Sentencing

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Chronicle AM: Colombia Mulls Coca-Spraying Drones, Senate Opioids Bill Advances, More... (4/25/18)

President Trump nominates a new drug czar, a Senate opioid bill moves, Colombia ponders using drones to eradicate coca crops, and more.

This Colombian peasant may have to start watching out for overhead drones. (dea.gov)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Opioid Bill Passes Out of Committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2680, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The bill, which includes over 40 proposals related to ways to combat the opioid epidemic, was written after seven committee hearings on the crisis with input from various agencies and state officials. Other Senate and House committees are hearing other bills related to the opioid crisis.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates James W. Carroll, Jr. for Drug Czar Post. President Trump on Monday announced that he intends to nominate James W. Carroll, Jr., to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Even though he has no drug policy experience, he is already the acting director of ONDCP. A lawyer by training, Carroll served as special counsel to President George W. Bush, general counsel for Ford Motor Company, and an assistant to President Trump, among other positions.

Sentencing

California Bills Would Fix Overuse of Sentencing Enhancements. State Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) have filed a pair of bills, Senate Bill 1392 and Senate Bill 1393, that aim to reduce the prison population by reforming the use of sentencing enhancements. Among the most common are a one-year enhancement for each prior prison or county jail felony prison term and a five-year enhancement for having a previous felony when convicted of a serious felony. More than 35,000 prisoners have had sentences lengthened under these laws. SB1392 proposes eliminating the one-year sentence enhancement for prior jail terms. SB1393 proposes returning judicial discretion over striking a prior conviction for a serious felony for the purposes of the five-year sentencing enhancement.

International

Colombia Ponders Using Drones for Aerial Coca Crop Eradication. Colombian police could start using drones to combat a five-year surge in coca production that has damaged relations with the US. Colombian anti-drug police have contracted with a local company to test drones for spraying herbicides on coca fields, according to state contracting documents.

Chronicle AM: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opioid Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill, this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Pass MJ Sales Bill, Amnesty Death Penalty Report, More... (4/12/18)

It's time to let the FDA know what you think about marijuana scheduling, Maine lawmakers pass a veto-proof pot sales bill, the Trump administration wants to drug test some food stamp recipients, Amnesty International reports on drug death penalty countries, and more.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls for the legalization of opium poppy cultivation in Mexico. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Accepting Public Comment on Marijuana Classification for Next Two Weeks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accepting public comment from "interested parties" regarding the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. (CSA). The CSA places marijuana in Schedule I, a category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential. The FDA is acting now because the World Health Organization is set to review its own classification of marijuana and is seeking input from member nations, of which the US is the most influential. Public comment is open until April 23.

Former GOP House Speaker Boehner Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday he has had a change of heart regarding marijuana and will help promote marijuana legalization nationwide. He also announced that he and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) are joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a national marijuana company. "I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises," said Boehner.

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Plan by Veto-Proof Margin. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed a first effort to implement regulated and taxed marijuana commerce, the legislature has now approved a new measure to do so, this time by a veto-proof margin. The House passed the bill on Tuesday and the Senate followed on Wednesday. The bill will limit home cultivation to three plants, impose a 10% sales tax, as well as a $335 per pound tax on producers. It will also mandate that localities proactively opt-in before sales will be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Business Evaluations Halted after Court Ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Ponders Plan to Impose Drug Testing for Some Food Stamp Recipients. The administration is pondering a plan that would let states require that certain food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. The nose-under-the-tent proposal would mainly target able-bodied adults without children who apply for certain specialized job categories. That would be about 5% of all food stamp recipients. The move has long been desired by conservatives who seek ways to curb the safety net program.

International

Amnesty International Report: Four Countries Executed Drug Offenders in 2017. At least four countries executed people for drug offenses last year, Amnesty International said in a new report. Those countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. "Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox called Wednesday for the legalization of opium production in the country as a means of weakening drug cartels. "The plants themselves are not harmful, we make them harmful, (especially) the criminals who use them for evil purposes," Fox said at a pro-marijuana event in the capital. Fox said legalizing poppies would curtail cartel profits and boost public safety in the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, which has been hit hard by prohibition-related violence in recent years. Fox also implored candidates in the July presidential election to openly debate drug legalization before the vote.

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: Pot-Friendly States Want Sessions Meeting, Indonesia Regressing on Drugs, More... (3/30/18)

Treasurers from a handful of marijuana-friendly states ask for a meeting with Attorney General Sessions, Massachusetts pot shops can seek licenses beginning next week, Indonesia's latest draft criminal code reform is not exactly progressive on drug policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana-Friendly States Want Meeting With Sessions. State treasurers from California, Illinois, Oregon, and Pennsylvania sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday seeking a meeting in hopes of resolving conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. The state treasurers are particularly concerned with the lack of clarity for businesses and banks. The absence of federal rules "leaves the industry and financial institutions in the dark," the treasurers said.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Can Start Applying for Licenses on Monday. The state Cannabis Control Commission made it official Thursday: Prospective marijuana purveyors can begin the process of applying for state licenses as of next Monday. "Starting on April 2, prospective licensees may begin applying for Priority Certification as Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) or Economic Empowerment Applicants, which provides eligibility to apply for a marijuana establishment license on April 17. All other license types will start the application process on May 1 or June 1, depending on the category," the commission announced Thursday. Retail stores will be able to open starting July 1, depending on whether local regulatory ordinances have been finalized.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers Approve Adding PTSD, Intractable Pain to List of Qualifying Disorders. The legislature has approved a measure, House Bill 65, that would add PTSD and intractable pain to the list of disorders that can be treated under the states CBD cannabis oil law.The bill now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for his approval or veto.

Michigan Orders More Than 200 Dispensaries to Close Their Doors. State regulators said Thursday they had ordered 210 medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in the past two weeks largely because they failed to apply for a state license by mid-February or because they were not authorized by local authorities. More than 150 of the shops are in Detroit.

Utah Governor Announces Opposition to Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has come out against a medical marijuana initiative that has broad popular support and is likely to be on the November ballot. Herbert argued that a limited bill he signed this year was "an important first step," but that the initiative could "potentially open the door to recreational use."

International

Indonesia Moving Firmly Backwards on Drug Policy. The country is revising its criminal code, and in doing so, is continuing to embrace drug war dogma, with proposed revisions that promote harsh penalties for drug use and possession, up to and including the death penalty for some drug offenses. The draft bill contains 22 articles on the use, possession, couriering, and smuggling of narcotics, all of which are treated as criminal offenses punishable with jail time, or in severe cases, death by firing squad. This isn't new for Indonesia, but it's not progressive change, either.

Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Says Legalize It This Year, Duterte Pulls Out of ICC, More... (3/14/18)

New Jersey pot legalization politics heats up, the CDC reports a big jump in opioid overdoses, the Sentencing Commission ponders increasing fentanyl penalties, Duterte pulls the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court, and more. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says legalize it this year. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has filed Assembly Bill 3581, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, allow for home cultivation, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The bill envisions some 400 pot shops across the states.

New Jersey Governor Budgets for Legal Weed, Wants It This Year. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wants the legislature to legalize marijuana this year and has included $60 million in tax revenues from legal weed in his state budget proposal. "I am committed to working with you to get this passed this year," Murphy said in his budget address at the Statehouse in Trenton.

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Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Sued Over Denial of Cultivation License. A would-be medical marijuana provider who failed to win a license from the state has sued the Medical Marijuana Commission. Natural Health filed suit Thursday in Pulaski County Circuit Court charging the selection process was "plagued by unlawful and inconsistent procedures" and that members of the commission were biased or had conflicts of interest. . 

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Reports Opioid Overdoses Jumped 30% in 14 Months. Opioid overdoses in the US increased by about 30% over the course of 14 months, according to a report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data collected in 16 states across the country show some emergency rooms experienced as high as a 109% increase (Wisconsin) in overdoses between July 2016 and September 2017 while others — including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — reported declines. "This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States," said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Ponders Increased Penalties for Fentanyl Dealers. The Sentencing Commission is holding a hearing today on whether to lengthen prison sentences for people caught dealing fentanyl. Under the proposal, first-time offenders caught selling a half ounce of fentanyl would face up to five years in prison—more than twice the current sentence. While the Justice Department supports the proposal, the Drug Policy Alliance says that implementing the plan would have "perverse public health impacts."

International

Experts at UN Side Event Call for Access to Morphine for Severe Pain. The Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS), a Swiss think-and-do tank, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP), a London-based network, are holding a side event with expert panelists during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, titled "Ending the Agony: Access to Morphine as an Ethical and Human Rights Imperative." The groups are calling for a centralized strategy for access to opioid pain relievers, better balance between access and control, "an ambitious scale-up of training and oral morphine distribution," and destigmatizing the use of morphine and other opiates.

Duterte Will Withdraw Philippines from International Criminal Court. In a statement Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the Philippines will withdraw from the ICC. The move comes weeks after the ICC announced it was investigating allegations the Duterte government committed crimes against humanity in its bloody war on drugs, which has left thousands dead since he took office in May 2016.

Panamá Opens the Door to CBD Medicinal Marijuana with a Proposed Law. The government has filed a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil, Bill 595. It was prompted out of concern for children suffering from epilepsy. The bill could be amended by the National Assembly.

Chronicle AM: UN Sec Gen Touts Portugal Drug Decrim, NH House Derails Legal Pot Bill, More... (3/13/18)

A New Hampshire pot legalization bill gets derailed, the UN Secretary General touts Portugal's drug decriminalization policy, North Dakota takes another step forwared with its nascent medical marijuana program, and more.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks up Portugal's drug decriminalization at the CND. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Committee Nixes Legalization Bill. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Monday to delay any action on a marijuana legalization bill, instead sending House Bill 656 to "interim study." The bill is now effectively dead, but debate on marijuana legalization will continue as a separate commission studies legalization, regulation, and taxation. Its report is due on November 1.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Rules. The legislature's Administrative Rules Committee signed off Monday on rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. While the committee took no formal vote, it also did not call for any changes or delay in implementing the rules. The next step is for the state Health Department to announce an application period for growers and manufacturers, which should happen by the end of next week, according to the department's Medical Marijuana Division.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Bill Fails as Initiative Vote Looms. The sponsor of a limited medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1120, has held up the measure after it failed to get enough votes to pass. That clears the playing field for the passage of a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, which goes before the voters in June.

Virginia Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill into Law. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last Friday signed into law House Bill 1251, which allows doctors to recommend CBD cannabis oil for any patient they see fit. Previously, state law only allowed the use of CBD for epilepsy. The new law also increases the amount of CBD cannabis oil each patient can buy at a time, from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply.

International

UN Secretary General Talks Up Portugal's Drug Decriminalization. Addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres touted the success of Portugal's 18-year-old experiment with drug decriminalization, which began when he was Portuguese prime minister. "Current efforts have fallen short of the goal to eliminate the illicit drugs market," said Guterres. "We can promote efforts to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development and ensuring rights-based treatment and support. I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal when I was prime minister almost 20 years ago."

Chronicle AM: Trump Looking at Drug Dealer Death Penalty, Vancouver Wants Drug Decrim, More... (3/12/18)

Sessions admits feds can't effectively enforce pot laws, Trump admin studies the death penalty for some drug dealers, Mexico murders hit a high, Vancouver wants drug decriminalization, and more.

Trump isn't just talking about the death penalty; his administration is working on it. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Concedes Feds Lack Resources to Prosecute Small-Time Pot Busts. The attorney general admitted the obvious Saturday, saying that federal prosecutors will not take on small-time marijuana cases because federal law enforcement lacks the resources to take on "routine cases." In response to a question, Sessions said, "I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law," but then added that federal prosecutors "haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now."

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 200,000 Signatures, Still Wants More. It's looking increasingly likely that Shoe Me state residents will have a chance to vote to legalize medical marijuana in November. New Approach Missouri, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, announced Sunday it had collected more than 200,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but because some raw signatures may be disqualified, the group said its goal is 300,000 raw signatures.

Utah Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bills, But Initiative Campaign Will Continue. Faced with an ongoing initiative campaign, legislators in Salt Lake passed four medical marijuana bills this session, but none of them actually sets up a workable, dispensary-based program, and the Utah Patients Coalition, the folks behind the initiative campaign say they are tired of lawmakers beating around the bush and will continue to gather signatures so the issue will appear on the November ballot. Of the bills passed, one would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, one would ease medical marijuana research, one seeks a federal waiver for doctors to recommend CBD, and one modifies a task force charged with reviewing existing medical marijuana research.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. The legislature adjourned Saturday without taking final action on a medical marijuana expansion bill, just days after State Treasurer John Perdue warned that because of federal pot prohibition the state could not support the program with its financial services. House Bill 4345 would have increased the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries that can operate in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Studying Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. It's not just off-the-cuff rhetoric: The administration is studying a new policy that could allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some drug dealers, particularly those dealing in fentanyl and its analogs. The Department of Justice and the Domestic Policy Council are studying potential changes, and a final announcement could come within weeks.

New Report Finds War on Drugs a Key Factor in Colorado’s Growing Prison Population — and Its Prison Budget, Which Is Nearing $1 Billion for First Time in History. The war on drugs is a key factor in Colorado's growing prison population and, in turn, its growing budget, according to a report released Monday by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC). It also appears to be having a disproportionate impact on women. The analysis of state court and prison data found there were more than twice as many drug felony case filings in Colorado in 2017 (15,323) compared to 2012 (7,424), and the vast majority of drug felony filings (75%) are for simple possession. As a result, there are more people being sentenced to prison for drug possession, especially women. The report, which also includes a breakdown for each of Colorado's 22 judicial districts, shows that five districts saw drug felony filings increase by 165% or more in 2017 compared to 2012.

International

European Union Calls on Member States to Find Alternatives to Punishing Drug Users. The EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council last week adopted recommendations on alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug users. These recommendations were approved within the frame of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2017-2020 which requests member states to provide alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug using offenders "where appropriate, and in accordance with their legal frameworks."

Dutch Will Decide on Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Programs By Summer. Justice Minister Ferninand Grapperhaus told parliament last Friday that ministers will publish their proposals for the planned experiment with legal marijuana cultivation this summer. The move is an effort to address the country's "back door problem," where possession and legal sales are allowed, but there is no legal provision for supply.

Vancouver Calls for Canada to Decriminalize Drugs. The city is officially calling on the Liberal federal government to immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs. "What we've learned from countries, for example like Portugal, is that when you decriminalize then people are feeling like they're actually safe enough to ask for treatment," said managing director of social policy, Mary Clare Zak. "People who are dying are more likely to be indoors and struggle with accessing help or assistance because of their illicit drug use." The move comes as the city saw 33 overdose deaths in January, the highest number since last May.

Jamaica's First Marijuana Retailer is Now Open for Business. Kaya Farms in St. Ann Parish opened its doors last Saturday. It's a wellness-focused, tourist-friendly café, lounge, juice bar, and "herb house" on the island nation's north coast. Bob Marley must be smiling.

Mexico Saw More Than 29,000 Murders Last Year. The Interior Ministry has reported that there were 29,168 murders in the country last year, more than at the previous peak of prohibition-related violence in 2011 and 2012. While fighting among cartels and between various cartels and law enforcement and the military accounts for the vast majority of these killings, it's not the only cause. Still, the homicide rate is now the highest in years.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers Again, USSC Pick is Hardliner, More.... (3/2/18)

The president goes public with previously only privately uttered remarks about wanting to execute drug dealers, one of his picks for the Sentencing Commission is horrid, and more.

Trump talks tough on drug dealers, but his Sentencing Commission pick may be a more serious threat. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Commission Delays Report. A commission of lawmakers, medical marijuana patients, health providers, and law enforcement that was supposed to release its findings on March 1 didn't do so—and it won't do so this year. Instead, lawmakers are proposing a bill, House Joint Resolution 7529, to extend the commission's work for another year, with a report due out next February. While legalization at the state house was unlikely this year, now it's even more unlikely, although not impossible.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved House Bill 4345, which will increase the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries that can operate in the state. The bill also allows businesses to operate in all three sectors and allows patients to preregister before the anticipated July 2019 rollout. The bill does not include allowing the use of raw marijuana, but that could be added as an amendment in the Senate.

Drug Testing

Vermont House Approves Saliva Drug Testing for Drivers. The House on Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 237, which would allow police to drug test saliva during traffic stops. Approval came after an amendment to require that the accuracy of the devices be verified by at least two peer-reviewed studies. Under the bill, test results alone would not lead to arrest or conviction, but impairment would be determined by police. Some lawmakers said that because the saliva tests can detect metabolites for up to 30 days, unimpaired drivers could find themselves charged with drugged driving.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Comes Out and Almost Says It: Drug Dealers Should Be Executed. Reports earlier this week had the president privately calling for the execution of drug dealers, but he went on the record at the White House meeting on opioid policy Thursday. "Some countries have a very, very tough penalty. The ultimate penalty," he said. "And by the way they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties. We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don't even go to jail," he said. "If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them."

Sentencing

One Trump Sentencing Commission Nominee Really Likes Imprisoning People. President Trump nominated five people to the US Sentencing Commission Thursday, and one of them is an absolute sentencing hardliner. Nominee Bill Otis, "a prominent pro-prosecution crusader" who "passionately defends the same law-and-order policies that created our current crisis of mass incarceration," according to Slate, which provides a comprehensive listing of his anti-reform positions and activities. "It’s easy to see why the Trump administration settled on Otis for the Sentencing Commission: He will be able to advocate for the draconian punishments that Trump and Sessions have championed." 

Chronicle AM: Non-Binding Legalization Votes, Iran Expecting Fewer Drug Executions, More... (3/1/18)

A non-binding referendum on marijuana legalization has been approved by the Illinois Senate, another such referendum bill has just been filed in Rhode Island, the Iranian justice minister said drug executions will drop dramatically, the president nominates members to the Sentencing Commission, and more.

Iran's new drug policies should result in a "dramatic" decrease in drug executions like this.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Report Fails to Win Task Force Approval for Release. A final report on issues surrounding marijuana legalization failed to win approval from a legislative and state official task force, but one Democratic legislator said it will be made available to the General Assembly anyway. Only 12 of the 25 task force members voted to release the report; all state cabinet representatives either were absent or abstained. Gov. John Carney (D) has said he opposes legalization.

Illinois Senate Approves Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The Senate voted 37-13 Thursday to put a non-binding marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot. The measure, Senate Bill 2275, now heads to the House. The question voters would be asked is: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Rhode Island Bill to Put Non-Binding Legalization Referendum Before Voters Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-District 10) filed a bill Wednesday that would put the question of legalizing marijuana before the voters in a non-binding referendum. House Bill 7883 would ask voters: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?"

Baton Rouge Moves Toward Decriminalization. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday night approved a measure that would direct police to only issue summonses to people caught with less than 14 grams of weed, with the only punishment being a $40 fine, with the fine going up $20 for each subsequent offense. Under current law, those folks are looking at six months in jail. If signed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the new law goes into effect in 30 days.

Sentencing

Trump Nominates Sentencing Commission Members. On Thursday, President Trump announced he intended to nominate five people to the US Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal sentencing. He named Judge William Pryor of Arkansas, who already sits on the commission, to be Acting Chairman. Of the four other nominees, three are sitting federal judges and one is a Georgetown University law professor who has raised eyebrows for his support of mandatory minimums.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Life Sentences for Drug Overdose Deaths House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has filed House Bill 7715, which could create life sentences for people convicted of providing drugs to persons who suffered a fatal overdose. Under current state law, anyone convicted of providing drugs to a minor who overdoses an dies can get a life sentence; this bill would expand that to include life sentences no matter the age of the victim. "Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor," Mattiello said.>

Washington State County Will Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Drug Possessors. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has announced that his office will no longer prosecute people caught with less than two grams of any illicit drug. He said the prosecutions are time-consuming, he doesn't have enough prosecutors to keep up, and the prosecutions do little to stop drug use. Snohomish County lies between Seattle and the Canadian border.

International

Iran Justice Minister Expects Fewer Executions Under Revised Drug Law. Justice Minister Ali Reza Avai told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that he expects to see drug executions shrink after reforms in the Islamic Republic's criminal code aiming to be more efficient and safeguard the rights of the accused were adopted. "In this context the counter-narcotics law was amended. As a result, executions related to drug crimes will decrease remarkably," he predicted. Iran has been one of the world's leading drug executioners.

Mexican Police Accused of Death Squad Tactics Against Drug Suspects. Prosecutors in the state of Veracruz have charged 19 police officers, including some commanders of a special anti-drug unit, of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering at least 15 people in the area. Police in marked cars would pick up suspects, but not record the arrests, instead turning them over to specialized interrogation and torture squads working at the policy academy. They were later killed and their bodies disposed of. The charges are an important step in addressing festering impunity for official crimes in the drug war. "This is the first time they have charged people in significant numbers and of significant rank and demonstrated that there was an organized, structured governmental apparatus that had an agreed-on, systemic method to carry out a policy of disappearing people," said Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, a lawyer who specializes in human rights cases. The groundbreaking thing is that prosecutors built a case by demonstrating there was a whole governmental structure that was designed to disappear people," he told the Guardian.

Drug War Issues

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