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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing Reform

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

Industrial Hemp

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Policy

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: Prospects Dim for First Step Act, UT MedMJ Advocates File Suit, More.... (12/7/18)

The surgeon general suggests it's time to revise federal drug schedules, the First Step Act is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, Utah patient advocates sue to block a legislative gutting of the voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

A prison and sentencing reform bill is running out of time on Capitol Hill. Blame Mitch McConnell. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) has pre-filed House Bill 157, which would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants, with three plants flowering at one time. The bill does not create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Advocacy Groups Sue to Block Compromise Agreement on Medical Marijuana. A pair of patient advocacy groups filed suit Thursday to block a legislative agreement that supersedes the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative passed in November. The groups accuse the Mormon Church of unconstitutional interference in a process that led to the gutting of the measure approved by voters. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to set aside the revised medical marijuana law approved by the legislature and to keep the original version in the initiative.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lame Duck GOP Legislature Pushes Through Food Stamp Drug Testing. As part of the GOP-dominated legislature's effort to weaken the incoming Democratic governor and other state officials, the legislature passed a sweeping measure imposing restrictions on welfare recipients, including a requirement for drug screening and testing of people apply for food stamps. If outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs the bill, Wisconsin will be the first and only state that requires drug testing for many non-felon food stamp applicants.

Law Enforcement

Surgeon General Says Federal Drug Classification Scheme Needs Changes. The country's drug classification needs an overhaul, but that doesn't mean drugs should simply be decriminalized, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday. "Our scheduling system is functioning, but not as ideally as it could," he said of the federal schedule for controlled substances maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. "Things aren't static. We have to continue to evolve. Just as we need to look at our criminal justice laws, we need to look at our health laws and regulations, and that includes the scheduling system," Adams said.

Sentencing Reform

The Door is Closing on the Federal Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. Prospects for passage of the First Step Act (S. 3649) grow dimmer as the clock ticks down on the end of the congressional session later this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't made it official, but he has told Republicans there is almost no time left to take up the bill, and Senate Republicans left town Thursday afternoon without taking up the topic at two party lunches this week. "Each passing day they get less," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the bill's chances. "We're still lobbying Sen. McConnell. He has all the power to allow it or not allow it."

Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

Mitch McConnell is getting pressured by the president to move on the First Step Act. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Governor-Elect Says Legalize It. Incoming Democratic Governor Tim Walz says it's time for the state to get on the legalization bandwagon. "I just think the time is here and we're seeing it across the country," he said. "Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right." Wise's Democratic allies control the state House, but Republicans control the Senate.

New Jersey Legislature Takes Up Legalization Bill. Hearings are underway at the statehouse for the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

North Dakota Lawmaker Will File Decriminalization Bill. In the wake of November's failed legalization initiative, one lawmaker says he will file a decriminalization bill during the coming legislative session. State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) said her bill would probably decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. Possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor.

North Dakota Initiative Campaigners Will Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind November's failed legalization initiative says it will be back in 2020. Group leader David Owen said he is "100% certain" the group will try again but with some changes. Next time, the proposal will contain provisions for tax revenues from sales and limits on how much individuals can grow and possess. This year's initiative lost 59%-41%.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Try to Arrest Each Other in Drug Bust Gone Awry. It was Keystone Cops in the Motor City earlier this month when a group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug dealers attempted to arrest another group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug buyers. The end result: A shouting match and shoving and punch-throwing brawl among more than two dozen armed police officers. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday. Two Detroit police officers were killed in a similar incident in 1986.

Sentencing Reform

Trump Urges McConnell to Act on Criminal Justice Reform. In a tweet last Friday, President Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.2795) to be voted on in the Senate. McConnell said last week there wasn't time to get the measure through this session, but he has faced intense lobbying pressure, not only from the president but also other Republican senators and the religious right. "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support," Trump said in the tweet. "@senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @SenSchumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!"

International

French National Assembly Approves Fines for Drug Use. The National Assembly last Friday approved a bill that introduces a fixed fine of 200 Euros for the use of drugs, and marijuana in particular. Since 1970, illegal drug use has been subject to up to a year in prison and up to a 3,750 Euro fine, but such sentences were rarely imposed, especially for marijuana. Some ministers on the left criticized the measure as disproportionately affecting poor young people and condemned the lack of involvement of health authorities.

Thai National Assembly Gives Preliminary Approval to Legal Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The National Legislative Assembly has accepted "in principle" amending the country's drug law to allow for the medicinal use of five substances, including marijuana and kratom. Under the amended law, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board will be assigned to designate areas to be used for the production of the drugs and the quantity to be produced.

McConnell Puts Kibosh on Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump's announcement that he would support the effort, but by week's end, those prospects dimmed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn't bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

[Update: McConnell is facing pressure from the religious right as well as from the president to allow a vote.]

The grinch who stole sentencing reform. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the "back end," such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

  • Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.
  • Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions ("three strikes") would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner's and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn't enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

"McConnell said he didn't have the time, that's his way of saying this isn't going to happen," said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance's (DPA) Office of National Affairs. "McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he's a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn't like or care about this issue."

McConnell's move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

"Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn't move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer," he recounted. "Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that. The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it's up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it."

If McConnell sticks to his guns, then sentencing reform will be dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he is likely to be an impediment to reform.

"McConnell is the obstacle -- it's not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions -- it's McConnell, and he's going to be there next year and the year after that," said Collins. "He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn't going to listen to us, it's going to be up to them to figure this out."

"If McConnell doesn't prioritize this, it doesn't happen," said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group. That's a shame, she said, because "I'm optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance."

There is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year could lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

"It's been a long, hard slog to get to where we are," said Collins, "but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs."

"My job is to continue to beat the drum for change," said Gotsch. "It's always hard, and we don't get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn't come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can't let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years -- the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice -- and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis."

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

Chronicle AM: Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill, Cities Call for MJ Rescheduling, More... (11/14/18)

President Trump has given his endorsement to a limited bipartisan prison reform bill, the National League of Cities calls for marijuana rescheduling, and more.

President Trump has given his endorsement to the First Step Act. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

National League of Cities Calls For Federal Marijuana Rescheduling. The National League of Cities, representing more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages across the country, has passed a pair of resolutions on marijuana policy. The first calls on the Trump administration and Congress to "resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws" and "provide guidance to financial institutions that results in the cannabis market having access to the federally regulated banking system," while the second calls for marijuana to be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Lawmaker Group Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday announced plans to file a trio of bills aimed at making the Department of Veterans Affairs a more marijuana-friendly agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would clarify the already existing policy of protecting patients who discuss their marijuana history. The Department of Veterans Affairs Survey of Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 would conduct a nationwide survey of all veterans and VA healthcare providers regarding medicinal cannabis. And the Department of Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Education Act of 2018 would have the VA work with medical universities to further develop medicinal cannabis education programs for primary healthcare providers.

Law Enforcement

Trump Endorses Prison Reform Bill. In a press conference Wednesday, President Trump gave his support to a limited prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (HR 5682). The bill invests heavily in anti-recidivism efforts and lowers some mandatory minimum sentences, but has not gone as far as some Democrats would like. In the House, 57 Democrats voted against it because it did not more substantially address sentencing reform. Now, in the Senate, it will face opposition from some conservative Republican senators, but the president's endorsement should help propel it forward.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Looms, HHS Recommends Kratom Ban, More... (11/13/18)

Congress could move on both sentencing reform and industrial hemp in the lame duck session, HHS recommends banning kratom, Thailand moves to legalize and regulate both kratom and medical marijuana, and more.

Despite spending $8 billion to suppress the poppy crop, the situation in Afghanistan is "worse than ever," a new report finds.
Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Set to Advance. Key senators have reached a tentative agreement on a major criminal justice reform bill that is being supported by presidential advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The proposed legislation would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The measure has support from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the ACLU to the Fraternal Order of Police and groups supported by the Koch brothers.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Prosecutors Start Dropping Marijuana Cases. Local prosecutors are beginning to announce the dropping of charges in pending marijuana cases after voters last week voted to legalize the drug. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said last Friday that "there will no longer be any prosecutions for possession or use of marijuana" in his jurisdiction, and other DAs are expected to follow suit.

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has prefiled a marijuana decriminalization bill for the 2019 legislative session. "Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now," Moody said in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

Industrial Hemp

McConnell Says Hemp Provision Will Be in Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that completing work on a new farm bill is a top priority and that a provision to fully legalize hemp cultivation will be included.

Kratom

HHS Recommends Banning Kratom. The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that kratom be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. HHS sent a letter to the DEA saying that two chemicals in the herbal supplement should be Schedule I. The recommendation is in line with past public statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who calls kratom "an opioid" and says it has been "associated" with dozens of deaths.

International

Thai Congress Proposes Legalizing Kratom, Medical Marijuana. The National Legislative Assembly has officially proposed allowing the licensed use of medical marijuana and kratom. The two drugs would be placed in a legal category that would allow their licensed possession and distribution. The Health Ministry will review the proposal before submitting it to the cabinet, which could amend it before returning it to the legislature. The entire process could be completed by year's end.

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Problem "Worse Than Ever," Inspector General's Report Finds. Despite the US spending more than $8 billion to reduce opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the problem is "worse than ever," a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) finds. "No counterdrug program undertaken… by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production," the report stated.

Good Riddance! Drug Reformers Applaud Sessions’ Departure from DOJ [FEATURE]

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

Jeff, we hardly knew ye. (senate.gov)
Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century's drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least formally reversed the Obama administration's "live and let live" approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions' anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department's Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It's probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it's hard to see getting someone more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

"Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace," said NORML director Erik Altieri. "NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness."

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next US Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

"While Trump's dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president's motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions' wrongs," said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "The US public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies."

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come -- and gone.

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

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Drug War Issues

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