Sentencing

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: CT Pot Legalization Bill Filed, MI Moving to Rein in Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (1/22/19)

Marijuana reform bills are starting to pop in state legislatures, a federal court judge rules in favor of a New Mexico medical marijuana provider in a free speech case, and more. 

With Democrats in control in Michigan, civil asset forfeiture could be coming to an end

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. A legalization bill cosponsored by 40 Democrat legislators has been filed. HB 5595 would allow for legal sales to adults, home cultivation of up to six plants, and give priority in licensing to existing medical marijuana businesses. The bill also contains a provision for the expungement of previous pot convictions, and it would make it illegal for anyone to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Kentucky Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) has filed a bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The measure, SB 82, would define less than an ounce of marijuana as a “personal use quantity” punishable only by a fine. The bill would also exempt “personal use marijuana accessories” from the state's drug paraphernalia law. Under current law, possession of eight ounces or less is a misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Upholds First Amendment Rights of New Mexico Medical Marijuana Company. US District Court Judge James Parker has found in favor of Ultra Health, the state's largest medical marijuana provider, in a case that pitted it against the New Mexico State Fair. Fair officials had blocked the company from displaying an educational booth at the fair in 2017, and Ultra Health sued. The judge found that fair staff had infringed on Ultra Health's free speech and civil rights: “The State Fair’s restrictions ... as applied to Ultra Health’s 2017 State Fair application were unreasonable in light of the purpose of the forum and the surrounding circumstances and therefore violated Ultra Health’s First Amendment right to free speech,” Judge Parker wrote in his ruling.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislature Takes Up Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will on Thursday take up SB 002, a measure that would require police and prosecutors to win a criminal conviction before permanently seizing someone's property. Similar bills have failed in the past, but now Democrats control both the legislature and the governor's mansion, and both House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Attorney General Dana Nessel support the effort. 

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Addresses Sentencing, OH Sees First MMJ Dispensary, More... (1/16/19)

William Barr addresses concerns about his sentencing policy history, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) reiterates his call to pass a legalization bill, Ohio sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

The Buckeye State sees a landmark day. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Renews Call for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) used his State of the State address Tuesday to renew his call for marijuana legalization. “By legalizing adult-use marijuana – first and foremost – we can reverse the inequality and unfairness left from years of failed drug policies and shift public safety resources to where they can do the most good,” he said. He also called for the expungement of past pot possession arrests. “We must ensure that those with a past mark on their records because of a low-level offense can have that stain removed, so they can move forward to get a stable job or an education,” he said. A legalization bill is already very near the finish line, but Murphy and legislators are still haggling over issues such as tax rates.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Dispensary Sales Begin Today. A Sandusky dispensary initiated the era of legal medical marijuana sales in the Buckeye State on Wednesday, making its first sale to a card-carrying woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Four other dispensaries have received their final licenses but have not opened yet. Eventually, there should be 56 dispensaries statewide.

South Carolina Legislators Unveil Medical Marijuana Bill. A pair of Republican legislators, state Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy, on Tuesday filed a medical marijuana, the Compassionate Care Act (S 366). “This is South Carolina, not California or Colorado, and what the vast majority of people in our state want is a socially conservative medical marijuana law, one that provides medical patients truly in need with relief but draws a bright line against recreational use by imposing strict penalties,” Davis said.

Sentencing

Attorney General Nominee Defends Harsh Sentencing But Says He is Open to Sentencing Reform. During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, defended his role in harsh mandatory minimum sentencing practices in the 1980s and 1990s but said he is now open to sentencing reforms, such as the Fair Sentencing Act, which passed Congress last month. "From my perspective, the very draconian penalties on crack were put in place initially because when the crack epidemic first hit, it was like nuclear weapons going off in inner cities," Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.). "The initial reaction was actually trying to help those communities. Over time, those same leaders are now saying to us, 'This is devastating. Generations of us have been incarcerated.' And we should listen to the same people we were listening to before."

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

In Rare Show of Bipartisanship, Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill [FEATURE]

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Tuesday approved a major prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to pass it easily, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Give Chuck Grassley some kudos for shepherding the passage of the bill. (senate.gov)
Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill added significant sentencing reform provisions to a prison reform bill passed earlier by the House.

"The First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to those who've put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to society," Grassley said on the Senate floor after the vote. "It also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses."

"I think we showed something which most American people wouldn't have believed -- that a bipartisan group of Senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support -- left, right, and center -- from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly," Durbin said. "It is, however, the first step. We've got to start thinking about the second step. And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that."

In addition to the prison reform language, the bill's key sentencing provisions include:

  • Retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people;
  • Expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years;
  • Eliminate "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense.

"Passing these reforms has been a team effort years in the making," Grassley continued. "It couldn't have been done without the stalwart commitment by a somewhat unlikely cadre of colleagues and advocates. We've had to compromise to make this possible, to seek to understand the other's point of view. In doing so, I think we made the bill better. And we accomplished something of historic significance that will reduce crime, make our system more just, and improve lives for generations to come."

The First Step Act was backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation's largest police group, as well as 172 former federal prosecutors and sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill. A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.

For progressives and drug reformers, though, the bill is indeed only a first step. It does nothing, for example, to address the plight of people sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses, and that leaves reformers offering only qualified praise.

"The Senate's version of the legislation, while far from perfect, includes crucial sentencing reforms that safely reduce the footprint of the federal criminal justice system from the front end," said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. "Additionally, the Senate added important checks on the US Department of Justice as it creates a risk and needs assessment and a system of programs and education in the Bureau of Prisons."

"This is a bittersweet moment," said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The bill represents progress and we should celebrate the release of thousands of people serving disproportionately long sentences, but at the same time the bill leaves far too many people behind. It's a tough compromise for us and we must keep fighting for much deeper systemic changes."

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Sentencing Reform Bill, NM Sued Over MedMJ Rules and Fees, More... (12/19/18)

A major sentencing reform bill takes a major step toward becoming law, a New Mexico medical marijuana producer is suing the state over rules and fees, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners will get relief under the bill passed by the Senate Tuesday. (nadcp.org)
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Delays Dispensary License Announcement. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday it would delay its meeting to announce licenses for state dispensaries. The commission was originally scheduled to meet today but postponed that meeting until January 9. The state plans to allow dispensaries to operate in somewhere between 20 and 32 sites.

New Mexico Sued Over Edibles Rules. The state's largest medical marijuana producer has filed a lawsuit against the state health department over regulations governing edibles, salves, lotions, and other products infuse with marijuana. Ultra Health argues that the department doesn't have the authority to license legal marijuana manufacturers and that the fees are too high.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DC Council Votes to Approves Opioid Treatment Bill. The DC Council voted Tuesday to advance the Opioid Use Disorder Treatment & Safe Access Amendment Act of 2018, legislation that would help curb the overdose crisis in the Nation's capital. The omnibus bill includes provisions that make the temporary emergency measure that decriminalizes drug checking kits permanent, removes restrictions on syringe exchange programs, and expands access to medication-assisted treatment in the District. The bill now goes to the mayor for final approval.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. The Senate approved the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12 on Tuesday. The bill contains prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses, including retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years; and eliminating "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to easily pass, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Chronicle AM: Federal Sentencing Bill Moving, No NJ Legalization This Year, More... (12/18/18)

The Senate is finally taking up the prison and sentencing reform bill, New Jersey's legalization push is stalled until next year, New Zealand is set to vote on legalizing marijuana in 2020, and more.

Things are getting busy at the Capitol in the last days of the congressional session. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Senator Proposes States' Rights Amendment to Criminal Justice Reform Bill. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Monday filed an amendment to the First Step Act (S.3649) that would incorporate some of the protections for state-legal marijuana that he has proposed in his own STATES Act (S.3032). The amendment's prospects aren't rosy, though: It will take unanimous consent to get the amendment considered, meaning an objection from a single senator can kill it.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Delayed Until Next Year. With the final voting day of the legislative session yesterday and no action on marijuana, marijuana legalization is now delayed until next year. Senate President Steven Sweeney (D-Glouchester) said legislators were unable to reach agreement with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on how and how much to tax it, so they'll be back to work on in January.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Issues Permits for Phase II Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. The Department of Health Tuesday issued 23 dispensary permits for Phase II of the medical marijuana program. The permittees will now have six months in which to become operational before they can begin dispensing medical marijuana. "The permitting of these locations as part of Phase II of the medical marijuana program will ensure more people have access to medical marijuana close to home," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. "Medical marijuana is an essential form of treatment for Pennsylvanians suffering from one of 21 serious medical conditions. This step continues the growth of our scientific, medically-based medical marijuana program."

Sentencing Reform

Senate Ends Debate on First Step Act, Final Senate Vote Pending. The Senate voted 82-12 Monday to end debate on the prison and sentencing bill, the First Step Act (S.3649), paving the way for a final Senate vote as early as today. Twelve Republicans voted against advancing the legislation despite President Trump endorsing the bill in November: Before the final vote, though, the Senate will take up a number of amendments, including one from conservative Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and John Kennedy (R-AL) that Democrats who favor the bill describe it as a "poison pill."

International

New Zealand Says Voters Will Decide Whether Cannabis Is Legalized. Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced that New Zealanders will vote in a binding referendum in 2020 on whether to legalize marijuana. That would make the country the first to put legalization to a nationwide vote. The latest polls on legalization have support at 46% with 41% opposed, but one analyst said the trend was moving "toward liberalization."

Trump's Ghoulish Call for Even More Chinese Drug Executions [FEATURE]

In a pair of tweets last Wednesday, President Trump urged China to crack down on fentanyl, which he described as a "horror drug," and predicted "incredible results" if China would start executing people for fentanyl-related offenses.

Trump urges the Chinese to kill more drug offenders. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid linked to tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the US in recent years. Chinese chemical factories are believed to be the primary producers of fentanyl and related synthetic opioid analogs, which are then mixed in with other illicit drugs, making them even more dangerous than they were on their own.

Trump's tweets came just days after he errantly praised China's President Xi Jinping for agreeing that China would "designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law."

In reality, China made fentanyl and five fentanyl products controlled substances back in 2015 and promised President Obama it would "crack down" on it in 2016. Yet, the flow of fentanyl continued and fentanyl-related overdose deaths continued to climb.

And in reality, China is already most likely the world's leading drug executioner. The only reason for any doubt is that China does not provide data on how many people it executes for drug offenses, but according to Amnesty International, "thousands of executions… were believed to have been carried out in China" last year.

China's closest competitor in the gruesome race to execute drug offenders has been Iran, where Amnesty says more than 200 were hung in 2017, but recognizing the futility of the hardline approach and heeding pressure from European funders of Iranian anti-drug efforts, the Islamic Republic has now moved to greatly reduce the number of drug executions.

But as has been evident from his support of bloody-handed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who was presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left thousands dead, Trump has a fondness for the death penalty. And despite the lack of any evidence that killing drug offenders actually leads to a reduction in drug use or trafficking, he wants more.

That brought a quick response from the Drug Policy Alliance, which ripped into Trump's cheerleading the death penalty in China as "morally repugnant" and instead urged responses to the fentanyl crisis that might actually achieve something.

"Draconian criminal punishments for fentanyl will actually make the problems associated with this drug much worse than they are now," said Grant Smith, the group's deputy director of national affairs. "This won't reduce addiction and overdose deaths in the US, but it will incentivize the proliferation of even more potent drugs that will further exacerbate the crisis. President Trump's push for China to execute more of its citizens for drug offenses is morally repugnant and ignores the decades-long failure of extremely harsh drug policies here in the US."

Instead of lobbying for harsh, but inhumane and ineffective, drug policies in China, Trump would better address the overdose crisis by implementing proven harm reduction measures, Smith added.

"Fentanyl has indeed become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the US, but health-based measures are far more effective than criminalization," he said. "Interventions like drug checking, naloxone, supervised consumption spaces, and expanding access to evidence-based treatment are urgently needed to reduce fentanyl-related deaths."

But the Trump administration isn't into that. In fact, the Trump Justice Department just recently went out of its way to promise a crackdown on any cities that try to open safe injection sites as a means of reducing overdose deaths and the spread of blood-borne diseases. He would rather American drug users die and Chinese drug sellers be killed than come up with effective responses that would actually save lives.

Chronicle AM: Fed Criminal Justice Bill Will Get Senate Vote, Hemp is in Farm Bill, More... (12/11/18)

Mitch McConnell changes course and okays a Senate vote on the First Step Act, McConnell ensures the hemp provision remains in the farm bill, a Moscow court ruling could run the city's only harm reduction NGO out of business, and more.

Mitch McConnell pushes hemp bill, okays sentencing reform (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Pot Conviction Expungement Bill Gets More Support. A bill filed by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) that would allow people to clear low-level marijuana convictions has picked up support from the legislative leadership. Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago) announced last Friday that she was supporting the bill. The state decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams in 2016, but that law didn't address those who had already been convicted of small-time possession.

Sentencing Reform

In Last Minute Switch, McConnell Says Reform Bill Will Get a Senate Vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that he will bring a prison and sentencing reform bill, S. 3649, to the Senate floor for a vote. "At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell said from the Senate floor. The move comes after McConnell just last week said there wasn't time to deal with the bill, and time remains a critical factor. The House earlier this year passed a prison reform bill that didn't include sentencing reforms, so if the bill passes the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for approval. This is by no means a done deal, but at least limited sentencing reform remains alive at this point.

Industrial Hemp

Final Version of Farm Bill Includes Hemp Provision. The omnibus farm bill set to be passed by the Senate this month includes the legalization of industrial hemp. That would allow US farmers to cultivate, process, and sell hemp. The hemp provision is being championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The bill had originally included a ban on people with felony drug convictions, but under a compromise, that ban would end after ten years.

International

New Zealand Legalizes Medical Marijuana. The government has approved a bill that will make medical marijuana widely available for thousands of patients over time but will at first be limited to terminally ill patients. The move comes ahead of a nationwide referendum on recreational marijuana sometimes in the next two years.

Moscow Court Imposes Punishing Fine on City's Sole Harm Reduction NGO. A Moscow court has ordered the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, the city's only harm reduction non-profit, to pay a fine of $10,000 for publishing what it called "drug propaganda." The foundation aroused the ire of the court by publishing safety advice about synthetic cathinones ("bath salts") in a drug users' newsletter. The advice didn't recommend taking those drugs but urged users to be careful if they did. The fine, which Amnesty International has described as "suffocating," could drive the foundation out of business if it can't come up with the funds to pay it by Christmas, leaving Moscow without a single harm reduction NGO.

Chronicle AM: Bill Barr's Drug Warrior Past, Iran Warns Sanction Could Bring "Deluge of Drugs," More... (12/10/18)

Trump's sanctions could come back to bite us, Iran warns; Trump's new attorney general pick has some solid drug warrior credentials, the WHO postpones a recommendation on marijuana scheduling, and more.

Iran interdicts more opium and heroin than any other country. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor-Elect to End Former Governor's Court Battles Over Medical Marijuana. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is parting ways with his predecessor, Rick Scott (R), when it comes to medical marijuana. A spokesman for DeSantis said last Friday that he is unwilling to continue Scott's court battles over the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. "He is not interested in continuing that fight. I think he has a different perspective than Governor Scott," said spokeswoman Jeannette Nunez. "I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented."

Foreign Policy

US Sanctions Could Lead to "Deluge of Drugs," Iran Warns. If US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration weaken Iran's ability to contain the opium trade from neighboring Afghanistan, the result could be a "deluge" of drugs, President Hassan Rouhani warned in a speech carried on state television last Friday. "I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran's ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected... you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism, Rouhani said. "We spend $800 million a year to fight drugs which ensures the health of nations stretching from of Eastern Europe to the American West and North Africa to West Asia. Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam," Rouhani said. "We don't expect the West to pay their share, but they should know that sanctions hurt Iran's capacity to fight drugs and terrorism."

Law Enforcement

Trump's New Attorney General Pick Has Record as Drug Warrior. The president's pick to be the new attorney general, former Attorney General William Barr, may be less hostile to marijuana than Jeff Sessions, but as attorney general under George HW Bush, he pushed hard for more incarceration of drug offenders. More recently, he wrote a 2015 letter defending the criminal justice system as not in need of serious reform and defending mandatory minimum sentencing in particular, while encouraging Congress not to act on a sentencing reform bill. "It's hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one," Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. "Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump's recent endorsement of sentencing reform."

International

WHO Postpones Recommendation for Rescheduling Marijuana. Saying it needed more time to review findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) postponed making any recommendation on rescheduling marijuana. The recommendation was expected to be made at last Friday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, but that didn't happen. No new date has been provided.

Mexico's New Government Takes Aim at Cartel Finances. Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit head Santiago Nieto announced last Thursday that he had filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Nieto said that was only the opening salvo in the fight to stop organized crime from flourishing with impunity.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School