Prosecution

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Chronicle AM: CA Cities Sue State Over Pot Deliveries, Fed Bill Targets Chinese Fentanyl, More... (4/8/19)

A Hawaii decriminalization bill nears passage, some California cities are suing the state over being forced to allow marijuana deliveries, the 3rd Circuit clarifies the law on intent to distribute, and more.

A bipartisan federal bill targeting Chinese fentanyl production has been filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Cities That Restrict Marijuana Sales Sue State Over Allowing Deliveries. Twenty-four cities that ban legal marijuana sales filed suit against the state last Thursday, arguing that allowing home deliveries in those locales violates the state's marijuana laws. The lawsuit comes after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control adopted a rule in January that permits state-licensed companies to deliver marijuana in cities that ban pot shops.

Florida Legalization Bill Killed. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Sunshine State is dead. HB 1117, filed by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) was killed in the House Judiciary Committee, where, he said, "It got no hearing, no debate, no vote. Just like they always do."

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana, HB 1383. The bill has already passed out of the House and two other Senate committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, it will then go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Organizers to Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, will be back in 2020, the group said last Thursday. Organizers said they hoped to have initiative language in place by mid-summer. The new measure will include possession limits, growing limits, taxes on sales, banning of edible gummies, packaging and licensing requirements and wouldn't allow any type of advertising of products.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Governor Signs Omnibus Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has signed SB 406 into law. The bill makes broad changes in the state's medical marijuana program, including allowing medical marijuana in schools and allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown marijuana. And it allows for reciprocity with other medical marijuana states and protects workers who are medical marijuana patients.

Prosecution

Third Circuit Tosses Heroin Dealer's Conviction, Clarifies Law on Intent to Distribute. The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a heroin dealer, ruling that a conviction for intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin must be based on evidence that the defendant possessed or distributed that quantity at a single time and not based on adding up several smaller possessions and distributions during the indictment period.

Foreign Policy

Bipartisan Bill Targets China Over Fentanyl. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) led a bipartisan group of senators in filing a bill that would slap sanctions on China if it fails to live up to its recent promise to regulate fentanyl as a controlled substance. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act allots $600 million to law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify producers and traffickers of the drug and would block access to US markets for Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies if they are caught producing the drug.

Chronicle AM: Feds Move Against Philly Safe Injection Site, MA Heroin OD Death Case, More.... (2/6/19)

Pushback against marijuana legalization emerges in Illinois and New York, the federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has moved to block a supervised injection site, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide on whether an involuntary manslaughter charge is appropriate in a heroin overdose death case, and more.

Massachusett's highest court will decide if sharing heroin with someone who ODs is involuntary manslaughter. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Catholic Bishops Oppose Marijuana Legalization. The bishops in charge of all six of the state’s Catholic dioceses have unsurprisingly come out against efforts in the state legislature to legalize marijuana. "As lawmakers consider this issue, it is important to remember they are not only debating the legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from," the bishops said in a statement. "In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens."

New York PTA Opposes Marijuana Legalization. The New York State Parent Teacher Association has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) and the legislature's push to legalize marijuana.  is urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers to rethink their push to legalize adult-use marijuana. "In 2017 the American Medical Association stated that marijuana is a dangerous drug, a serious public health concern and that the sale of marijuana for recreational use should not be legalized," State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky said in a statement. "We need to listen to experts on this and must do more to protect our children from substance use disorders. This is the wrong move for New York state, our children and their families." The bill the governor has proposed requires New Yorkers to be at least 21 years of age to consume marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers File Proposed Language. A group calling itself Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted its proposed language for a medical marijuana ballot initiative Tuesday. If approved for signature gathering, the initiative will need about 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. The move comes after the state legislature has refused for years to pass legislation, but initiative organizers say they would prefer to achieve their goals by passing Legislative Bill 110, which is pending this session.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 1467, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee before heading to a Senate floor vote. 

Harm Reduction

Eastern Pennsylvania US Attorney Files Lawsuit to Block Philadelphia Supervised Injection Site. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain announced at a Wednesday morning news conference that he had filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking Philadelphia from becoming the first city in the nation to host a supervised injection site. His lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare such a facility illegal under federal law. McSwain said that by seeking a civil ruling before the site became operational, his office could avoid having to resort to making criminal arrests and prosecutions and/or forfeiture proceedings. McSwain's move comes after city officials have spent more than a year preparing to get a site up and running.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide on Appropriate Penalty for Supplying Heroin in Overdose Cases. The state's highest court will decide whether a UMass-Amherst student who jointly procured heroin with a friend who subsequently overdosed and died from the drug can be charged with involuntary manslaughter based on wanton or reckless conduct and drug distribution. In oral arguments Monday, the student's attorneys noted that while other had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in overdose deaths, their client had not injected the victim with heroin, supplied him with other drugs, or knew of any prior overdoses. The court is not expected to rule on the case for four or five months.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Cases Decline, Oregon Ponders MJ Exports, More... (1/2/19)

Federal marijuana prosecutions are dropping as more states legalize, Oregon ponders legal marijuana exports, a South Carolina poll shows strong support for medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Are Declining. In a year-end report from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that while overall drug prosecutions increased during Fiscal Year 2018, marijuana prosecutions were down. "Drug crime defendants, who accounted for 28 percent of total filings, grew two percent, although defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 19 percent," Roberts wrote.

New York Governor Vows Marijuana Legalization in Inaugural Address. Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) used his inaugural address Tuesday to reiterate his support for legalizing marijuana. "When they write the history books and ask what did we do -- in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action," he said. "That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long." He also promised to propose "the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period" within a hundred days, and included marijuana legalization as part of that.

Oregon Ponders Becoming First State to Export Legal Marijuana. The Craft Cannabis Alliance, led by Adam Smith, is working with legislators on a plan to let the state start exporting marijuana to other legal pot states by 2021. Under draft language for a proposed bill, the state would allow wholesalers to ship across state lines to other legal pot states once the governor had signed a pact with the importing state to allow those deliveries. But any proposed bill to allow such sales faces obstacles at the federal level, where marijuana is still illegal.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new poll from Benchmark Research finds that nearly three-quarters of South Carolinians are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 72%, with even 63% of Republicans behind it. Medical marijuana bills last year won some committee votes, but were unable to advance.

Chronicle AM: Weed on the Ballot in 4 States This Election Day, OH Sentencing Reform, Too, More... (11/6/18)

Marijuana policy initiatives are on the ballot in four states today, so is sentencing reform in Ohio, the FDA approves a powerful new opioid, El Chapo goes on trial in New York, and more.

Do your civic duty today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana on the Midterm Ballot Today. It's not just about control of the Congress. Four states are seeing statewide marijuana policy initiatives: In Michigan and North Dakota, legalization is on the ballot; in Missouri and Utah, medical marijuana in on the ballot. Also, a number of Ohio localities are voting on decriminalization, and in Wisconsin, a number of localities will be voting on non-binding referenda on whether to legalize marijuana. Come back tomorrow for results.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Approves Opioid Pain Reliever 1,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine. The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new opioid pain reliever that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than fentanyl. The new drug, Dsuvia, will be used as a fast-acting alternative to intravenously administered opioids in hospitals. Critics warned that the new drug could be abused, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that it will only be used with "very tight restrictions."

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Goes on Trial in New York City. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has gone on trial in New York City this week. El Chapo was extradited to the US in 2017 after escaping from a Mexican prison and being recaptured months later, and now faces a 17-count federal indictment for his role heading the cartel, including money laundering, firearms, and multiple murder charges. Although El Chapo has been out of circulation for more than a year, the Sinaloa Cartel remains arguably the most powerful of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing

Ohio Votes on Whether to Defelonize Drug Possession Today. Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance to approve the Issue 1 sentencing reform initiative. The initiative would move most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also allow some nonviolent offenders to receive 25% sentence reductions and would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for using or possessing drugs until the third offense within 24 months. Come back tomorrow for results.

International

Israeli Finance Minister Criticizes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon blamed the Public Security Ministry for foot-dragging on allowing exports of the herb, thus "harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," and called for the cabinet to act to approve exports and advance legislation. "For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet's agenda, thereby harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," Kahlon wrote in a memo Monday to the cabinet secretary. "During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis."

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions -- At Least Until Fall

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that. In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority.

"I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune -- one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills, S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it's a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it's not regulated, it's not taxed. So I'll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that's a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I'm all in. I think the Assembly speaker... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

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

Chronicle AM: Good IL, MI Pot Polls, Denver Psilocybin Initiative, ACLU Targets DAs, More... (3/6/18)

Pot polls in a pair of key Midwest states are looking good, the ACLU seeks to influence district attorney races around the nation,  a Denver magic mushroom initiative is getting underway, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66%, with only 32% opposed. The poll comes as a measure to hold a non-binding public referendum on legalization moves through the legislature.

Michigan Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new EPIC-MRA poll has support for a pending marijuana legalization initiative at 61%. The initiative campaign has already handed in some 365,000 signatures; it only needs 252,253 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. State officials have been counting signatures since November, but it remains unclear when they will decide the measure has qualified for the ballot or not.

Nevada Gambling Regulators Reject Ties to Marijuana Businesses. The state's Gaming Policy Committee has recommended that the gambling industry not have any business relationship wit marijuana distributors. That recommendation reflects existing policy, but the issue came up again after the state legalized weed in 2016.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Hearing Reveals Deep Splits. The Assembly Oversight, Refom and Federal Relations Committee heard from dozens of witnesses for and against marijuana legalization during a day-long hearing Monday. The hearing was the legislature's first step toward addressing legalization this session. Even though Gov. Phil Murphy (D) supports legalization, there was no consensus emerging from the hearing and no vote taken.

Rhode Island Report on Marijuana Legalization Released. Advocacy groups the Marijuana Policy Project and Regulate Rhode Island have released a report on legalization in the state: "How should Rhode Island legalize marijuana: Asking the right questions." The 42-page document features detailed discussion of different models for regulating marijuana for adults based on other states’ experiences and urges policymakers to consider the benefits and costs of various approaches.

Albuquerque City Council Files Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Albuquerque City Council members Pat Davis and Isaac Benton have filed a new bill to remove criminal sanctions pertaining to possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia from the city’s municipal codes. The proposed ordinance makes one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia a civil infraction with a fine of $25. A civil infraction is not considered a criminal conviction. The ordinance also takes away the potential for jail time. Currently, a person can spend more than two weeks in jail for a first offense and 90 days for a subsequent offense.

Medical Marijuana

<Idaho Senate Panel Kills Bill Allowing Use of CBD. A last-ditch effort to pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 577, was derailed Monday amidst legislative turmoil. Sen. Tony Potts (R) accused the Republican legislative leadership of blocking action on the bill and asked Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chair Lee Heider (R) to allow a vote. That didn't happen; instead the committee approved a motion to keep the bill in committee, killing it for the year.Pennsylvania Dispensaries Facing Product Shortages. Medical marijuana dispensaries are already running out of supply less than two weeks after sales began in the state. The main reason is that only one of the state's 12 licensed growers is actually shipping product. The other reason is unexpected demand.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Getting Underway. A group calling itself Coloradans for Psilocybin has met with Denver officials about putting an initiative on the municipal ballot that would decriminalize psilocybin possession and make it law enforcement's lowest priority. Anyone caught with less than two pounds of magic mushrooms would face only a $99 ticket. The group says it will have an initiative cleared for signature gathering soon.

Drug Testing

Faced With Legal Weed, Full Employment, Employee Drug Testing is Declining Pre-employment drug testing is in decline in the face of spreading marijuana legalization and a tightening job market. The change is most evident in pot-legal states, such as Colorado, where the number of companies doing the tests declined from 77% last year to 66% now. "The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high," said Jeremy Kidd, a professor at Mercer Law School, who wrote a paper on the economics of workplace drug testing. "A blanket prohibition can't possibly be the most economically efficient policy" he told McClatchy.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Using Soros Money to Target District Attorney Races. Backed by millions of dollars from financier George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the ACLU is making a major play to influence local prosecutor races around the country. The group is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri. The ACLU says it will focus on big cities with large jail populations in what it's calling its Campaign for Smart Justice. The ACLU doesn't endorse candidates, but says its goal is to raise awareness of criminal justice issues.

Montana Prosecutor Calls for "Immediate Crackdown" on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users [FEATURE]

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

Taking the war against pregnant women to a whole new level, a Montana prosecutor called this week for an "immediate crackdown" on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant; urged friends, family members, health care providers, and even strangers to turn in women they suspect to authorities; and warned drug- or alcohol-using pregnant women to "immediately self-report" to state health authorities to avoid criminal prosecution.

On the Crow Reservation, Big Horn County, Montana (Wikimedia)
Even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting policies of coercion and punishment directed to pregnant women, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South, have taken to prosecuting women who give birth to children with drugs in their system. That's not good enough for Big Horn County Attorney Gerald "Jay" Harris, who has concocted a toxic brew of anti-abortion and war on drugs ideology, along with a nice dollop of real world racial disparity, to call for prosecuting women while they are still pregnant -- and to go after them if they seek abortions to avoid prosecution.

In a Thursday press release, County Attorney Harris announced the crackdown, saying he will seek protection orders restraining pregnant women from any non-medically prescribed use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and those who violate the orders will be jailed to "incapacitate" them.

"It is simply not satisfactory to our community that the protection of innocent, unborn children victimized in this manner and subject to a potential lifetime of disability and hardship relies exclusively on social workers removing the child from the custody of the mother at birth," Harris explained. "This approach is not timely and has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent to this dangerous, unacceptable behavior and will no longer be the state's policy in Big Horn County."

Big Horn County, home to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Native American reservations, is 60% Native American and only 33% white, including County Attorney Harris.

Harris called on both the reservations and other prosecutors in Montana to join him in his crusade, which National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) described in a statement as a "reckless call to hunt down pregnant women." The advocacy group said it was "shocked by this attack on the health, liberty, and basic human rights of women in Big Horn County."

Harris's statement "irresponsibly promotes medical and scientific misinformation, promotes an environment of fear and reflects a shocking disregard for the rights and well-being of women and families, NAPW charged.

NAPW warned that Harris has no legal authority to carry out such a policy, saying enforcement would violate state and federal law. It also had a heads-up for potential busy-bodies: "People who heed the prosecutor's call to report pregnant women and violate patient privacy and confidentiality may themselves be subject to legal action," the group advised.

As NAPW noted, policies of coercion and punishment directed at pregnant women are actually counterproductive. Such policies discourage them from seeking prenatal health care and may even drive some to seek abortions to avoid arrest. And this is where Harris's anti-abortion politics and view of women as essentially little more than incubators rears its head.

"In the event an expecting mother chooses to abort an unborn child instead of refraining from drug or alcohol use and litigation extends beyond our local courts, we trust Attorney General Fox will make the right decision on behalf of all Montanans and continue this fight to the extent necessary to ensure justice is afforded to the most vulnerable of our society," he warned.

The NAPW, for its part, is cautioning women against "self reporting" to government agencies that could incarcerate them and is further urging "every medical and public health provider in Big Horn County to immediately oppose this dangerous, unethical, and counterproductive policy." It is also encouraging everyone who supports the health, dignity, and human rights of pregnant women to contact Harris "to let him know you oppose this outrageous action."

Harris thoughtfully provided his office phone number on his press release. It is (406) 665-9721.

Federal Marijuana Justice Act Filed in House [FEATURE]

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave law-abiding marijuana operations alone in states where it is legal has paradoxically had the effect of energizing the movement to legalize marijuana at the federal level. The latest evidence of the reaction came Wednesday, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a legalization bill in the House.

Oakland's Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (Wikimedia)
And it's not just any legalization bill. Their Marijuana Justice Act would help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States.

"We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that," said Lee at press conference rolling out the bill. "It's a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrests and incarceration."

In addition to ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing the drug from the DEA's list of controlled substances, the bill would allow anyone currently serving a sentence for drug possession to appeal for judicial review of his or her sentence. It would also use federal spending to incentivize states to reform their marijuana laws "if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and/or people of color."

That last provision is especially striking given that nearly every state disproportionately arrests and imprisons blacks for marijuana. With this language, the federal government could become an engine for state-level marijuana legalization instead of an impediment to it.

"This would force states with records of racial bias in arrests and sentencing to clean up their acts by cutting funds to the worst offenders," said Lee.

But even that would only begin to repair the damage done by the drug war, the Oakland congresswoman explained.

"It's not enough to just expunge records and end over-incarceration," Lee said. "Restorative justice is extremely important, and these victims of our failed policies deserve our support during the reentry process, too."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
For bill cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), it's the economics, but not just in the traditional sense of increased economic activity and tax revenues. While he pointed to the potential economic gains of legalization, he also highlighted the opportunity costs of pot prohibition and underlined provisions in the bill that would spend federal funds to invest in communities ravaged by the drug war.

"The estimates are that legalization would lead to a $40 billion a year industry, with a million jobs and $7 billion tax revenues, which would more than offset the $500 million in the bill to help invest in communities of color. It's a net gain for government and for job creation," Khanna noted.

"But the economic impact is so much broader," he pointed out. "How many people of color got arrested at 19, 20, or 25? That represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential. With this bill, we're not just talking about legalization, but about giving people a second chance.

The Marijuana Justice Act is the House version of the bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senate Bill 1689. Booker was at Wednesday's press conference for the House version.

"There is a rush of enthusiasm for legalization," he said, "but it seems like hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize it but don't ty to undo the damage of the war on drugs. You can't get a Pell grant or a business or professional license for doing something three out of our last four presidents have admitted doing. The war on drugs is one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and that's why this is a very happy day for me. We're trying to make this nation live up to is promise of liberty and justice, not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed the Senate version of the bill last August.
"I think we are seeing momentum growing," Booker continued. "People who were skeptics are being converted. A lot of people are aware of how unjust this has been, and now there is more confidence from seeing early state like Colorado be so successful."

Indeed. One of the most politically striking moments since the Sessions announcement was Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner -- not a supporter of legalization -- taking to the Senate floor to excoriate Sessions over the move and vow to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses himself.

"More than 30 states have passed marijuana reforms," said Lee. "The grassroots and democracy is working. You will see members of the House and Senate move forward because the public supports this. It can't be stopped."

"We are at a tipping point, with nearly two-thirds supporting marijuana legalization and an overwhelming 91% supporting medical marijuana, said Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with Booker and Lee on the bills. "Eight states have already legalized it, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the cusp. Yet, Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten the states. It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and end federal marijuana prohibition."

While momentum is building, the bills both face an uphill battle in their respective chambers. The Booker bill, introduced last August, still has only one cosponsor, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, and there is no indication it will get even a committee hearing this session. Lee and Khanna's House version of the bill already had a dozen cosponsors on day one, but again, it is unlikely to get a hearing under the House Republican leadership.

But the legalization bills could fare better next year if the Democrats manage to take back the House and/or the Senate. And Jeff Sessions' war on weed could help them to do just that.

(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 web site. 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.)

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