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Chronicle AM: Colombia & Luxembourg Move on Marijuana Legalization, Oakland Cuts Marijuana Taxes, More... (5/23/19)

Oakland slashes pot taxes for small businesses, Colombia congressmembers plot a marijuana legalization bill, Luxembourg ministers outline their plans for marijuana legalization, and more.

Luxembourg Justice Quarter
Marijuana Policy

Oakland City Council Votes to Cut Marijuana Taxes for Small Businesses. In a bid to protect small marijuana businesses in the city, the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to lower the gross receipts tax on marijuana businesses that make $500,000 or less a year. The current rate is 10%, one of the highest in the state; the new rate will by 0.12%, a dramatic reduction. Whether bigger pot businesses will get a tax cut, too, will be taken up by the Council next month.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. In a surprise move, the Senate voted to approve HB 3703 Wednesday. The bill would expand the states limited Compassionate Use program to allow CBD cannabis oil to be used for a number of new specified disorders, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and autism. The bill now goes back to the House, where it has already passed, for changes to be approved or ironed out in conference committee.

International

Luxembourg Ministers Outline Proposals for Marijuana Legalization Bill. Justice Minister Feliz Braz and Health Minister Etienne Schneider have elaborated on the government's plans to legalize marijuana, which were announced in November. They said they plan to allow people 18 and older to possess up to 30 grams in public, while teens possessing less than five grams would not face charges. They also envision a strictly regulated marijuana market, with THC content limited. (THe limit is not set yet.) Also, only Luxembourg residents will be allowed to purchase marijuana there. They said they planned to present a preliminary bill to parliament by August.

Colombian Congress Preparing Marijuana Legalization Bill. Lawmakers from a wide range of parties have begun working on new legislation that would legalize the production and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. The initiative to legalize weed is led by opposition Senator Gustavo Bolivar (Humane Colombia) and would be coauthored by the opposition, the Liberal Party and lawmakers from center-right parties like Radical Change and the U Party. The 12 lawmakers working on the legislation plan to present the bill on July 20, the first day after summer recess.

Medical Marijuana Update

The National Football League is taking a second look at its marijuana policies, no medical marijuana for Nebraska this year, New Jersey is moving to expand its medical marijuana system, and more.

National

NFL, Players to Study Marijuana as Pain Management Tool. With collective bargaining talks between the NFL and the players' union, the NFLPA, getting underway, marijuana is on the agenda. The league and the NFLPA have agreed to form two new joint medical committees, partly to study marijuana as a pain management tool. The move could result in a revision of the NFL's current drug policy, which bars marijuana and punishes players for using it.

Nebraska

Nebraska Legislature Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. Rather than voting on a medical marijuana bill, , after hours of debate, the unicameral legislature voted to table the bill, effectively killing it. The move came even after the bill's sponsor agreed to suggested amendments limiting available products and delivery methods.

New Jersey

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. As the push for legalization falters in Trenton, a bill that would greatly expand the state's medical marijuana system is now moving. The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, S 10, was advanced by committees in both the Senate and the Assembly on Monday and could head for floor votes as early as Thursday. The bill increases the amount of medicine patients can buy each month from two to three ounces, and legalizes edible forms of medical marijuana.

Texas

Texas Senate Committee Expands CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Include More Patients. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services last Friday voted to advance HB 3703, which would expand the state's CBD-only Compassionate Use Act. The bill originally expanded the list of qualifying conditions to include multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and spasticity, but the committee amended the bill to add even more conditions: ALS, terminal cancer, and autism. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: CT Could See Legalization on Ballot, Big Cutbacks at Drug Policy Alliance, More... (5/21/19)

The nation's leading drug policy reform group is seeing staff cuts and state office shutdowns, the NFL and its players' union are looking at league marijuana policies, Connecticut lawmakers may put legalization up to a popular vote, and more.

The path to marijuana legalization in Connecticut may lead to the voting booth. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legislature's Legalization Effort Falls Short, Talk Turns to 2020 Constitutional Amendment. It now appears there are not enough votes in the legislature to pass legalization this year, so some legislators are considering placing the issue before the voters next year as a constitutional amendment. That would require three-quarters of both the House and the Senate to approve a resolution allowing the measure to appear on the ballot in 2020. If the resolution passes with less than three-quarters in either house, it would go back to the legislature next year, and if it passed that session by a simple majority, it would go to voters in 2022.

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new poll from Big Think Illinois show marijuana legalization has broad support across the state. Statewide support was at 60%, with support at 68% in suburban Cook County, 60% in Chicago and the metropolitan collar counties, and 54% downstate. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill with two weeks left in the session.

Oakland to Consider Lowering Marijuana Business Taxes. The East Bay city has a 10% tax on gross receipts for all non-medical pot businesses, which is among the highest in the state. City Council member Dan Kalb is now proposing an ordinance to lower that rate to 5% in a bid to keep such businesses from leaving the city. The council is set to vote on the ordinance later today.

Medical Marijuana

NFL, Players to Study Marijuana as Pain Management Tool. With collective bargaining talks between the NFL and the players' union, the NFLPA, getting underway, marijuana is on the agenda. The league and the NFLPA have agreed to form two new joint medical committees, partly to study marijuana as a pain management tool. The move could result in a revision of the NFL's current drug policy, which bars marijuana and punishes players for using it.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Cuts Staff, Closes Two State Offices. Citing a decline in funding, the Drug Policy Alliance announced Monday that it was laying off 17 of its 65 staff members and closing its state offices in Colorado and New Jersey. State offices in California, New Mexico, and New York will remain open, but the New Mexico office is seeing a staff cut.

Drug Testing

Louisiana Bill to Require Drug Testing in Severe Auto Accidents Advances. The House Transportation Committee approved a bill Monday to require either chemical, blood, or urine testing for drivers involved in a crash involving serious bodily injury or death. SB 1138 would expand the state's current law, which requires testing only in the case of fatal accidents. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: NJ Marijuana Moves, IL Needle Exchange Bill Filed, More... (5/20/19)

The state treasurers' association wants banking access for legal weed, New Jersey sees a sudden decriminalization and expungement bill, a Texas CBD medical marijuana bill gets expanded, and more.

Welcome to New Jersey, where legalization is stalled but other marijuana reform is happening. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Treasurers Call on Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Legislation. The National Association of State Treasurers adopted a resolution last Friday calling on Congress to pass legislation to allow the legal marijuana industry access to financial services. The association "supports common sense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to state legalized cannabis businesses, promote public safety and financial transparency, and facilitate local, state and federal tax and fee collection." The group cited public safety and regulatory concerns. The resolution comes after 17 state treasurers sent a similar letter earlier this month.

New Jersey Marijuana Decriminalization and Expungement Bill Suddenly Emerges. As the push to legalize weed falters in Trenton, lawmakers have come up with a new bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces and reduce penalties for other marijuana offenses. It would also allow people with existing marijuana convictions to apply for expungement of their records and dismiss pending criminal cases against anyone caught with less than two ounces. This new bill cleared the Senate Health Committee Monday and a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee Monday afternoon.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. As the legalization push falters in Trenton, a bill that would greatly expand the state's medical marijuana system is now moving. The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, S 10, was advanced by committees in both the Senate and the Assembly on Monday and could head for floor votes as early as Thursday. The bill increases the amount of medicine patients can buy each month from two to three ounces and legalizes edible forms of medical marijuana.

Texas Senate Committee Expands CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Include More Patients. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services last Friday voted to advance HB 3703, which would expand the state's CBD-only Compassionate Use Act. The bill originally expanded the list of qualifying conditions to include multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity, but the committee amended the bill to add even more conditions: ALS, terminal cancer, and autism. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Illinois Needle Exchange Bill Filed. State Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Chicago) last Friday filed SB 1828, which would legalize needle exchange programs statewide under regulation by the Department of Public Health. The bill also provides criminal immunity for needle exchange workers. Some counties in the state currently have needle exchange programs, but workers fear being subject to arrest under ambiguous current state laws.

Chronicle AM: Biden for Decrim Not Fed Legalization, Heroin ER Visits Decline, More... (5/17/19)

Joe Biden comes out for marijuana decriminalization, a legalization bill gets introduced in Delaware, heroin-related emergency room visits are declining, Brazil's Congress just approved a retrograde drug law, and more.

Joe Biden moves his marijuana policy partially into the 21st Century. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Supports Decriminalization, But Not an End to Federal Prohibition. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden supports decriminalizing pot, telling a crowd in New Hampshire Tuesday that "Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana." When pressed on whether Biden supports legalizing marijuana, campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN: "As he said [Tuesday], Vice President Biden does not believe anyone should be in jail simply for smoking or possessing marijuana. He supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession, so those affected don't have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer," Bates said. "He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug," he added. Most other Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of legalization.

California Pot Tax Relief Bill Fails in Committee. A bill designed to jumpstart the state's legal marijuana industry by temporarily reducing some taxes appears dead for this session. AB 286, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, couldn't get past the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a legislative deadline Thursday, even after Bonta had amended the bill to attract more votes. The bill now will not get a floor vote, even though it is possible it could be revived using legislative maneuvers later in the year.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) and cosponsors have filed HB 110, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults, but which would not allow for home cultivation. The bill envisions a taxed and regulated legal marketplace, with a 15% retail tax. "There is a market for safe and legal marijuana in Delaware, which will have numerous benefits for our state," Osienski said. "We would be establishing a new industry that would create good-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the marijuana black market."

Massachusetts Moves Toward Allowing Social Consumption Spaces. The state's Cannabis Control Commission adopted a policy Thursday to launch a pilot program for cannabis cafes. In something of a retreat from a December 2017 plan, licenses will not be available for existing non-marijuana businesses that want to incorporate marijuana, but only for full-fledged cannabis cafes and special events.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Legislature Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. Rather than voting on a medical marijuana bill, LB 110, after hours of debate, the unicameral legislature voted to table the bill, effectively killing it. The move came even after the bill's sponsor agreed to suggested amendments limiting available products and delivery methods.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Emergency Visits for Heroin Overdoses Decline in Some States. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that heroin overdose-related emergency room visits declined by 21.5% between April 2017 and June 2018, and that a number of states have also posted declines. Nine mostly eastern states and the District of Columbia reported "significant decreases," the CDC said. CDC speculates that the decline may be tied to less fentanyl-laced heroin and increased availability of overdose-reversing drugs.

Psychedelics

Oakland City Council Hearing on Psychedelic Decriminalization Set for Later This Month. The city council's Public Safety Committee is set to consider a resolution that would bar the use of city funds to "assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession" of psychedelic substances. The resolution would also make psychedelics the "lowest law enforcement priority." The hearing is set for May 28. If approved in committee, the resolution would head to the full council for a final vote.

International

Brazil Congress Approves Forced Rehab for Drug Users. The Senate has approved a measure that will require drug users to undergo treatment at private or religious centers, as well as toughening penalties for drug trafficking. The Chamber of Deputies had approved the bill earlier this year, and the Senate approved it Wednesday. Drug policy specialists criticized the bill for moving away from a public health approach: "It is a perfect example of how this government seeks to resolve complex issues with simple and wrong solutions," said Leon Ribeiro, a public health psychiatrist and former member of Brazil's National Secretariat for Drug Policy.

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

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Could Get Vote Soon, Chinese Fentanyl Will Keep Coming, More... (5/16/19)

A federal bill to protect immigrants working in the marijuana industry gets filed, the Oregon Senate approves a marijuana interstate commerce bill, the San Antonio DA is no longer prosecuting picayune drug possession cases, RAND says China will have a hard time stopping fentanyl, and more.

A deadly dose of fentanyl. China won't be able to stop exports, a RAND report says. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Bill Aims to Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday filed a bill which would clarify that using marijuana in compliance with state or foreign law, or working in the legal industry, wouldn't disqualify people from entering the US. The legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry (MAPLE) Act, updates a bill Blumenauer filed in December to protect Canadians working in the marijuana industry from being denied entry to the US. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Connecticut Could See Marijuana Legalization Vote in Next Three Weeks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that the legislature could vote on legalizing marijuana in the next three weeks instead of pushing it into a special session. The regular session ends on June 5. Aresimowicz said the General Law Committee is making progress is melding together multiple bills into a single measure. "It looks as though we may have a bill that could be ready for action," Aresimowicz said. "We have the entire next week to do all these major bills and get them up to the Senate in a time that would be appropriate for action."

Oregon Senate Approves Marijuana Interstate Commerce Bill. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the governor to negotiate agreements with other states to export and import marijuana products across state lines. SB 582 now goes to the House.

Hemp

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 1325, which would legalize the farming of industrial hemp in the state. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Higher Education

Senate Democrats File Bill to Protect Students with Drug Convictions from Losing Federal College Aid. Four Senate Democrats, including presidential contenders Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have filed a bill to streamline the federal student financial aid application process, which would also remove the question about prior drug convictions. The drug conviction question has cost thousands of students access to loans and grants since it was added to the form in a 1998 reform of the Higher Education Act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Investigation into Fatal Botched Drug Raid Now Goes to Prosecutors. The Houston Police Department has ended its investigation into a January drug raid that left a middle-aged couple dead after a Houston narcotics officer apparently lied on a search warrant that a heroin buy had taken place at their home. Police found no heroin, and only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Two of the officers involved have already resigned. "The Houston Police Department has completed the criminal investigation and the officer-involved shooting investigation regarding the incident at 7815 Harding Street on January 28, 2019," Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Today, each of these separate investigations have been turned in to the Harris County District Attorney's Office."

San Antonio DA Has Quit Prosecuting Miniscule Drug Possession Cases. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez has confirmed that his office is no longer prosecuting drug possession cases where the amount involved is less than a quarter gram. The policy has been in place since early this year. "I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.

International

China Unlikely to Curb Fentanyl Exports in Short-Term. A new RAND Corporation report that examines China's pharmaceutical industry warns that it is unlikely to be able to curb fentanyl exports in the near future. "China's leaders recognize that they have a problem and appear committed to seeking solutions," report coauthor and Rand analyst Bryce Pardo said. "But it is unlikely that they can contain the illicit production and distribution of fentanyl in the short term because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Producers are quick to adapt, impeding Chinese law enforcement's ability to stem the flow to global markets."

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Make Their Own Cocaine, Colombia Says. Colombian police report that drug traffickers are now exporting not just refined cocaine but also cocaine base, which they say means Mexican drug cartels must be operating their own laboratories to refine the drug themselves. The move comes after the Colombian government imposed tighter restrictions on precursor chemicals for refining raw coca into cocaine. Mexican authorities say they have seen no evidence of cocaine labs, though.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A Democratic presidential contender rolls out a package of veterans' medical marijuana bills, the Alabama Senate has approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, edibles are coming to Maryland, and more.

National

Democratic Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, filed three House bills concerning medical marijuana for military veterans on Friday. The bills are identical to ones he has filed in the past. One would direct the VA to survey marijuana use by vets, a second would require the VA to train doctors and other primary care providers in the therapeutic use of marijuana, while the third would direct the VA to create a medical marijuana policy.

Alabama

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, SB 236. The bill allows for medical marijuana use for specified conditions if other treatments are not working. At least two physicians must sign off on the recommendation, and patients must submit to random drug testing. The bill now goes to the House.

Louisiana

Louisiana House Passes Bill Allowing for Vaped Marijuana. The House on Tuesday voted 73-3 to approve a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to inhale their medicine via a vape or atomizer, but not smoke it. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Maryland

Maryland Governor Signs Bills Allowing Edibles. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday signed into law a bill legalizing edible medical marijuana products. That should lead to increased sales in the state's dispensaries.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow medical marijuana to be recommended for a list of qualifying conditions has advanced out of the Judiciary Committee on a 5-1 vote. The bill, LB 110, now heads for a floor vote in the unicameral legislature. The measure doesn't allow for smoked marijuana or for home cultivation, and patients must have a physical exam and be assessed for alcohol and substance abuse and for a personal or family history of psychotic disorders.

New Jersey

New Jersey to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Starting next week, the Health Department has new legal authority to expand the supply and demand for medical marijuana in the state. The department will be able to create a permit-granting system that splits the industry between growers, manufacturers, and retailers. That should open the door to smaller players, help the industry grow, and generate more medicine. Also, the health commissioner will be empowered to add qualifying medical conditions. This does away with the cumbersome Marijuana Review Panel.

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

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: NH and VT Legalization Bills Delayed, Death Penalty for Hashish, More... (5/15/19)

It's a tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly for marijuana legalization at the statehouse this week, Bahrain is set to execute two hash smugglers, and more.

Smuggling hash into Bahrain can get you a death sentence. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Plan Revised for More Social Equity. A revised version of the General Law Committee's marijuana legalization legislation now includes a provision that would allow people who have lived for at least five years in poor census tracts with high unemployment to be among the first to get marijuana retailer licenses and to get them at a discount.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Bill Dead, Pols May Punt to Voters. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said Wednesday that the effort to legalize marijuana has ended this year in the legislature and won't be revisited. Instead, he will attempt to push through a legalization initiative for 2020. "We will move forward with the expansion of our medical cannabis program as well as the progressive social justice reforms in the expungement legislation," Sweeney said. "We will not, however, pursue the legalization of adult use marijuana at this time."

New York Marijuana Legalization Supporters Craft New Bill. After failure to include marijuana legalization in the state budget earlier this year, sponsors of the legislation say they will introduce a new bill they hope has a better chance of actually passing. "We've attempted to take all of the negotiated agreements that took place during budget negotiations and expand our bill," Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said. The new bill would create a single government entity to manage and regulate all cannabis-related products, including hemp and CBD, as well as a provision allocating some pot tax revenues to communities adversely affected by prohibition.

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Delay Marijuana Legalization Bill to Next Year. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to refer a marijuana legalization bill, HB 481, back to committee instead of sending it on to a Senate floor vote. The whole Senate must now approve the referral. If it does, that means the bill, which has already passed the House, could be worked on by the committee until December 19. The full Senate would then vote before the end of January.

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Won't Happen This Year, Lawmakers Say. With less than a week left in the legislative session, a bill to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, S.54, is stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee, with lawmakers indicating they need more time to work on the policy before sending the bill to the House floor. "This is the last week and it's fluid," House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington)said. "But it's looking less and less likely." Democrats are "totally committed" to creating a legal marijuana market, and if it doesn't pass now, they will "finish it early next year," she said.

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Bill into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has signed into law SB 5605, facilitating the expungement of past low-level marijuana convictions. The bill allows anyone convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses who was an adult at the time to apply for expungement, which the sentencing court "shall vacate."

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Passes Bill Allowing for Vaped Marijuana. The House on Tuesday voted 73-3 to approve a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to inhale their medicine via a vape or atomizer, but not smoke it. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Bahrain High Court Upholds Death Sentence for Hash. The Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the death sentences for two men convicted of smuggling 68 kilograms of hashish into the country from Iran. They were also sentenced to pay a fine.

Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

Philadelphia's progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner (KrasnerforDA.com)
Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ and NY Legalization Bills Appear Stalled, US Funds Colombia Peace Process, More.... (5/14/19)

New Jersey and New York efforts to legalize marijuana this year are faltering, New Jersey expands its medical marijuana system, USAID sends $160 million to Colombia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Legalization Bill Could Remove Home Cultivation. The marijuana legalization bill filed last week, SB 002, may see its home cultivation provision stripped out in a bid to appease critics, bill sponsor Sen. Heather Steans (D) has confirmed. Illinois NORML said if that happens, it will have to reconsider whether to support the bill.

New Jersey, New York Marijuana Legalization Bills Stalled. In both states, efforts to get a legalization bill through this year appear to have run out of steam. When New Jersey was unable to gets its bill through in March, that took pressure off of neighboring New York, and now momentum has stalled there, too.

Cincinnati Moves to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The city council on Wednesday voted to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. The council approved two separate measures, one that would decriminalize up to 200 grams, the other that would decriminalize up to 100 grams. There would be no fine or jail time, but the person would be guilty of a “minor misdemeanor” of marijuana possession even though the ordinance says that doesn't "constitute a criminal record." A final vote on the possession limit will come later.

Medical Marijuana

Democratic Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Files Three Veterans' Medical Marijuana Bills. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, filed three House bills concerning medical marijuana for military veterans on Friday. The bills are identical to ones he has filed in the past. One would direct the VA to survey marijuana use by vets, a second would require the VA to train doctors and other primary care providers in the therapeutic use of marijuana, while the third would direct the VA to create a medical marijuana policy.

Maryland Governor Signs Bills Allowing Edibles. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday signed into law a bill legalizing edible medical marijuana products. That should lead to increased sales in the state's dispensaries.

New Jersey to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Starting next week, the Health Department has new legal authority to expand the supply and demand for medical marijuana in the state. The department will be able to create a permit-granting system that splits the industry between growers, manufacturers and retailers. That should open the door to smaller players, help the industry grow, and generate more medicine. Also, the health commissioner will be empowered to add qualifying medical conditions. This does away with the cumbersome Marijuana Review Panel.

Hemp

Iowa Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Monday signed into law SF 599, which legalizes hemp production in the state. She warned, however, that the measure “does not legalize the sale or manufacturing of…CBD."

Foreign Policy

US Announces Funding for Colombia Peace Process. The US Agency for International Development announced Monday that it will provide $160 million in funding to Colombia to help implement the historic peace accord signed between the state and now-disarmed FARC rebels. "These funds are destined for important work, for the implementation of peace, to promote reconciliation, to help rural communities, to improve security for citizens and to strengthen the protection of human rights," said US AID Administrator Mark Green.

International

St. Kitts And Nevis Court Rules Adults Can Legally Use Marijuana in Private. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court has ruled that parts of the country's drug laws regarding marijuana unconstitutionally infringe on citizens' privacy and religious freedom rights. The ruling makes it legal for Rastafaris to use marijuana for religious purposes. The court has given the government of the two-island Caribbean nation 90 days to "remedy these constitutional defects."

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