Sentencing

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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

Chronicle AM: Trump DEA Pick Has Issues, FL MedMJ Licenses Delayed, More... (10/2/17)

The man Trump will reportedly name to head the DEA has some racial profiling issues in his past, the Global Commission on Drugs issued recommendations on dealing with the opioid crisis, the 6th Circuit slaps down the DEA in an asset forfeiture case, and more.

The next DEA head? New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Will Miss Deadline for Issuing Grower Licenses. Florida officials were supposed to distribute ten medical marijuana cultivation licenses Tuesday, but that's not going to happen. Officials said last Friday said the delay would be brief and pointed fingers at Hurricane Irma and a recently-filed lawsuit from a black farmer challenging the state's effort to achieve racial diversity among growers. That farmer charged that the state's guidelines were too restrictive.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Global Commission on Drug Policy Releases Position Paper on North America Opioid Crisis. The Global Commission on Drug Policy Monday released a position paper on The Opioid Crisis in North America. The members of the Global Commission, several of whom faced similar crises while occupying the highest levels of government, share their views and recommendations on how to mitigate this epidemic. The Commission warns against cutting the supply of prescription opioids without first having supporting measures in place, and emphasizes the need to improve and expand proven harm reduction services and treatment options, including opioid substitution therapy and heroin-assisted treatment. Regulation of prescription opioids needs to become well-balanced to provide effective pain care while minimizing misuse. The Global Commission also calls for the de facto decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use at the municipal, city or State/Province levels, so that people in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of punishment. Finally, the Global Commission suggests allowing pilot projects for the responsible legal regulation of currently illicit drugs including opioids, to bypass criminal organizations that drive and benefit from the black market.

Asset Forfeiture

6th Circuit Slaps Down DEA Cleveland Airport Cash Seizure. Even when it looks like they have the perfect case, the DEA and the courts can't cut corners in their efforts to seize suspected drug money, the court held in a case decided late last month. Agents had seized $41,000 in cash from two men with previous drug convictions who had purchased tickets to -- gasp! -- California, and their drug dog told them the money was tainted. The men appealed the seizure, saying the cash was legally obtained, but the DEA moved to strike their claim, saying they had provided no proof, and a lower court agreed. But the DEA and the lower court erred, the appeals court ruled, by shifting the burden of proof to the claimants at that early stage of the proceedings: "Finally, we note our concern that the government's approach would turn the burden of proof in forfeiture actions on its head. Under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), the government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that the subject of a civil forfeiture action is, in fact, forfeitable," the opinion concluded. "Requiring a forfeiture claimant to explain the nature of his ownership at the pleading stage would be asking the claimant to satisfy the government's burden of proof, or at least go a long way toward doing so."

Drug Policy

Trump Could Name Racial Profiling Apologist to Head DEA. The Washington Post has reported that President Trump will name New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2000, Fuentes, then a state police trooper, wrote a paper defending "suspect profiling" as the state was embroiled in controversy over "driving while black" and police tactics like asking hotel clerk to report guests who were "suspicious" because they had dreadlocks or spoke Spanish. "Because of the disproportionate involvement of minorities in these... arrests, civil rights groups have branded the whole process of highway drug enforcement as racist," he wrote. But when pressed during his nomination to head the state police, Fuentes disavowed that position and denied being an apologist for racial profiling.

Chronicle AM: Houston Quits Trying "Trace Amount" Drug Cases, US Chides Colombia, More... (9/28/17)

San Antonio quits arresting small-time pot violators, Houston quits prosecuting folks caught with trace amounts of drugs, Vermont begins pondering how to do pot legalization, the US chides Colombia on coca and the FARC, and more.

With moves in Houston and San Antonio, change is coming to the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Marijuana Commission Begins Legalization Study. The state Marijuana Advisory Commission is holding its first meeting today. The commission is charged with studying the best way to legalize marijuana in the state. Gov. Phil Scott (R) empaneled the commission after vetoing a legalization bill in May. In his veto message, Scott said he wasn't opposed to legalization, but had concerns about underage use and impaired driving. The commission is set to report back to the legislature in January.

San Antonio to Quit Arresting People for Pot Possession. Authorities in Bexar County (San Antonio) announced Wednesday that they will no longer arrest small-time marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, instead issuing them citations. People cited must complete a program before charges are dismissed. San Antonio now joins Harris County (Houston) and Dallas in enacting policies to no longer arrest small-time pot offenders.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Seek to Keep Dispensaries Open. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

Law Enforcement

Houston Stops Prosecuting Cases of Trace Amounts of Drugs. Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has quit pursuing thousands of "trace drug" cases, where people are charged with drug possession based on drug residues left in baggies or syringes. Ogg actually quietly implemented the policy in July, but has gone public with it now. The move will save the county the cost of prosecuting somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 felony cases each year.

Sentencing

New House Bill Creates Incentives to Reduce Crime, Incarceration at Same Time. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 on Wednesday. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1458, was filed in June by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill would essentially reverse the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives to states to increase prison populations. It would instead pay states to decrease incarceration rates through incentivizing grants.

International

US Ambassador to Colombia Says FARC Has Not Complied With Peace Deal. "The FARC have not complied, in my opinion, with their obligations under the agreement," US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker said during a recent interview with El Tiempo. Whitaker claimed the leftist rebels continued to encourage coca cultivation in some parts of the country and said they should not be involved in government-sponsored crop substitution programs. Whitaker's comments are in line with other US officials, who have become increasingly critical of the peace deal between the FARC and the government as coca and cocaine production have increased in the past two years.

Philippines Claims It Doesn't Allow Extrajudicial Killings in Drug War. In a statement released as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Philippines government denied it had a policy of killing suspected drug users and dealers. "Contrary to media reports, Cayetano also clarified to Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings, especially of illegal drug suspects," the statement read. The statement also welcomed further cooperation with Washington and reiterated the "seriousness" of the country's "drug problem." Thousands of people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his drug war, but the Philippines claims it only kills suspects who were violently resisting arrest.

Chronicle AM: Citing Trump, DEA Head Quits; Atlanta Moves Toward MJ Decrim, More... (9/27/17)

DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is outta here, Atlanta moves closer to pot decriminalization, San Francisco goes slow on legal pot sales, Florida's governor wants to restrict opioid prescriptions, and more.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wants to restrict opioid prescriptions. That could leave some patients in the lurch. (fl.gov)
Atlanta Decriminalization Ordinance Advances. The city council's Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday night. The measure now goes to the full city council. If passed, the measure would give Atlanta police the discretion of citing pot law violators under the ciy ordinance or charging them with the crime of marijuana possession under state law.

Los Angeles Marijuana Regulations Advance. A city council committee approved new rules to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Monday. The measure now goes to the full city council. The rules spell out requirements for marijuana growers, manufacturers, and sellers, but don't yet address some of the thorniest issues, including licensing and public smoking laws.

San Francisco Looks to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. City supervisors introduced an ordinance to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Tuesday, but admitted they have no idea what regulation will look like or how it will operate. And the city won't issue permits for marijuana businesses until it gets it figured out. Among issues the supes will have to handle are ensuring they create a method for helping low-income residents, people of color, and former drug offenders get in on the action. A report on the equity program is due November 1. Earlier this month, supervisors enacted a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits, but that is likely to be extended into next year, beyond the hoped for January 1 starting date.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Governor Calls for Restrictions on Opioid Prescribing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday rolled out a serious of proposals to deal with the opioid crisis, including a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, requiring all doctors prescribing opioids to enroll in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and taking on unlicensed prescribers with new regulations. The governor's press release suggests the limitation on prescription opioids is a general one, not limited to new prescriptions or prescription for acute pain. If enacted, such a measure would cause huge disruptions for Floridians accustomed to receiving larger supplies for the treatment of chronic pain and other ailments.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Quits, Says Trump Has Little Respect for the Law. Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg will resign at the end of this week, law enforcement officials said. The unnamed sources said Rosenberg had become convinced that his boss, President Trump, had little respect for the rule of law. Trump's July Long Island speech where he urged police to "please don't be too nice" to suspects drew a rebuke from Rosenberg, and Rosenberg, who had been a chief of staff to Trump-fired former FBI Director James Comey, had reportedly grown "disillusioned" with the president.

International

Gunmen Kill 14 at Mexico Drug Rehab Center. Masked gunmen broke into the Familias Unidas drug rehab center in Chihuahua City Tuesday and shot 22 people, leaving 14 dead. The state is embroiled in violent conflict between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, and cartel hit-men are the leading suspects. Cartels have on some occasions used such centers as barracks for their soldiers, and they have been attacked by rival cartels before, most notably in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 and Torreon in 2011.

Chronicle AM: Maine Considers Marijuana Social Clubs With No Smoking, More... (9/26/17)

Maine considers marijuana social clubs where you can't smoke pot, some Maryland criminal justice reforms passed last year will go into effect on Sunday, and more.

You wouldn't be able to do this under Maine's proposed marijuana social club law. (Flickr/CAGrimmett)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Might Okay Marijuana Social Clubs, But Not Allow Smoking. The legislative rewrite of last year's voter-approved legalization initiative contains a provision that allows for the licensing of marijuana social clubs, but there's a big catch: People probably won't be able to smoke pot in them. The bill does not expressly ban smoking, but neither does it have any exemption from the state's no-smoking laws, which prohibit smoking of any kind -- including vaping -- in public places.

Drug Policy

Maryland Drug, Criminal Justice Reforms Go into Effect Next Week. Some provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Act (2016 Senate Bill 1005) will go into effect on Sunday. The measures allow people serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offense to ask a court for sentence reductions, expands drug treatment, eases parole policy, and makes provisions for criminal record expungment. Another bill going into effect Sunday allows people with marijuana offenses to seek expungement after four years instead of ten.

International

Philippines Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health Committee approved a medical marijuana measure, House Bill 180, on Monday. The bill would allow patients with debilitating conditions to use marijuana. It would also establish Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers in hospitals to supply and sell medical marijuana, which could be sold only by a licensed pharmacist.

While Trump Moves Backward on Drug Sentencing, California Heads for More Reforms

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

The Trump Justice Department under prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving some of the drug war's worst sentencing practices -- mandatory minimum sentences, charging low-level defendants with the harshest statutes -- but that doesn't mean the states have to follow suit.

Harsh drug sentences are overcrowding California jails. (supremecourt.gov)
And, as has been the case with climate change, environmental protection, trade, and the protection of undocumented residents, California is charting its own progressive path in the face of the reactionaries in Washington.

The latest evidence comes from Sacramento, where the state Assembly passed a bill to stop sentencing drug offenders to extra time because they have previous drug convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 180, also known as the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, passed the state Senate in June and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The bill would end a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. Under current law, sale of even the tiniest amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can earn up to five years in prison, and each previous conviction for sales or possession with intent add three more.

State sheriffs complain that the drug sentencing enhancement is the leading cause of 10-year-plus sentences being served in their county jails, which now shoulder more of the burden of housing drug war prisoners after earlier reforms aimed at reducing prison overcrowding shifted them to local lock-ups. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sales offenses.

"People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there's more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation," Mitchell said after the final vote on SB 180, which is supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. "By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let's focus on putting 'justice' in our criminal-justice system."

"This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities," said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don't make our communities any safer."

The bill is part of a set of bills known as the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at reducing inequities in the system. Authored by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), the package also includes Senate Bill 190, which would end unreasonable fees on the families of incarcerated children and also sits on the governor's desk, as well as Senate Bill 355, which will end the requirement that innocent defendants reimburse the counties for the cost of appointed counsel. Brown has already signed that into law. "Harsh sentencing laws have condemned a generation of men of color, and with SB 180 and other bills in the Equity and Justice package we are on our way to restoring the values of rehabilitation to the criminal justice system," Lara said.

When Washington is in the hands of authoritarian, law-and-order politicians like Trump, Sessions, and the Republican Congress, it's time for the states to step up. California is showing how it's done.

Chronicle AM: Ontario Goes With State-Owned Pot Shops, DEA Agent's Sordid Affair, More... (9/11/17)

Canada's most populous province is going with a state monopoly on legal marijuana sales, the CARERS Act is back, last week's surprise budget deal preserves protections for legal medical marijuana states for a few more months, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Preserves Medical Marijuana Protections -- For Now. The budget deal agreed to last week between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764) last Wednesday. The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Iowa Attorney General Cites Fed Fears to Block CBD from Out of State Dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Drug Policy

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins Trump's Drug Task Force. A Republican and Trump supporter, Bondi has been appointed to the Presidential Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, her office announced last Friday. The other commission members are chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), North Carolina Roy Cooper (D), former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), and Harvard professor Dr. Bertha Madras. The commission is supposed to issue a final report by October 1.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Congressman Files Bill to Broaden Medication Assisted Treatment. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 3692 to "amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide additional flexibility with respect to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders."

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent's Scandalous Affair Unveiled. A Justice Department inspector general's report released last Thursday revealed one bit of juicy scandal: A DEA agent carried on a wild affair with a convicted drug criminal for five years, and let her listen to active wiretaps, roam the evidence room unattended, and had sex with her in his office and official vehicle. The whole thing unraveled when she got pregnant, he reacted unfavorably, and she ratted him out to superiors. The unnamed agent was originally only suspended for 45 days, but was eventually fired.

International

Ontario Will Only Allow Legal Pot Sales in Government Monopoly Shops. Canada's most populous province announced last Friday that it will open 150 standalone pot shops operated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), as well as eventually allowing an online order service. Dispensaries that have sprouted up in the province are out of luck: "Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers," the province explained in a news release. "The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations."

Canadian Prime Minister Just Says No to Drug Decriminalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls from British Columbia public health and political figures to embrace drug decriminalization as part of a solution to the country's opioid crisis. "We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being," Trudeau told a news conference in BC last Thursday.

German Poll Finds Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Mafo Market Research Institute poll has found signs of a rapid shift in support for freeing the weed in Germany. Polls going back to 2001 have had support hovering around 19%, but things began to change around 2014. That year, a poll had 30% supporting legalization. In November 2015, another poll had support at 42%. The new Mafo poll has support at 57.5%.

Chronicle AM: Fed MJ Amendments Coming, Trump to Name Marino as Drug Czar, More... (9/5/17)

Trump nominates a drug czar, federal drug prosecutions are down, Obama's clemency program barely scratched the surface, British nitrous oxide prosecutions get laughed out of court, and more.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is Trump's pick for job czar. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Representatives File Marijuana Banking Amendments. Congressional supporters of legal marijuana have filed two amendments to the House Treasury appropriations bill. One would prohibit Treasury from spending money to punish banks that service the legal marijuana sector; the other bars Treasury from altering FinCEN's guidance to banking institutions. If passed, the bills would allow marijuana businesses in compliance with state laws to have access to the banking system.

Rep. Ted Lieu Files Amendment to Cut DEA Eradication Funding. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced an amendment to slash funding for the DEA's marijuana eradication program by half. Last year, the budget for eradication was $18 million, spent mainly on uprooting low-THC feral hemp in the Midwest. The program "is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana… it is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime," Lieu said.

California Regulation Bills Die As Legislature Gets Out of the Way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Friday bottled up ten bills aimed at regulating legal marijuana commerce, leaving the way clear for the state's new Bureau of Cannabis Control to finish its own rulemaking process before lawmakers come back with additional restrictions. "Legislative leaders are working with the administration on a budget trailer bill to resolve cannabis-related issues. It makes sense to take a comprehensive approach," Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) chairman of the committee, told the Marin Journal.

Colorado Lawsuit Claims DOJ Using IRS to Do Criminal Investigations of Pot Businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Delaware Task Force on Marijuana Legalization Will Meet Wednesday. A state legislative task force charged with studying how marijuana might be legalized and making recommendations on doing so will meet for the first time on Wednesday. The task force was created by legislative resolution after a bill to legalize marijuana failed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

Trump to Name Pennsylvania Republican Congressman as Drug Czar. The White House announced Friday that President Trump will nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino had been mentioned as a possible drug czar earlier, but withdrew from consideration in May, citing family illness.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Fall Under Trump. Despite all the tough talk about cracking down on crime coming from the White House and the Justice Department, the latest data from the department show that overall criminal conviction and drug conviction are both down during the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2017. Overall criminal convictions were down 12.3% over last year and are now lower than at any time since 2008. Federal drug convictions were also down by 4.0%, reaching their lowest level since 1997. Of all DOJ prosecutions, immigration offenses accounted for 53.1%, followed by drug conviction at 18.6%.

Sentencing

Report on Obama's Clemency Initiative Finds Only a Small Percentage of Those Eligible Actually Got Clemency. The US Sentencing Commission has released an analysis of the implementation of the Obama administration's 2014 clemency initiative, which encouraged long-serving, nonviolent drug offenders to apply for sentence cuts. The report found that while President Obama granted more commutations than any other president (1,928) and that most of them (1,696) were sentence commutations under the 2014 Clemency Initiative, the initiative only saw sentence cuts for only 3.4% of all federally imprisoned drug trafficking offenders who appeared to meet all the clemency criteria. On the other hand, those who did get sentence cuts saw an average reduction of nearly 12 years.

International

Philippines Drug War Has Nation's Jails Creaking Under the Pressure. While the horrid killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers had grabbed the world's attention, President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has also seen nearly 100,000 people arrested on drug charges, with almost all (94%) of them still in jail awaiting trial. As a result, the country's jails are now tremendously overcrowded, with one prison with an official capacity of 262 inmates now holding 2,975 -- three-fourths of them for drug offenses. It's not just the jails that are feeling the pinch; the Public Attorney's Office, which defends the cases, reports a backlog of 303,000 drug cases, nearly 2 ½ times the backlog when Duterte took office.

British Courts Throw Out Laughing Gas Prosecutions. In the past few days, two cases in which the government attempted to prosecute people for supplying nitrous oxide (laughing gas) have collapsed, with courts ruling that that the stuff is a medicine and thus exempt from last year's Psychoactive Substances Act. This is no surprise to drug experts, including the government's own drug advisors, who warned the law was overly broad and unworkable.

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