wave of criminal justice reforms. (harriscountytx.gov)
Industrial Hemp

Wisconsin Hemp Bill Advances. The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved an industrial hemp bill Wednesday. The measure, Senate Bill 119, would create state licenses for farmers seeking to grow hemp. Plants could not contain more than 1% THC. The bill is now ready for a Senate floor vote.

Bail Reform

New Mexico Governor Wants to Roll Back Bail Reform. Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment that aimed to ensure that low-level, non-violent offenders did not rot in jail awaiting trial, but now Gov. Susana Martinez (R) wants to repeal it. While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have concerns about how the courts are implementing reform, actually repealing it would be a long shot.

Drug Policy

Houston DA Lays Out Reform Agenda. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Tuesday laid out plans for what she called "more diversion, less jail" for people struggling with drug use or mental illness. Ogg released eight reports based on her transition team's recommendations, around everything from police shootings to bail reform to equality in justice to diversion, and more. Ogg has already enacted a marijuana diversion program and ended the prosecution of cases where only trace amounts of drugs are found. But she's ready to go deeper.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Judge Rules in Favor of Safe Injection Sites. King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galvan ruled Monday that a NIMBY initiative aimed at blocking a site in suburban Seattle "interferes with the duties and obligations of the Health Board and County Council." If upheld, the ruling would kill the initiative, which is currently set for a February vote, but foes vow to appeal the ruling.

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill [FEATURE]

A bipartisan group of Senate heavy-hitters have filed a bill aimed at reducing the swollen federal prison population by moving away from harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences, among other reforms. But it's not completely reformist.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--the face of sentencing reform? (Official photo)
The measure is a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions will provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies. 

The federal prison system has swollen dramatically since President Reagan reinvigorated Nixon's war on drugs. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal prison population has increased eight-fold since 1980, and while it peaked in 2012 and 2013, before Obama era sentencing reforms began to bite, there are still 192,000 people currently behind bars in the federal system.

The federal incarceration boom has largely been driven by the war on drugs. While the prison population jumped eight-fold, the number of drug prisoners jumped nearly 25-fold during the same period, according to the Sentencing Project. The nearly 81,000 people currently doing federal time for drug crimes constitutes nearly half (46.2%) of all federal prisoners.

The reform bill, S. 1917, was rolled out Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with cosponsors senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

"Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe," said Grassley. "This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society. This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward." 

"This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform," said Durbin. "The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done." 

Given who is behind it and the senatorial compromise it represents, the measure actually has a chance of moving in the Republican-controlled body. Still, even if it were to pass there, sentencing reform faces murkier prospects in the House and, if the first months of the Trump administration are any indication, implacable hostility from the White House and the Justice Department.

According to a summary from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill:

  • Reduces enhanced mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offenders and eliminates the mandatory life provision for third strike offenders.
  • Increases judicial discretion by expanding existing the "safety valve" allowing judges to sentence beneath federal guidelines to include offenders with broader criminal histories, including people with prior felonies or violent or drug trafficking offenses if a court finds those offenses overstate a defendant's criminal history and recidivism risk. The bill also creates a second "safety valve" allowing judges to sentence some low-level drug offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.
  • Reforms sentences for drug offenses with firearms to clarify that enhanced mandatory minimums only apply for people who have previously been convicted and served a sentence for such an offense and gives judges the discretion to order lesser sentences if the firearm wasn't brandished or discharged during the commission of a drug or violent crime. This provision would prevent abominations like the case of Weldon Angelos, the Salt Lake city music producer who got nailed for selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant, but ended up being sentenced to 55 years because he had a pistol in an ankle holster when he did his pot deals. (He was released last year after winning a sentence reduction.)
  • Makes the Fair Sentencing Act and certain other sentencing reforms retroactive, which would allow some nonviolent offenders current serving time to seek sentence reductions upon a judicial review.
  • Establishes programs to reduce recidivism, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Prisoners who successfully complete those programs could get to serve up to the final quarter of their sentences under home confinement or in a reentry center.
  • Limits solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody.
  • Creates a national criminal justice commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.
  • Creates new mandatory minimums for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons and defense materials to prohibited countries or designated terrorist groups, and creates a five-year sentencing enhancement for trafficking heroin containing fentanyl.

There's plenty in there to appeal to sentencing reformers, and some sops to conservatives, but from a drug reform and anti-prohibitionist perspective, this is just some fixes on the back end. From that vantage point, instead of haggling over how many months to shave off some poor sap's sentence, we should be questioning why he was even arrested and prosecuted in the first place.

But you have to start somewhere, and ameliorating some of the cruelest injustices of the drug war is a good place to get going.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida narc gets a case of sticky fingers, and a whole bunch of jail and prison guards break bad. Let's get to it:

In Jacksonville, Florida, a Jacksonville narcotics detective was arrested October 6 for allegedly stealing cash during the search of a house. Detective Jason Mann, an 11-year veteran, is accused of pocketing a $100 bill during the raid and is charged with petty theft and tampering with evidence. Now, previous cases he worked on are being reviewed.

In Live Oak, Florida, a former Suwannee County jail guard was arrested October 6 after she admitted sneaking a broad range of contraband into the jail for an inmate with whom she was in a sexual relationship. Former guard Susan Danielle Penuel went down after another guard went to authorities with information she was in a relationship with a prisoner. Upon questioning, she admitted it and admitted smuggling in "copious amounts of contraband into the facility ranging from illegal narcotics such as synthetic cannabinoids, MDMA, marijuana, cellular phones, cigarettes, alcohol and food." The exact charges she faces weren't specified.

In Pikeville, Kentucky, a Pike County Detention Center guard was arrested on October 7 on charges he smuggled tobacco and suboxone into the jail. Guard David Emmons went down after someone in the jail ratted him out, and investigators caught him with contraband in the jail parking lot. He is charged with promoting contraband and drug trafficking.

In Dayton, Ohio, a former Chillicothe Correctional Institution guard was arrested October 7 along with six other people accused of distributing meth at the prison. James Barlage, Jr., 31, was indicted on charges he got the meth from a Dayton man to distribute at the prison and now faces charges of conspiracy to distribute meth behind bars.

In Trenton, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday for allegedly supplying an inmate drug dealer with wares to sell in the prison. Guard Roberto Reyes-Jackson went down after an internal investigation was launched upon the discovery of drugs in the jail. The investigation found that Reyes-Jackson had taken a $200 bribe to smuggle in fentanyl packaged in single dose units marked with a panda face logo. He is charged with conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery and drug distribution.

In York, Maine, a York County jail guard was arrested last Saturday after being caught smuggling suboxone into the jail. Andre Sims, 24, resigned after being arrested. He is charged with drug trafficking and trafficking in prison contraband. He's out on $500 cash bail.

Chronicle AM: Dallas Ends Pot Possession Arrests, Possible Drug Czar Nominees, More... (10/18/17)

Dallas gives up on arresting pot possessors, the DOJ gives up on prosecuting the Kettle Falls Five, there's a new list of possible drug czar nominees, and more. 

No more small-time pot arrests in Big D. (Wikimedia Commons)

Marijuana Policy

Pro-Legalization Congressman Plans to Target Anti-Pot Lawmakers. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the leading advocates for marijuana legalization on Capitol Hill, told a cannabis industry meeting Tuesday that he is taking the offensive against lawmakers who try to block marijuana reform measures. And his first target is House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has used his position to block numerous marijuana measures. "We’re going to be putting up some billboards in Pete Sessions’s district. It’s going to feature a veteran and ask the question why Pete Sessions doesn’t want him to have access to his medicine,” Blumenauer said in remarks reported by Marijuana Moment. "We’re going to make the point that there are consequences. This is not a free vote. People are going to take a position one way or another. And if they are going to be part of an effort to deny people access to medicine that can be transformational…this is going to be part of the political landscape this year."

New Hampshire Legalization Commission Meets, Hears Criticism. At the first meeting of a legislative commission charged with studying the effect of marijuana legalization, advocates criticized the commission's makeup and said it was squandering an opportunity for an honest review of issues around legalization. "Sadly, the commission includes staunch opponents of reform such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but supportive organizations such as the ACLU-NH were excluded in the language of the final bill," said Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana, in remarks reported by NH1. "Additionally, none of the six legislators who were appointed to the commission has ever publicly expressed support for ending marijuana prohibition."

Dallas to Join Other Major Texas Cities in Not Arresting Pot Possessors. A decade ago, the state legislature passed a law allowing police to ticket and release people caught with up to four ounces of marijuana, yet only a handful of localities have taken advantage of that law. Now, Dallas is one of them. The city council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow police to just issue tickets, joining Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.

Medical Marijuana

Justice Department Drops Kettle Falls Case, Concedes It Is Blocked From Prosecuting. The DOJ Tuesday filed a motion to stay the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a group of Washington state medical marijuana patients and producers who had been pursued and prosecuted after a 2012 raid. In the filing, Justice Department officials conceded that an amendment barring the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal blocked them from proceeding with the case.

Arkansas Regulators Swamped With Applications, May Push Back Licensing to 2018. Deluged with applications to grow and sell medical marijuana, the state Medical Marijuana Commission has set December 15 when it will start receiving applications, but says even that date could be pushed back as hundreds of applications come in. That means there's still no approximation of the data medical marijuana will actually be available on store shelves in the Razorback State.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Sets Up Oversight Unit for Asset Forfeiture Program. Attorney General Sessions is setting up a Justice Department unit to oversee the equitable sharing asset forfeiture program, which allows state and local law enforcement to let the federal government "adopt" their cases so they can avoid state laws that limit where the proceeds go. Former Attorney General Eric Holder had stopped the controversial program, but Sessions reinstated it, calling it an "extremely valuable" tool for law enforcement. In a memo Tuesday, Sessions ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to name a director to review the policy and take action if needed.

Drug Policy

With Marino Out, Here Are Possible Drug Czar Nominees. There's a short list of possible nominees to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy after Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) was forced to withdraw over his championing of a bill blocking the DEA from going after opioid pain pills it suspected were being diverted from legitimate medicinal use. Among the possibilities are former New Hampshire Republican congressmen Frank Guinta, who headed a congressional heroin task force; Trump opioid commission member and Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Bertha Madras, outgoing New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie (R), who heads the opioid commission; Florida Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, and acting ONDCP head Richard Baum.

Foreign Policy

Trump Extends US "Emergency" Regarding Colombia Drug Trafficking. The White House announced Monday that it is maintaining a national emergency over the "extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy" posed by Colombian drug traffickers. The "emergency" has been in effect since 1995, and allows the government to quickly free up funds to protect threatened interests. Colombia is the home of the vast majority of cocaine consumed in the US. 

Amidst Controversy Over Anthem Protests, NFL Endorses Drug Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Caught up between players who insist on exercising their right to call out racial injustice in a manner of their choice and a scapegoating president who demands the league stifle what he deems unpatriotic protest, the National Football League has reacted in a surprising and progressive way: In a Monday letter to leading senators, the NFL endorsed a federal sentencing bill aimed at reducing the number of drug offenders.

The bill is the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917), rolled out earlier this month by such Senate heavy hitters as Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking Democratic member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), minority whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), among others.

"We are writing to offer the National Football League's full support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917)," said Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks owner Doug Baldwin, Jr. in the letter. "We want to add our voice to the broad and bipartisan coalition of business leaders, law enforcement officials, veterans groups, ci vii rights organizations, conservative thought leaders, and faith-based organizations that have been working for five years to enact the changes called for in this comprehensive legislation."

The subject of years of negotiation in the Senate, the bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders, give judges greater discretion to sentence below federal sentencing guidelines, reform sentencing enhancements around weapons possession (to allow departures from mandatory minimums if the weapon wasn't used or brandished), make Fair Sentencing Act of 2012 reforms retroactive, and create programs to reduce recidivism.

As compromise legislation, the bill isn't all reform. It also includes provisions creating new mandatory minimum sentences—for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons to terrorists—and harshly punishing the sale of heroin cut with fentanyl. Still, overall, the bill would be a big step toward reducing the federal prison population overall and the federal drug prisoner population in particular.

NFL player takes a knee. (PxHere)
More than two thirds of NFL players are black. And just like the rest of us, they understand that pro football isn't the only place blacks are overrepresented: As the by now numbingly familiar refrain goes, African-Americans make up only 13% of the population and use drugs at roughly the same rate as other groups, but constitute 40% of all prisoners and a whopping 72% of federal drug prisoners.

With racial justice issues bubbling up in the NFL since then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before a game last season to protest racial injustice in general and police killings of black men in particular, and reaching a fever pitch when President Trump used anthem protests to throw red meat to his base this season, the NFL has been desperately searching for a way to get over the anthem controversy and back to the business of pro football. Endorsing federal sentencing reform could be a way to do that, but it leaves the league trying to appease players on one hand while trying to give props to the cops on the other.

"Football and community are the twin pillars of the NFL," Goodell and Baldwin added. "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all."

For the NFL, they wrote, the challenge is "ensuring that every American has equal rights and equal protection under the law, while simultaneously ensuring that all law enforcement personnel have the proper resources, tools, and training and are treated with honor and respect."

For the team owners, however, the challenge is whether this move will quell the controversy, get the players back to concentrating on football, and get President Trump back to concentrating to anything—anything!—other than the NFL. 

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws, NFL Endorses Sentencing Reform, More... (10/17/17)

Stories pile up when you spend a week at the drug reform conference: Trump's choice for drug czar is out, the NFL endorses sentencing reform, California's governor signs a sentencing reform bill, and more.

The National Football League has formally endorsed a federal sentencing reform bill. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction of Vehicle Passenger. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out the marijuana possession conviction of a car passenger, saying the mere fact that he was in the vehicle didn't mean he actually possessed the drug. Marvin Carver had been charged after the car his half-brother was driving was pulled over and marijuana was found. The half-brother said the marijuana was his, and prosecutors never proved that Carver knew about or intended to possess the pot, the court noted.

New Hampshire Marijuana Study Group Holds First Meeting, No Legalizers Included. A commission charged with studying the potential impact of marijuana legalization is holding its first meeting today. Created by the legislature, the commission includes lawmakers and representatives of several state agencies, including banking, law enforcement, and the medical community. Of the legislators, several have voiced opposition to legalization and none are on record in support of it.

Maine Legalizers Reject Legislative Rewrite of Marijuana Law. Legalize Maine, the group behind last year's successful legalization initiative, has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of the law, saying it "isn't ready for prime time." The group strongly objects to bill language requiring localities to "opt in" to the legal marijuana business instead of having to "opt out." Such a provision will only create chaos and encourage the black market, the group says.

Pennsylvania ACLU Report Finds Large Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. In an analysis of 2016 arrest data, the ACLU found that black adults in the state were eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Marijuana arrests in the state have increased in recent years, and so has the racial disparity in arrests. It was less than six to one in 2011. The arrest figures don't include Philadelphia, which decriminalized in 2014 and saw arrests plummet 88%. But even in Philly, blacks were still three times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Grow License. The state Department of Health has approved Cresco Yeltrah's 40,000-plus-square-foot indoor grow operation, making it the first medical marijuana grow in the state to be approved. The planting of seeds should commence shortly, with the first crop ready in about four months.

Drug Policy

Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws in Wake of Report He Pushed Bill to Hinder DEA Opioid Pill Enforcement Efforts. Pennsylvania US Rep. Tom Marino (R), who President Trump nominated last month to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), has withdrawn his nomination in the wake of reports that he shepherded through Congress legislation lobbied for by drug companies and pharmaceutical chains that decreased the DEA's ability to stop suspect shipments of prescription opioids. Marino had come under fire from Democratic lawmakers after the report went public Sunday.

McCaskill Will File Bill to Undo 2016 Law Marino Pushed. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday she would fill a bill to repeal the 2016 law Rep. Marino shepherded through Congress at the behest of deep-pocketed drug companies and pharmaceutical chains.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Moves a Step Closer to Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients. The state Health Department announced last Friday that it has submitted its plans for the drug testing of food stamp recipients to the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Critics of the plan say it requires getting a waiver from the US Department of Agriculture, but the Walker administration disagrees. Look for a court challenge.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Announces First Ever Indictments Against Chinese Fentanyl Makers. The DOJ announced Tuesday that federal grand juries in Mississippi and North Dakota had returned indictments against two Chinese nationals and their US-based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to peddle large quantities of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other opioids in the United States. These are the first indictments returned against Chinese nationals for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl destined for the US.

Florida Man Wins Cash Settlement After Police Field Drug Test Mistook Sugar for Meth. In 2015, police arrested Daniel Rushing for meth possession after they mistook glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut for methamphetamine. Rushing was held in jail for 10 hours before bonding out. The charges were dropped when subsequent tests showed the substance was indeed glazed sugar. Last week, the city of Orlando agreed to pay him $37,500 to settle his wrongful arrest lawsuit.

Sentencing

In Midst of National Anthem Controversy, NFL Endorses Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. In a letter sent Monday to leading senators, the National Football League offered "full support" for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 1917). "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all," the league noted, obliquely addressing the controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the criminal justice system, while at the same time supporting progressive sentencing reform.

California Governor Signs Major Drug Sentencing Reform. Last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 180, authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach). With his signature, Brown repealed a three-year sentence enhancement that added additional years to a sentence for prior drug convictions, such as drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. SB 180, the RISE (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act, was part of Mitchell and Lara's Equity and Justice Package, bills intended to address racially biased sentencing.

Massachusetts Takes Aim at Mandatory Minimums. State Senate leaders are rallying around a sentencing reform bill that would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug offenses, lower probation fees, and up the threshold for felony larceny. Supporters of the proposal from Sen. William Brownberger (D-Belmont) rallied last Thursday to champion the bill, which the Senate should be taking up in the next few weeks.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Filed, Colombia Coca Clashes, More... (10/6/17)

Leading senators roll out a federal sentencing reform bill, Jeff Sessions ramps up the Safe Neighborhoods program, the VA doubles down against medical marijuana, more clashes erupt in Colombia's coca producing areas, and more.

A newly filed Senate bill seeks to address prison overcrowding. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Just Keeps On Selling More and More Legal Weed. The state broke its marijuana sales record for the sixth consecutive month in August, a trend that officials expect to continue when September figures come in. Farmers sold 734 pounds of buds and 444 pounds of other marijuana plant parts to retailers in August, generating nearly $700,000 in taxes for the state.

Kentucky State Senator Calls for Legalization to Ease Budget Crunch. With the state facing a $200 million budget deficit this year, state Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) has suggested that legalizing marijuana could help. "My argument is before any new taxes, let's explore the potential of new monies," he told WKYT Thursday.

Maine Legalization Bill Now Requires Town to Opt In, Not Opt Out. Under the latest iteration of the legislature's bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, localities would have to act affirmatively to allow medical marijuana businesses. That's the opposite of what the legalization initiative intended, which was to make localities opt out of participation if they didn't want pot businesses. The latest version of the bill is now headed for a floor vote on October 23.

San Diego Sets Legal Marijuana Business Rules. California's second largest city has made itself ready for legal marijuana. The city has finalized rules for pot growing and manufacturing ahead of the scheduled January 1 start date for legal marijuana sales. It will allow both indoor cultivation and manufacturing, as well as testing labs.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Department Reiterates Opposition to Medical Marijuana Use. VA policy has been to disallow government doctors from recommending medical marijuana, but now, the agency has updated its website to state that opposition more firmly -- and inaccurately. As Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority noted, the website's claim that "as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it" is not technically true. There is no law barring the VA from allowing its doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

WADA No Longer Considers CBD a Prohibited Drug. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has removed CBD from its 2018 list of prohibited substances. "Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited," WADA said. But it emphasized that THC, the euphoric psychoactive chemical in marijuana, remains banned and that CBD products could contain actionable amounts of THC. "Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC," WADA noted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Bill to Increase Opioid Prescribing Requirements Filed. Rep. David Roe (R-TN) Thursday filed House Resolution 3964, "to amend the Controlled Substance Act to establish additional registration requirements for prescribers of opioids." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Ramps Up Safe Neighborhoods Program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday plans to ramp up efforts against drug trafficking and violent gangs through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. In a memo, the country's top cop ordered federal prosecutors to emphasize violent crime reduction and develop plans to work with local police and prosecutors in the effort.

Sentencing

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill. A bipartisan group of senators today reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement. It is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill is S. 1917. Check back for a Chronicle feature on the bill.

International

Four Killed in Colombia Clashes Between Coca Growers, Eradicators. Four people are dead and 14 wounded after somebody attacking protesting coca farmers in the municipality of Tumaco, along the Pacific Coast. The government blamed members of a dissident FARC faction that has refused to lay down its arms, but local activists blamed government security forces for opening fire. Clashes between coca growers and security forces have become more frequent as production of cocaine in Colombia surged to record levels in recent years.

Federal Bill Would Reverse Perverse Incentives for Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Even as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions descend into a law-and-order authoritarianism that views mass incarceration as a good thing, Democrats in Congress are moving to blunt such tendencies. A bill introduced last week in the House is a prime example.

House Reverse Mass Incarceration Act sponsor Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA)
Last Wednesday, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 (HR 3845), which would use the power of the federal purse to reduce both crime and incarceration at the same time. Under the bill, states that decreased the number of prisoners by 7% over three years without a substantial increase in crime would be eligible for grants.

The grants would come from the Justice Department and would be awarded "to implement evidence-based programs designed to reduce crime rates and incarcerations," according to the bill text.

The measure essentially reverses the 1994 crime bill, which set up Justice Department block grant programs aimed at increasing arrests and incarceration. Instead of incentivizing states to increase prison populations, the legislation would pay states to decrease them, while keeping down crime.

Under the legislation, grants would be awarded every three years. States are eligible to apply if the total number of people behind bars in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in three years, and there is no substantial increase in the overall crime rate within the state. The bill could lead to a 20 percent reduction in the national prison population over 10 years.

Although state and federal prison populations have stabilized in the past decade and we are no longer seeing the massive increases in inmate numbers that began under Reagan and continued largely on autopilot through the Clinton and Bush years, the number of people incarcerated is still unconscionably high. With more than 1.5 million people in prison in 2015, the United States remains the world leader in incarceration, in both per capita and absolute numbers.

A healthy percentage of them are people locked up for drug offenses. The Bureau of Prisons reports that nearly half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders. Among the states, the percentage varies between about 15% and 25%; overall, about 17% of state prison inmates are drug offenders.

"The costs of our nation's epidemic of over-incarceration is not just metaphorical," said Rep. Cárdenas at a press conference rolling out the bill. "Yes, mass incarceration and mandatory minimums have taken their toll on our families and our communities, and represent one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time. At the same time, the cost to the taxpayer is real. Americans spend almost $80 billion per year on our prison system, in addition to much more significant long-term societal costs. It's time to right the wrongs of the last decades and help states have the freedom to implement programs that are more cost-effective and keep our streets and communities safer."

It's not just in the House. In June, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) filed the Senate version of the bill, SB 1458. Both Booker and Blumenthal came out for the rollout of the House version.

"In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which created grant programs that incentivized states to incarcerate more people," said Sen. Booker. "The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act would do the opposite -- it would encourage states to reduce their prison populations and invest money in evidence-based practices proven to reduce crime and recidivism. Our bill recognizes the simple fact that locking more people up does little to make our streets safer. Instead, it costs us billions annually, tears families apart, and disproportionately drives poverty in minority communities."

"Our criminal justice system is in a state of crisis," said Sen. Blumenthal. "Under current sentencing guidelines, millions of people -- a disproportionate number of them people of color have been handed harsh prison sentences, their lives irreparably altered, and our communities are no safer for it. In fact, in many cases, these draconian sentencing policies have had the opposite of their intended effect. State sentencing policies are the major drivers of skyrocketing incarceration rates, which is why we've introduced legislation to encourage change at the state level. We need to change federal incentives so that we reward states that are addressing this crisis and improving community safety, instead of funneling more federal dollars into a broken system."

Senate Reverse Mass Incarceration Act cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D-CT)
While the bills don't have any Republican sponsors or cosponsors, they are backed by a panoply of civil rights, human rights, faith-based, and social justice organizations that are pushing hard for Congress to address mass incarceration and the class and racial disparities that underlie it.

"At a time when we have an Attorney General who seeks to continue the unwise practice of privatizing prisons and putting more and more people in them, Congress must reform our criminal justice system and do more to address mass incarceration," said Vanita Gupta, former deputy attorney general for civil rights and currently CEO of the Leadership Conference on Human Rights.

"Rep. Cárdenas, and Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal, have developed a creative policy proposal that would serve as a powerful tool to accelerate state efforts in reversing the damaging impact of mass incarceration," said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. "This proposal builds on smart prison-reduction policies while also reducing crime. The National Urban League applauds the lawmakers and is committed to working with them until this bill is signed into law."

That could be awhile. With Republicans in control of the Congress, the bills' prospects this session are clouded. But even among congressional Republicans, there are conservative criminal justice reformers willing to take a hard look at harsh policies of the past, and there is always the next Congress. While the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 is unlikely to pass this year, it deserves to be fought for and is laying the groundwork for sentencing reform victories to come. Let's hope they do so soon.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've only got a couple this week, but they're both pretty juicy and involve federal law enforcement officials. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, a DEA agent and a Hammond police officer were arrested Sunday on charges related to the DEA task force led by Agent Chad Scott. Task force members are accused of stealing property and thousands of dollars in drug investigations, as well as a raft of related offenses. Scott and Hammond Police Officer Rodney Gemar are accused of participating in a seven-year conspiracy to not report drug, cash, and property seizures and instead keep them for their own profit. Scott faces ten counts, including falsifying government records, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy, and seeking and receiving illegal gratuities. Gemar faces six counts, including stealing evidence and conspiracy. Gemar is out on bail, but Scott was still being held after appearing in court Monday.

In Orlando, Florida, a Department of Homeland Security officer was arrested last Monday for allegedly taking bribes to help a Colombian cocaine trafficker avoid criminal charges. Special Agent Christopher Ciccione was the case agent for an organized crime and drug trafficking task force that obtained indictments for a number of Cali Cartel cocaine traffickers, but Ciccione is accused of taking a $20,000 bribe to get the indictment dismissed, then altering records and lying to federal prosecutors. He is charged with conspiracy, corruption, and obstruction of justice.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans, DEA Names Acting Head, More...(10/4/17)

The DEA names an in-house acting administrator, the Massachusetts high court takes up the question of whether judges can order addicts to remain drug-free, Canada advances on looming marijuana legalization, and more.

Voters in Fairbanks and other Alaska towns rejected bans on commercial marijuana operations Tuesday. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Towns Reject Marijuana Bans. Voters in Fairbanks and several towns on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage rejected bans on commercial marijuana growing operations in local votes on Tuesday. The state legalized marijuana in 2014.

California Governor Signs Bill Making Smoking Pot While Motoring a $70 Ticket. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed into law a bill barring the use of marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding in a motor vehicle. The maximum penalty is a $70 fine. But drivers who operate while impaired could still be nailed for that.

Hemp

Farm Bureau Endorses Federal Hemp Bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation has formally endorsed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, House Resolution 3530, which would exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act definition of marijuana.

Law Enforcement

DEA Veteran Named Acting Administrator. The Justice Department has named veteran DEA official Robert Patterson as acting administrator of the agency. He has been DEA's principal deputy administrator since last November, where he oversaw all of the agency's enforcement, intelligence, administrative, and regulatory activities worldwide. He is the highest ranking career special agent at DEA.

Massachusetts Court Ponders Whether Courts Can Require Addicts to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Monday on whether judges can require people under their supervision who suffer from substance use disorder to remain drug-free. The case involves a woman who was sent to jail for failing a drug test while on probation for a larceny charge, but has large implications for how judges in the state deal with drug-using defendants. A decision in the case is expected around year's end.

International

Canadian Prime Minister Proposes 10% Marijuana Excise Tax. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proposes an excise tax on retail marijuana sales of $1 for sales of up to $10, and 10% on sales over that amount. Provinces and territories would receive half the revenues under the proposal he made Tuesday, but some provinces argue that isn't enough. Trudeau responded that the details are still open to negotiation.

Alberta Proposes Minimum Age of 18 for Pot Use. The Alberta provincial government's draft plan for marijuana legalization sets the minimum age at 18. The province says it hasn't yet decided on whether to have government-run or private sales. The draft proposal also includes provisions for use in public areas where smoking is allowed and sets a public possession limit of 30 grams.

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