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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: MA Gov Wants Harsh Sentences for Drug Deaths, More... (8/31/17)

Connecticut continues to grapple with opioids, the Massachusetts governor and cops want mandatory minimums and a possible life sentence for dealers whose clients die, and more.

MA Gov. Baker prefers 20th Century drug war mistakes over 21st century solutions. (mass.gov)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Fentanyl Overdoses Now Exceed Heroin Overdoses in Connecticut. The state saw 539 opioid overdose deaths in the first half of this year, and for the first time, more people died using fentanyl than heroin. While 257 people died of heroin overdoses, 322 died of fentanyl overdoses. The state medical examiner's office projects overdose deaths this year will reach 1,100, a 20% increase over last year.

Connecticut Governor Signs Opioid Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Thursday signed into law a bill aimed at slowing the state's opioid epidemic. The bill increases monitoring of opioid prescriptions and requires health insurers to cover inpatient detoxification. The bill passed the legislature unanimously. This is the third year in a row the state has passed bills aimed at the opioid epidemic.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Governor Wants Harsher Penalties for Drug Deals That Lead to Death. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has sent a letter to the legislature proposing a bill that would increase sentences for dealers who sold drugs to people who overdosed and died -- up to life in prison. "When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm," Baker wrote, according to MassLive. "This legislation would provide for a penalty of up to life in prison and, like the offense of manslaughter while driving drunk, would also require a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years," he added. The bill has the support of law enforcement.

Santa Fe Mayor to Introduce Resolution to Establish A Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force. Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of New Mexico's fourth largest city, will on Thursday introduce a resolution establishing a Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force charged with recommending innovative public health and safety approaches to problematic drug use in the city. "This isn't a problem we can solve by simply declaring a new, top-down policy. It has to be something we take on together, and the strategy has to come from the community. From harm reduction, to law enforcement, to prevention, to treatment, there is a huge range of expertise already developing in Santa Fe, and to find success we will need every one of those voices at the table," said Mayor Gonzales. He added, "So we're doing what we often can do best -- bringing people together."

Chronicle AM: Senate Keeps MedMj Language, Kansas SWAT Lawsuit Revived, More... (7/27/17)

A Senate panel has approved an amendment barring the DOJ from going after medical marijuana states, criminal justice reform groups want close scrutiny of US Attorney nominees, a federal appeals court reinstates a lawsuit over a SWAT raid that turned up only tomatoes and tea leaves, and more.

A Kansas SWAT team looking for a pot grow raided a couple who were only growing tomatoes. Now, their lawsuit can proceed.
Medical Marijuana

Senate Panel Approves Amendment Defunding DOJ Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to approve an amendment that would block the Justice Department from spending any funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The amendment, which passed with strong Republican support, is a striking rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had personally requested that Congress kill the amendment. A House committee yesterday killed a similar amendment, but if the Senate amendment stays in the appropriations bill, it could be the basis for conference committee negotiations later.

Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Registry. In a Tuesday decision, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state's medical marijuana registry. The program had been challenged by a John Doe lawsuit, which complained that the registry and associated fees violated his due process rights. The lawsuit was rejected by lower state courts, and now the state's highest court has agreed.

Law Enforcement

Reform Groups Call on Senate to Closely Scrutinize Trump's US Attorney Nominees. A number of criminal justice reform groups on both the left and the right are calling on Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to have committee members actually question nominees, whether at hearings or in writing. The groups, which include Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Right on Crime, and the American Conservative Union, want nominees' positions on key issues such as asset forfeiture, sentencing policy, and respecting the authority of states to be made clear. "In view of the recent policies announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ), it is even more important that the Senate understand each nominee's views of the proper role government attorneys play in seeking justice rather than merely 'winning' the cases they bring," the groups wrote. The coalition made an initial request to Grassley in March, but got no response.

Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Lawsuit Against Kansas Cops Who Led SWAT Raid Against Couple Growing Tomatoes. In a blistering decision, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit filed by a suburban Kansas City couple after a SWAT-style raid based on the couple's visit to a garden supply shop and a faulty field drug test that said tea leaves in their trash were marijuana. There was no marijuana. The family sued the Johnson County Sheriff's Office after the 2012 raid. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2015, but now the 10th Circuit has overruled him.

Chronicle AM: CT Ends Civil Forfeiture, Sessions Calls for More Drug War (Again), More... (7/12/17)

Connecticut has become the 14th state to end civil asset forfeiture, Nevada's state government is moving to ease a potential marijuana shortage, Jeff Sessions gives another drug war speech, and more.

Attorney General Sessions showed up at DARE to slam Obama-era drug reforms. (senate.gov).
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Says Deal on Legalization Close. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Thursday lawmakers are close to reaching a deal on a bill that will regulate legal marijuana in the state. The House had favored a 28% tax and allowing localities to ban pot businesses without a popular vote, while the Senate held to the 12% tax included in the voter-approved legalization initiative and wouldn't allow pot shop bans without a popular vote. "I'm told there are only a couple minor things that are outstanding. I hope they get them done because if they don't get them done, I think at some point, we're going to have to go forward with the law as it was written," said Baker.

Nevada Regulators Set to Approve Emergency Regs to Avoid Pot Shortage.State tax officials are set to vote Thursday on an emergency regulation that they hope will allow marijuana stores to avoid running out of supply. The regulation would allow the state to issue distribution licenses that are currently being held up by a legal challenge from liquor distributors, who want a cut of the action. Because of heavy demand since legal sales started July 1, some shops are "running on fumes," said Nevada Dispensary Association President Andrew Jolley.

Asset Forfeiture

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 7146, which ends property or cash seizures in the state without a criminal conviction. Connecticut becomes the 14th state to require a criminal conviction in most or all forfeiture cases.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Again Attacks Drug, Sentencing Reforms. In a speech at the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) training conference in Dallas on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the country's drug problem "unprecedented" and generally blamed it on Obama-era sentencing reforms that led prosecutors "not to charge the most serious offenses." Sessions said a new Justice Department police directing prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum sentences was the way to go. "We are going to trust our prosecutors again," Sessions said Tuesday. "This policy empowers trust in professionals to apply the law fairly and exercise discretion when appropriate."

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Chronicle AM: Drug Warriors Push Back on Sentencing Criticisms, Mexico Violence, More... (7/7/17)

There's medical marijuana news from Maryland, drug warriors defend Sessions' harsh sentencing approach, Mexico's prohibition-related violence is ticking upward, and more.

Coca processing lab at site of first coca plantation found and destroyed in Honduras. (Honduras Public Prosecutor's Office)
Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve First Dispensary. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved a dispensary license for the Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick on Wednesday. The store began seeing patients Thursday for "pre-orders," but won't actually have a crop to harvest for several months.

Maryland Governor Overhauls Medical Cannabis Commission. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday overhauled the commission, which had come under fire for its launch of the state's medical marijuana program. He replaced six members whose terms on the 16-member panel had expired and filled three vacancies. The new appointments doubled the number of minority commissioners from two to four, responding to calls from the Legislative Black Caucus and others to create more diversity in the program.

Sentencing

Drug Warriors Defend Sessions' Hard Line on Drug Sentencing. The heads of professional groupings committed to punitive, prohibitionist drug policies penned an op-ed Wednesday defending Attorney General Sessions' return to harsh sentencing practices and charging that Obama administration efforts to reduce drug sentences had left "a devastating mark downstream on the safety of communities across the nation." The piece was a direct response to an op-ed last month by former Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates, who noted that violent crimes rates are still at historic lows and accused Sessions of "stoking fear" with an argument that "just isn't supported by the facts."

International

Cartel Clashes in Northern Mexico Leave 26 Dead. At least 26 people were killed in a predawn gun battle between warring cartels Wednesday in Las Varas, Chihuahua, as members of La Linea squared off against a Sinaloa cartel faction. The violence in Chihuahua comes just days after a firefight with police near the resort town of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, left 19 suspected cartel members dead. Violence is surging in Mexico, with 2,186 homicide investigations opened in May, the most in any month since the government began publishing homicide statistics in the 1990s.

Honduras Destroys First Coca Crop. Honduran Army units on Friday destroyed a coca plantation containing 12,000 plants near the town of Esquipulas del Norte in Olancho province, marking the first time a coca crop had been found and eradicated in the country. Authorities had discovered the planting in late April. They also found a crude coca processing lab nearby and are investigating "the possible involvement of foreigners."

Chronicle AM: Groups Oppose New Fed Bill, Still no DEA Research Grow Licenses, More... (7/5/17)

Drug reformers and others are trying to stop a bill that would give Attorney General Sessions new powers to criminalize new drugs and craft new penalties, after a year the DEA still hasn't issued any new marijuana research grow licenses, and more.

Civil rights, human rights, criminal justice, and drug policy reform groups are mobilizing to stop a new drug war bill.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Still Hasn't Issued Any New Marijuana Grower Licenses. Almost a year after the DEA announced it would allow more organizations to produce marijuana for research purposes, it has yet to do so. Although DEA has received 25 applications for research grows, it says it is still processing them and has no estimate for when any applications may be granted. There is increasing demand for research marijuana, as well as for more potent, more diverse, and higher quality marijuana than is being produced by the University of Mississippi under a NIDA monopoly it has enjoyed since 1968.

Massachusetts Lawmakers Get Back to Work on Crafting Legalization Implementation. The legislature missed a self-imposed Friday deadline for reaching agreement on competing legalization implementation bills in the House and Senate and the marijuana conference committee was set to meet today to try to seek agreement. Two big issues of dispute are tax rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia Joins the Ranks of Legal Hemp States. As of Tuesday, state residents can apply to the agriculture commissioner for a license to grow hemp for commercial purposes. Some growers grew hemp crops last year, but those were licensed research grows. Now, those growers can be licensed as commercial growers, too.

Drug Policy

Dozens of Reform Groups Send Letter to Congress Opposing New Drug War Bill. More than 60 civil rights, human rights, faith, criminal justice, and drug policy reform organization have sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee opposing House Resolution 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017. The measure is part of Attorney General Sessions' effort to reenergize the war on drugs and would give him sweeping new powers to schedule new drugs and set corresponding penalties, including new mandatory minimums. Similar legislation by Sens. Grassley and Feinstein has been filed in the Senate.

Chronicle AM: MJ Policy Keeps Northeast Busy, Major Louisiana Sentencing Reforms, More.... (6/16/17)

Marijuana policy continues to roil statehouses across the Northeast, a US senator and a congressman file identical medical marijuana protection bills, Louisiana -- the lock 'em up state -- enacts comprehensive sentencing reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts to Get New Legalization Rewrite Bill on Monday. After criticism and errors in the text force the House leadership to pull its marijuana legalization rewrite bill this week, House committee chair Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said a redrafted version of the bill would be released on Monday, with debate expected in the House on Wednesday. At issue are tax rates and a governance model for the industry.

New Jersey Arresting More People Than Ever for Marijuana, ACLU Report Finds. Marijuana arrests have climbed steadily in the state in recent years, with black residents three times more likely than whites to be targeted. The report, which analyzed FBI Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2013, comes as lawmakers are making a push to legalize marijuana in the state. The report found a steady increase in marijuana arrests over that period, from 19,607 in 2001 to 24,067 in 2013.

Rhode Island Legalization Advocates Offer Compromise Bill. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), along with Regulate Rhode Island, have outlined a compromise bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana starting July 1, 2018, with an advisory board to study the effects of legalization and report to the General Assembly next year on setting up a taxed and regulated system of marijuana commerce. Assembly leaders are pushing a bill that would defer legalization until a legislative commission studies the issue.

Vermont Governor Says Legalization Deal Still Possible. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday an agreement with legislators on marijuana legalization is still possible this year. Scott vetoed the legalization bill last month, citing concerns about drugged driving and children. "We are still negotiating," Scott said. "They understand... what my reservations are in terms of what they're planning, but I still think it's workable." If an agreement is reached, House Republicans would have to agree to suspend the rules of the veto session to allow a vote on the pot bill. They do not sound very interested in that, but Scott has said that if he can reach agreement on a bill, he will try to persuade his GOP colleagues to allow a vote.

Medical Marijuana

Corey Booker, Steve Cohen File Identical Medical Marijuana Protection Bills. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen has filed House Resolution 2920, "to extend the principle of federalism to drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana." New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 1374, in the upper chamber.

Michigan Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Billboard Ad Ban Bills. State Sen. Rick Jones (R) and Rep. Andy Schor (D) have filed identical bills that would effectively ban billboard for medical marijuana businesses. The bills are Senate Bill 463 and House Bill 4767. They are not yet available on the state legislative web site.

Pennsylvania Governor Warns Session Against Interfering with Medical Marijuana. In a sharply worded letter, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to interfere with medical marijuana in the state. "For a lot of patients, this is the only medicine that works. So for him to go after medical cannabis is kind of flying in the face of science and the facts," said a spokesman for the governor.

Criminal Justice

Louisiana Enacts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday signed a package of 10 bills that shrink sentences, mostly for nonviolent offenders, and expand parole and probation and reentry opportunities for offenders. The state has the highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state, but Edwards predicts that the new laws will see the state's prison population falling by as much as 10% in the next decade. The bills are House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 681 and Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221. They can be viewed at the state legislative website.

International

British Columbia Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Producers. The BC Court of Appeals last week threw out the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught producing more than six marijuana plants, saying the law mandating it was unconstitutional. "I note that a six-month sentence is typical for a first-time trafficker involved in a relatively sophisticated commercial dial-a-dope operation. Imposing that sentence on a 19-year-old student or a migraine sufferer who is growing six plants intending to share them with friends would, in my view, be abhorrent to most Canadians," the trial court judge held, instead giving the man a suspended sentence. The government appealed, and lost last week.

Chronicle AM: RI House Punts on Legalization, Leading Mexican Journo Gunned Down, More... (5/17/17)

The Rhode Island House voted to study marijuana legalization instead of actually do it, Vermont newspapers pressure the governor to sign their legalization bill, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act gets refiled, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas is gunned down, and more.

RIP. Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, gunned down by presumed cartel hit men in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Monday. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Bill to Restrict Edibles Packaging. The Assembly on Monday approved Assembly Bill 350, which would bar labels on edibles that "contain any content that is designed to be attractive to individuals under the age of 21," including cartoons, images that resemble those used to advertise to children, or have candy-like packaging. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

California Senate Passes Edibles Packaging Bill. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 794, which would require all baked items and candies containing marijuana to be marked with a universal symbol (to be designed by the Bureau of Marijuana) and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island House Punts on Legalization, Votes for More Study. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to put off marijuana legalization for at least another year, instead approving a bill to set up a joint House-Senate commission to study the issue. The vote came as more than 200 people gathered on the state house steps to demand a vote on legalization. Legalization backers in the legislature say they have not given up on this year yet, though. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) said he has "about three alternatives in my back pocket to get this done one way or another" and "I won't give up on this until the last night of session."

Four Vermont Newspapers Call on Governor to Sign Legalization Bill. The Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, the Addison County Independent, and the Rutland Herald have all published editorials urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign into law Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana and set up a commission to study taxing and regulating marijuana commerce. The bill has not yet officially arrived on Scott's desk. Once it does, he will have five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Washington Governor Signs "Omnibus" Marijuana Bill. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 5131, the "omnibus bill" of more than a dozen legal changes to the state's marijuana laws. The bill creates an organic certification program for weed, allows people to share pot with friends without fear of violating the law, bars marijuana businesses from depicting plants on any billboards, allows medical patients to buy seeds and plants from producers, and instructs regulators to study the feasibility of allowing people to grow their own. Washington is the only legal state that doesn't allow for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that would have expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana stalled in the Senate Tuesday as lawmakers complained that a promised amendment to address concerns of the medical profession was never added. But sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said Senate Bill 24 would be reintroduced at a later date. The bill would have added debilitating anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions and removed a requirement that a psychiatrist sign recommendations for people seeking medical marijuana for PTSD.

Drug Policy

Sen. Kamala Harris Slams Trump/Sessions Drug Policy. California's junior senator, Kamala Harris (D) on Tuesday took Attorney General Sessions to task over his call for tough crackdown on drug offenders last week. "I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure," Harris said. "It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet." She also called for federal marijuana rescheduling and decriminalization.

Sentencing

Bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act" Filed in Both Houses. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Tuesday reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, Senate Bill 1127, while Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed companion legislation, House Bill 2435, in the lower chamber. The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based on mitigating factors. "Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws," said Sen. Paul.

International

Leading Mexican Journalist Gunned Down in Sinaloa. Gunmen in the state capital of Culiacan on Monday assassinated journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, as he drove to work in his car. Valdez, a veteran journalist who chronicled the bloody conflicts between drug cartels in his home state, co-founded the newspaper Riodoce in 2003, and had won prizes from Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists for his reporting. Valdez is only the latest of at least 104 journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2000; another 25 have disappeared. The killing is raising pressure on the Mexican government, which has failed to solve all but a handful of the slaying. Your reporter met Valdez in his office in Culiacan in 2008. He will be missed.

Chronicle AM: AG Sessions Orders Tougher Sentencing, NH Gov Will Sign Decrim, More... (5/12/17)

Attorney General Sessions has rolled out plans to return to the harsh war on drugs of old, New Hampshire is set to become the next decriminalization state (even as polls show it's ready for legalization), Denver takes a step toward social pot consumption permits, and more.

Attorney General Sessions has announced a return to the "tough on drugs" policies of the last century. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization.A new poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has some of the strongest support anywhere for marijuana legalization. The poll found 68% supported legalization, with only 27% opposed. What makes the finding even more striking is that more than half (53%) of respondents in the same poll identified drug abuse as the most serious issue facing the state. As the pollster noted, "The public doesn't see marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis as the same issue."

New Hampshire Governor Says He Will Sign Decriminalization Bill. Maybe he's following the polls, but Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has confirmed that he will sign House Bill 460, which decriminalizes the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of pot. "I want to thank the Legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform," Sununu said in a statement. "I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Dies. The clock has run out on House Bill 81, which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The House failed to take up the bill before a midnight Thursday deadline, meaning it is now dead for the session.

Denver Releases Draft Rules for Social Marijuana Consumption Permits. The city released draft rules and regulations for businesses seeking to obtain permits to allow onsite marijuana consumption on Thursday. The draft rules do not allow businesses seeking such a permit to hold a liquor license, meaning dreams of being able to smoke and drink at the same place have gone out the window -- at least for now. The rules are still open for review, with a public hearing set for June 13. The rules also envision making customers sign a waiver form saying they won't drive impaired and won't sell pot at the business. Businesses would not be able to sell any marijuana; instead customers would have to BYOB -- up to an ounce.

Philadelphia Mayor Says Legalize It, Let State Liquor Stores Sell It. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) has called for pot to be legalized and sold at state liquor stores. The state has "the perfect system to set up the legal recreational use" of marijuana with its state-controlled liquor stores, Kenny said. Doing so would allow the state "to capture all the income that is going to the underground," he said, adding that revenues could go to public education.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Patients to Transport Their Medicine. Rep. Peter Lucido (D-Macomb County) has filed House Bill 4606, which would repeal a 2012 law making it illegal to transport marijuana unless it's in a container in the trunk of a vehicle. It's "ridiculous" that medical marijuana patients can't carry pot like any other prescription medication," Lucido said."It makes no sense to give out medical marijuana cards and force patients to put it in the trunk," he continued. "My God, it's not a gun -- being a lawyer, my law firm has taken on at least a dozen of these cases."

New Jersey Panel Recommends Adding Chronic Pain as Qualifying Condition. The state Medical Marijuana Program Review Panel on Friday recommended that the Health Commissioner approve chronic pain related to a number of ailments as a qualifying condition for the use of medical marijuana. There will now be a 60-day comment period and a public hearing before the recommendations is finalized and sent to the commissioner.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Orders Tougher Drug Sentencing, Rolling Back Obama Reforms. In a memo released Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges against crime suspects, rolling back Obama administration steps to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders. The policy shift signals a return to "enforcing the laws that Congress has passed," Sessions said Friday.

ACLU Criticizes Sessions' Shift Back to Failed Drug Policies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to Attorney General Sessions' shift in drug policy by calling it "repeating a failed experiment" and a throwback to the 1980s. Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice said it sounds like a return to the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s, which "devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans."

Eric Holder Criticizes Sessions Shift Back to Failed Drug Policies. Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, author of some of the sentencing reforms being rolled back by Sessions, called the move "dumb on crime" and said Sessions is ignoring bipartisan support for sentencing changes. Sessions' policy is "an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences," Holder added.

Drug War Issues

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