Mandatory Minimums

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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.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

Attorney General Sessions Won't Rule Out Using Mafia Law to Go After Legal Marijuana

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

On conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt's program Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to bad mouth marijuana and suggested he might use laws enacted to go after the Mafia against the legal marijuana industry.

"I think it's a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don#39;t think we're going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store," the attorney general told Hewitt.

The conservative talker then helpfully suggested that one way Washington could go after legal pot was by bringing racketeering charges against marijuana businesses.

"One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?" Hewitt asked Sessions.

Sessions didn't exactly jump on the idea, but neither did he reject it.

"We will um… marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws," Sessions said in response. "So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It's not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that's legalized it."

But Hewitt was not done chewing on that bone, asking Sessions if he couldn't just make an example out of somebody.

"I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you're going to send it?" he asked.

Sessions had to clue in Hewitt about the difficulty of reining in the burgeoning the legal marijuana industry.

"Well, we'll be evaluating how we want to handle that," he said. "I think it's a little more complicated than one RICO case, I've got to tell you. This, places like Colorado, it's just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it's also being moved interstate, not just in the home state," he added.

Sessions has been a staunch foe of marijuana legalization, and the industry has been on tenterhooks since he was nominated as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. He attempted to soft-shoe his views during his confirmation hearings, suggesting that he wasn't going to aggressively go after the legal pot industry, but his comments with Hewitt may suggest otherwise.

Taken together with a memo on violent crime Sessions sent to federal prosecutors Wednesday in which he hinted at at rolling back Obama Justice Department policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences, his comments to Hewitt Thursday suggest that the Trump administration is about to head resolutely backwards on drug policy in general and marijuana policy in particular.

Listen to the Hewitt interview below:

Chronicle AM: Ominous Sessions Hint on Sentencing, RI AG Anti-Pot Campaign, More... (3/9/17)

Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.

It looks like the new attorney general is going old school with harsher drug sentencing. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."

International

Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.

Drug War Issues

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