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How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

The South Dakota women's prison in Pierre. (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the non-profit news organization South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for non-violent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law—one that is sending hundreds of people to prison—is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They’re coming to us in corrections and we’re thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Calls for "Stop and Frisk" in Chicago, Bangladesh's Bad New Drug Law, More... (10/9/18)

Efforts to establish safe injection sites in Philadelphia and San Francisco hit some bumps in the road, President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago, and more.

President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago -- after the city agreed to stop it. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Rejects Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proposal. Even though Philadelphia officials are moving ahead with plans for a safe injection site, having formed a nonprofit last week to oversee the project, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is not behind the plan. "It's not a workable solution to this problem," he said. "The course that I think we ought to take, and what I'm doing at the state level, is to figure out ways to get people to stop wanting to use those drugs. I would not want to be guilty of spending any public money to give people the sense that this is something that's OK. I just don't think that's a good idea." He and Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro worry about conflicting with a 1986 law, the federal "crack house" law that bars the use of a facility "for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance."

San Francisco Mayor Still Weighing Safe Injection Sites, Despite Veto of State Bill. Mayor London Breed (D) is now pondering the city's way forward with a safe injection site after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week vetoed a bill that would have put the state of California fully behind the effort. Breed is said to be concerned about threats of possible federal prosecution if the plan moves toward fruition.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Calls for Police "Stop and Frisk" Tactics in Chicago. Speaking to the International Association of Police Chiefs in Orlando Monday, President Trump called on Chicago police to embrace "stop and frisk" policing as a tool to reduce violence in the country's third-largest city. "Stop and frisk" was embraced for years by the New York City police department, but was widely criticized as overwhelmingly aimed at minority populations and ultimately ruled unconstitutional as carried out by the NYPD. "Gotta be properly applied, but stop-and-frisk works," said Trump. The city of Chicago reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in 2015 to curb stop-and-frisk procedures after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit over the issue. A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) blasted Trump for his "clueless" criticism. "Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime," Matt McGrath said in an emailed statement.

International

Bangladesh Moving to Impose Death Penalty for as Little as Five Grams of Meth. The cabinet has approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control Act of 2018 that introduces the death penalty for anyone producing, smuggling, distributing, or using more than five grams of methamphetamine. The draft also sets life in prison as the mandatory minimum sentence for such offenses. Less than five grams of meth would merit a sentence of up to 15 years, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The new law also would mandate the death penalty for more than 25 grams of heroin or cocaine.

Chronicle AM: No MedMJ for Vets This Year, Senate Takes Up Opioid Package, More.... (9/11/18)

A congressional conference committee has killed medical marijuana for veterans, the Senate is set to take up a package of opioid bills, the West African Commission on Drugs releases a model law for drug decriminalization, and more.

West African Commission on Drugs founder Kofi Annan. He may be gone, but his work lives on. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Pot Shops That Sell to Minors. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that set mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana shops caught selling weed to minors. The bill would have imposed mandatory 15-day license suspensions for a first offense, 25-day suspensions for a second, and revocation for a third offense. But "this bill is not necessary," Brown said. "The bureau already has the authority to revoke, suspend, and assess fines if a licensee sells to a minor."

Medical Marijuana

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Expected to Vote on Opioid Legislation This Week. Senate leaders announced late last week they had reached an agreement to bring a package of bills aimed at the opioid crisis to a Senate floor vote this week. The Senate will consider a substitute amendment to the opioids package that passed the House in June. Progress had stalled over Democratic concerns that a grant program would benefit only one addiction advocacy group. That has now changed. There remains a divergence between the House and Senate packages regarding requirements for Medicaid to cover treatment at more inpatient facilities and loosening privacy protections for medical records for substance abuse patients.

Sentencing Policy

Ohio Governor Candidates Clash Over Drug Possession Defelonization Initiative. Buckeye State voters will have a chance to vote to defelonize drug possession in November with the Issue 1 constitutional amendment initiative. The amendment would also bar any jail time for a first or second offense within 24 months. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes it, saying it "takes vital tools away from judges." Democratic candidate for governor Richard Cordray, however, supports it, saying its passage would "set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers' dollars, smart on how we build people's potential to be productive citizens in our society."

International

Expert Group Publish Blueprint for West Africa Drug Decriminalization. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has published a "model law" for decriminalizing drug possession and reducing related harms in West Africa. The commission is currently chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said on Tuesday: "West Africa faces three dangers from drugs: organized crime, corruption, and harms to people who use drugs. Our current laws increase those harms rather than help,"

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Utah MedMJ Poll, OK Sentencing Report, Colombia Pot Crackdown, More... (9/7/18)

A new Utah poll has the medical marijuana initiative still doing well, Los Angeles cracks down on illicit pot shops, the US and Ecuador renew cooperation in anti-drug air operations, Bolivia's Evo faces problems, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is getting opposition from a group that should constitute his base: coca farmers. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Los Angeles Arrests More Than 500 in Crackdown on Illicit Pot Shops. A crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses in the city has ended with more than 500 people arrested on misdemeanor charges, the city attorney's office said. The charges come in 120 separate criminal cases filed in connection with 105 unlicensed businesses. The defendants are charged with unlicensed commercial cannabis activity within the city, which carries a potential sentence of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. There are 165 licensed pot shops and delivery services in the city, but many shops persist in selling without a license.

Medical Marijuana

New Utah Poll Shows Continuing Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Despite the Church of Latter Day Saints coming out against the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative, support for the measure remains strong, a new poll finds. The poll had 64% either "somewhat" or "strongly" in support of the measure.

Foreign Policy

Ecuador, US to Resume Anti-Drug Air Operations. Ecuador said Thursday it is resuming anti-drug air operations with the US a decade after throwing out the US from the Manta air base. Then President Rafael Correa canceled the cooperation in 2009, saying the US military presence threatened national sovereignty, but current President Lenin Cerna, who is friendlier to the US, has tightened ties with the US.

Sentencing

Oklahoma Could Cut Prison Population in Half, Report Says. A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union's Campaign for Smart Justice and the nonpartisan policy organization the Urban Institute finds that Oklahoma has surpassed Louisiana in having the most prisoners per capita, but that the state can take measures to reduce the prison population. Those include ending mandatory minimum sentencing, shifting more discretionary power in sentencing to judges, but the report said the move that would have the most dramatic impact on population would be to focus on drug sentences. The report recommended slashing the time served for drug distribution by 60%, from an average of 3.3 years to 1.3 years. That move alone would create a 22.5% drop in the prison population by 2025, the report said.

International

Bolivian Coca Farmers Demonstrate Against Their Former Coca Grower President. Thousands of coca growers took to the streets of La Paz on Wednesday in opposition to the government of President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower and union leader. The protestors say the government's coca eradication efforts have hurt their livelihoods and led to the death of at least two of the members.

Colombian Riot Police Break Up Bogota Marijuana "Smoke-a-Thon". Riot police in Bogota on Thursday broke up a "smoke-a-thon" defending the use of marijuana. The demonstration was called to protest President Ivan Duque's moves to tighten the country's drug laws, which allow people to possess small amounts of marijuana. Duque recently issued a decree allowing police to seize any drug consumed in public. The Bogota demonstration was quickly dispersed, with at least a half-dozen people arrested as clashes broke out.

Nigerian Presidential Candidate Wants to Make Country Marijuana Export Giant. Omoyele Sowore, a publisher and presidential hopeful in Nigeria says he will make the country a marijuana exporting hub if elected as president. Sowore said many other countries are making billions from the plant, while people in Nigeria are being jailed for it. "Some of the best weeds in the world are grown in Ekiti state. I'm very serious. People are making billions out of that particular plant that is very potent in Nigeria. We should be focusing on it. We have to start taking care of our weed (Igbo), such that we can also contribute to the GDP of the world," he said. "Our NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) should get the notice, memo in advance that Nigeria will be exporting weed to cure cancer in other parts of the world. Instead of chasing after people who are growing weed whereas we are not chasing after our politicians who are smoking cocaine in their houses."

Chronicle AM: Colombia Moves Backwards on Drug Policy, NYPD Pot Arrests Now Halted, More... (9/4/18)

Colombia's new president moves resolutely backward on drug policy, New York City's era of mass marijuana possession arrests is over, the California legislature has been busy, and more.

The era of New York City as the world's marijuana arrest capital has come to an end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill that Will Support Local Cannabis Equity Programs to Increase Representation in the Industry by Persons from Communities Most Harmed by Cannabis Prohibition. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1294, which helps create equity in the cannabis industry through the distribution of grants to localities offering assistance to persons most harmed by cannabis prohibition and generational poverty. SB 1294 will offer grants to localities with existing equity programs -- such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- to support them as they offer equity-qualifying applicants and licensees business loans and grants, regulatory compliance and technical assistance, and licensing fee waivers. SB 1294 reflects a nationwide movement to ensure that this growing industry is representative and accessible to all persons, no matter their financial or criminal history background. Advocates, entrepreneurs, and local governments now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

Delaware Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Bill Into Law. Gov. John Carney (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 197, which "provides mandatory expungement eligibility to individuals who were convicted of the possession [of one ounce or less], use or consumption of marijuana prior to Delaware's decriminalization of these offenses." The provision only applies to people who have no other criminal convictions on their records.

New York City Change in Marijuana Arrest Policy Now in Effect. As of Saturday, the NYPD is no longer arresting people for small-time marijuana use or possession in most cases. The city arrested more than 10,000 people on such charges last year. Officials said the change came because the arrests had nothing to do with public safety and were racially disproportionate. "Our new policy, we're going to see a humongous drop in people in communities of color being arrested for marijuana," NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison said. "And that was one of the whole goals of this whole new policy."

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Makes Synthetic Cathinone Schedule I Substance. The DEA last Friday announced it was placing the synthetic cathinone N-Ethylpentylone into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This is a temporary scheduling action good for up to 24 months, during which time research will be conducted to see if the drug should be permanently scheduled. DEA said the drug was linked to 151 deaths in the US since 2015.

Sentencing Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill Giving Judges the Power to Set Aside Ineffective and Punitive Five-year Sentence Enhancement. The legislature last Friday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1393, which would restore judicial discretion to the application of a five-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person's criminal record. Current law requires judges to add an additional five-years to cases, even when the judge believes that the punishment is unjust and unwarranted. If signed into law, judges would have maximum flexibility during the penalty phase of a trail to impose, or not impose, the additional five-years. A coalition of people who are directly impacted, their families, service providers, and advocates now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

International

Colombian President Moves to Recriminalize Drug Possession. President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday measures to give police the power to seize personal use quantities of drugs that had previously been legalized. "This week will sign the decree through which, in development of the police code 02 of the 2009 legislative act, we will give the authorities tools to confiscate any dose of drugs or hallucinogens in the streets of Colombia, and thus face the root of micro-trafficking problems," said Duque. The measures would appear to contradict rulings by the country's Constitutional Court, which in 2012 approved the decriminalization of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for personal use.

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.

International

Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

Chronicle AM: Senate Sentencing Reform Bill Under Attack, DEA Threatens SIJs, More... (2/15/18)

The Marijuana Justice Act gets a third cosponsor, the DEA threatens to go after safe injection sites, the attorney general and leading law enforcement groups target the Senate sentencing reform bill, and much, much more.

Jeff Sessions and major law enforcement groups are trying to kill the Senate sentencing reform bill. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Suggests He Will Defer to DEA, Congress on Rescheduling Lawsuit. At a hearing Wednesday over a lawsuit seeking to have marijuana de- or rescheduled from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein suggested he would rule in the government's favor. He dismissed plaintiffs' claims that marijuana prohibition was motivated by racism and political concerns when it was passed 80 years ago and he said he didn't think he had the authority to reschedule the drug. "The law is the law," the judge said. "I'm sworn to enforce the law."

Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act Gets Third Sponsor. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Wednesday that she had signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689). The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States and Businesses. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) has filed the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act (no bill number yet), which would essentially codify the protections for state-legal marijuana embodied in the now-rescinded Cole memo. "To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis," Correa said. "Attorney General Sessions' decision to rescind the 'Cole Memo' created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws."

Connecticut Legalization Bills Filed. Twenty-two lawmakers filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 5112, would authorize the retail sale and taxation of the herb. Separately, House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) filed another legalization bill, House Bill 5111. Similar bills last year failed to get a floor vote in either chamber. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on General Law.

Massachusetts Legalization Advocates Protest "Intimidation Campaign" Aimed at Forcing Restrictive Regulations. Legalization advocates are criticizing Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and other officials, saying they have conducted a "coordinated intimidation campaign" against the state body charged with crafting rules and regulations, the Cannabis Control Commission. In a series of letters to the commission, officials from the governor's office have raised public health and safety concerns and recommended it scale back its framework of rules. Advocates took their concerns to the State House Thursday, where they held a press conference.

New Jersey Lawmakers, Wary of Legalization, File Decriminalization Bill Instead. A bipartisan group of legislators urging caution on pot legalization has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 472 would make the possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalizing marijuana, and legalization bills have already been filed in the Assembly and Senate.

Jackson, Mississippi, City Council Votes to Decriminalize Weed. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. Violators would face no more than a $100 fine. Under current Mississippi state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will depend on local law enforcement discretion. The possession of any amount of marijuana can result in up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $250, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Committee Votes to End Civil Forfeiture by Police. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Senate Bill 213 would require a criminal conviction before cash or property could be seized. Senators said they expected the bill to face additional negotiations before it goes to a Senate floor vote.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill to Block Employers from Testing for Marijuana to Be Filed. Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said he plans to introduce a bill that would block employers from drug testing for THC or disqualifying people from jobs because of a drug test with positive results for marijuana. The bill would apply to both public and private sector workers, but not those operating heavy equipment. "Consuming THC weeks or months out from a job interview should not disqualify someone from finding employment any more than someone who drank a few beers on another date should be kept out of work" Bowen told the Isthmus in an email. "While I am in favor of the safe legalization and regulation of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, until that happens, people should not be stigmatized for using a substance whose effect on society is less negative than society's reaction to it."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congressional Republicans Try to Blame Sanctuary Cities for Opioid Crisis. GOP lawmakers used a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security to try to scapegoat sanctuary cities for the country's opioid crisis. "We have heard countless stories of sanctuary practices and the havoc they wreck on public safety, national security, and the sanctity of the rule of law," said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), the committee chair. "Our public safety and our public health are tied to eradicating opioids, which can never be accomplished when the force multiplier that is ICE is sidelined." But committee Democrats and analysts rejected the link. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said There was no "factual basis in connecting so called sanctuary city policies with the opioid crisis," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). "It would be laughable if it weren't so serious," she said. "If it weren't so hurtful to the characterization of immigrants across this country." Last month, Republicans tried to blame Obama's expansion of Medicaid for worsening the epidemic.

Harm Reduction

Trump Administration Threatens to Go After Safe Injection Sites. Several US cities are moving forward with plans to open safe injection sites, but the DEA has just fired a shot across the bow. In an interview with Buzzfeed, DEA spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the agency may take action against the facilities because they are federally prohibited. "Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law," Pfaff said. "Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action." She cited a 1980s crack house law that could be used. But in Seattle, at least, local prosecutors say they welcome a legal challenge and think they can convince the courts that public health powers are superior to criminal laws against drug dens run for profit.

New Mexico Passes Legislation to Examine Administering Pharmaceutical-grade Heroin or Other Opioids by Medical Practitioners to People Struggling with Long-term Addiction. The state House Tuesday approved House Memorial 56, which charges the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to take testimony on supervised injectable opioid treatment as a feasible, effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. This memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the governor.

Sentencing Reform

Attorney General Sessions Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said. The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Police Groups Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. The National Sheriffs' Association and the Fraternal Order of Police have both come out against the Senate sentencing reform bill, calling on President Trump to reject the bill and saying it will put violent drug dealers back out on the street. "Sheriffs will have to arrest most of them again at the county level and that will shift the cost and responsibility to us without fixing the underlying problems of violent crime and drug and human trafficking in the country," said a letter to Trump from the National Sheriffs' Association. "At a time when our nation is being ravaged by an epidemic of overdoses from the use of heroin and opioids, it seems at variance with common sense and sound policy to drastically reduce sentences for drug traffickers and then apply these reduced sentences retroactively," said the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Sessions vs. Grassley -- Sentencing Reform Sparks Fight on the Conservative Right

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.

When Chuck Grassley is coming after you from the left, you know you're pretty far right. (senate.gov)
In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said.

The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Sessions has no qualms about hardline drug war policies, and his voicing opposition to the sentencing reform bill doesn't come as a shock. But Grassley, who has been shepherding the bill along for months, took it personally.

In an interview with Bloomberg Politics Wednesday afternoon, the rock-ribbed Republican ripped into Sessions, accusing him of being ungrateful after Grassley protected him from Democratic demands for public hearings on his contacts with the Russians and supported him when President Trump wanted to fire him.

"I think it's legitimate to be incensed and I resent it, because of what I've done for him. He had a tough nomination, a tough hearing in my committee," Grassley said. "They wanted to call him back every other day for additional hearings about his Russian connection, and I shut them off of that until we had the normal oversight hearing in October I believe it was, see? And the president was going to fire him, and I backed him, you know? So why wouldn't I be irritated?"

Grassley also took to Twitter to express his umbrage at his former colleague, tweeting: "Incensed by Sessions letter An attempt to undermine Grassley/Durbin/Lee BIPARTISAN criminal justice reforms This bill deserves thoughtful consideration b4 my cmte. AGs execute laws CONGRESS WRITES THEM!"

For Grassley and the bipartisan coalition attempting to move the bill forward, Sessions' intervention is little more than last-minute backstabbing. A hearing to mark up the draft bill is set for today (Thursday).

Again, that Sessions would try to derail sentencing reforms is no surprise. He helped kill a predecessor sentencing reform bill that also had broad bipartisan support when he was in the Senate. And since he has taken over as attorney general, he has pursued an undeviating conservative "law and order" agenda.

He regularly takes rhetorical aim at violent crime, illegal immigration, and drugs, and he also puts his policy where his mouth is. Last year, he crafted a memo to federal prosecutors instructing them to charge people with the most serious chargeable offense, a move designed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. He also crafted another memo to prosecutors undoing Obama's laissez faire approach to state-legal marijuana, and he blames marijuana for fueling the opioid epidemic.

Grassley didn't attack Sessions for his draconian policy prescriptions; only for his ingratitude and what he saw as his usurpation of congressional prerogatives. Still, this battle of the dinosaurs shows how the Trump/Sessions crime agenda is creating fissures at the heart of the Republican Party.

Drug War Issues

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