Latest News

Chronicle AM: IL Set to Legalize Marijuana, Honduran President Targeted in US Drug Probe, More... (5/31/19)

Drug War Chronicle - Fri, 05/31/2019 - 21:01

Illinois is set to be the next legal marijuana state, a federal appeal court has ordered the DEA to move promptly on marijuana rescheduling, the Honduran president is the target of a federal drug and money laundering probe, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Orders DEA to 'Promptly' Consider Marijuana Rescheduling. The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a district court that threw out a case brought by medical marijuana patients and drug reformers seeking to overturn marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug. While the appeals court agreed with the lower court that plaintiffs had not exhausted all administrative remedies, it held that the circumstances of the case were unique. "[W]e are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)'s history of dilatory proceedings," US Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi wrote for the majority. "Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court's ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch."

Illinois Will Be the Next State to Legalize Marijuana. The House today approved the legalization bill, Amendment 2 to HB 1438, Friday afternoon. The Senate approved it on Wednesday. Gov. JB Pritzker pushed the bill and said he will sign it into law. "The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation," he said in a Twitter post. "This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate on Thursday passed a medical marijuana expansion bill that increases the number of cultivators, sets up a regulatory commission, and gets rid of taxes on medicinal marijuana by 2025. Although the bill has already passed the House, it was amended in the Senate, so the House will have to approve those changes.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. With a final vote in the House on Thursday, the legislature has approved SB 191, which would impose mandatory reporting requirements on civil asset forfeitures in the state. The measure now goes to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Drug Testing

Louisiana Traffic Wreck Drug Testing Law Advances. The House on Thursday approved HB 138, which would allow police officers to seek drug tests in crashes involving serious bodily injury. Current law only allows drug testing in wrecks that result in fatalities. The bill now heads to the Senate for final approval.

Law Enforcement

Honduran President Targeted by US Prosecutors in Drug Trafficking Probe. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have targeted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in an investigation into large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering, according to court documents. The president's brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, has been charged in the case, and the court documents show prosecutors won email search warrants against the president and several people close to him.

Categories: Latest News

US IL: Legal Recreational Pot Bill Passes Illinois House, On Way To

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 05/31/2019 - 07:00
Chicago Sun-Times, 31 May 2019 - Once Gov. Pritzker signs the bill into law, Illinois will become the first state to approve cannabis sales through the Legislature, instead of a ballot measure. SPRINGFIELD - A recreational marijuana legalization bill will soon land on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk after the Illinois House on Friday voted to pass the comprehensive measure.
Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: IL Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana, Oakland Mushroom Decrim Moving, More... (5/30/19)

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 05/30/2019 - 19:17

Colorado could soon see pot cafes and tasting rooms, Illinois is a House vote or two away from freeing the weed, Oakland has almost decriminalized magic mushrooms, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Allowing Pot Cafes, Other Social Use Areas.Gov. Jared Polis (D) has signed into law HB 19-1230, which will allow for marijuana cafes, lounges, dispensary tasting rooms, and other social-use enterprises. "Colorado has many tourists and residents who choose to participate [in legal cannabis use]. Up until this bill, there's been no way to have safe public consumption," Polis said before signing the bill Wednesday. "I've smelled it walking my dog. For many of us with kids, we want to make sure we don't have that in our neighborhoods." Local governments will have to opt in to the new law, and can ban social-use establishments just as they can ban dispensaries.

Illinois Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The state Senate on Wednesday voted to approve Senate Amendment 2 to HB 1438, which would legalize marijuana and create a system of taxed and regulated commerce. The vote came after lawmakers removed a provision allowing for personal cultivation and weakened a provision regarding expungement. The House has two days to pass the bill before the session ends.

Cops Shut Down Wisconsin's First Pot Shop. With assistance from Madison police, the Dane County Narcotics Task Force sent 30 heavily armed officers to shut down Lion of Judah House of Rastafari, which has been selling marijuana products since March, even though neither medical nor recreational marijuana is legal in the state. The two owners of the shop were arrested on marijuana trafficking charges. The shop filed a federal religious freedom lawsuit against the city in April after an earlier police visit where the cops took all their stock.

Psychedelics

Oakland Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Ordinance Advances. An Oakland City Council committee voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other such plant-based drugs on Tuesday night. The ordinance now goes to the full City Council, which could vote on it as early as next week. If approved, Oakland would become the second city in America, after Denver, to free the 'shrooms.

Categories: Latest News

US: Editorial: Treating Overdose Deaths Like Murder Will Only Deter

Top Stories (MAP) - Thu, 05/30/2019 - 07:00
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 May 2019 - On Wednesday, 24-year-old Emma Semler was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison for her frienda=80=99s overdose death. The Inquirera=80=99 s Jeremy Roebuck and Aubrey Whelan reported that in 2014, Emma met up with Jennifer Rose Werstler, a friend she had met in rehab. The two used heroin together in a bathroom of a restaurant in West Philadelphia. Jennifer overdosed and died. Emma, who brought the drugs and left the scene, was later charged by federal prosecutors and convicted of heroin distribution -- which has a mandatory minimum of 20 years if it involves a death. Emmaa=80=99s story is not rare in Pennsylvania. In an effort to deter dru g use, prosecutors are charging people who provide a drug that causes an overdose with homicide -- often called "drug-induced homicide" or "drug delivery resulting in death."
Categories: Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 19:52

As Missouri moves ahead with implementing its voter-approved medical marijuana law, neighboring Iowa sees a bill vetoed by a GOP governor, and more.

Alabama

[image:1 align:right]Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Push for Bill Approval. With the House set to vote on a medical marijuana bill today, patients rallied at the state capitol to urge its passage. The bill, SB 236, allows 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. Republicans were threatening Tuesday to change the bill to create a commission to study the issue for the next session.

Arizona

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Hash Is Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that registered medical marijuana patients can use hashish without fear of legal consequence. The ruling comes in the case of a Phoenix man who was arrested with a tiny amount of hash and sentenced to two years in prison. An appeals court had ruled against him, but here's what the Supreme Court said: "We hold that the definition of marijuana in § 36-2801(8) includes resin, and by extension hashish, and that § 36-2811(B)(1) immunizes the use of such marijuana consistent with AMMA. We reverse the trial court's ruling denying Jones's motion to dismiss, vacate the court of appeals' opinion, and vacate Jones's convictions and sentences."

Iowa

Iowa Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) last Friday vetoed a medical marijuana expansion bill, HF 732. The bill would have removed the 3% cap on THC and replaced it with a 25-gram limit per patient every 90 days. Reynolds said she vetoed the proposal because the cap of 25 grams over 90 days would allow an individual to consume more THC per day even than a recreational marijuana user. "If approved, it would drastically expand Iowa's medical CBD program far beyond its original scope of CBD-based treatments and could open the door to significant unintended consequences to the health and safety of Iowans," Reynolds said in a statement.

Missouri

Missouri Medical Marijuana Rules Finalized. The state Department of Health and Human Services posted a list of 11 regulations for the medical marijuana industry on its website. The revised rules will be implemented starting next week. Under an initiative passed by voters last fall, the state is required to license 60 growing facilities, 86 manufacturers and 192 dispensaries, 24 for each of the state's eight congressional districts.

Texas

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.

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

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Illinois Legalization Bill Moving, Alabama Forfeiture Reform Bill Moving, More... (5/29/19)

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 19:45

The Alabama legislature is busy, an Illinois marijuana legalization bill could get a Senate floor vote today, Louisiana Republicans kill a legalization bill there, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Illinois Legalization Bill Could Get Senate Vote Today. The state Senate will recess for an Executive Committee hearing this afternoon to take up the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Amendment 2 to HB 1438. The Senate will then reconvene this evening to take the bill to a floor vote. The bill has picked up some Republican support by altering expungement language from automatic to giving the governor the ability to pardon "with permission to expunge."

Louisiana Legalization Bills Killed. Two marijuana legalization bills, HB 509 and HB 564, were killed Wednesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee on a party line vote with Democrats voting for and Republicans against. "The committee voted as we expected," Kevin Caldwell, founder and president of Commonsense NOLA, which supported the bill, said after the vote. "It is way too much to ask a Republican lawmaker to dare question the Sheriffs and District Attorneys, who financially benefit from prohibition, our state's current policy. Even though the recent LSU poll shows a majority of citizens approve of adult use of cannabis, we have not reached a point where elected officials can challenge the power of the criminal injustice industry in Louisiana."

North Dakota Lawmakers to Study Legalization. The legislature's Legislative Management Committee, which oversees lawmakers' work between sessions, agreed Tuesday to study the implications of legalizing marijuana, ahead of another expected initiative campaign. Voters in North Dakota rejected recreational marijuana last year, but two proposed ballot measures are being proposed for next year.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Push for Bill Approval. With the House set to vote on a medical marijuana bill today, medical marijuana patients rallied at the state capitol to urge its passage. The bill, SB 236, 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. Republicans were threatening Tuesday to change the bill to create a commission to study the issue for the next session.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Votes to Require Civil Asset Forfeiture Tracking. The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for a bill making it mandatory for law enforcement to report how often they use civil actions to seize a person's property when the person hasn't been convicted of a crime. The bill now goes to the House.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: AZ High Court Rules Hash is Marijuana (Doh!), IA Governor Vetos MMJ Bill, More... (5/28/19)

Drug War Chronicle - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 20:50

It's a busy drug policy week in Colorado, New York lawmakers try a last ditch bid to legalize marijuana this session, Arizona's high court rules that hash is a form of marijuana, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

New York Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill. With only three weeks to go before the session ends, a group of senators last Friday unveiled SB 1527A, which would legalize marijuana. The bill merges the progressive Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA), which has been filed repeatedly since 2013, with legislation that is backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) but which failed to get passed as part of the budget.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Hash Is Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that registered medical marijuana patients can use hashish without fear of legal consequence. The ruling comes in the case of a Phoenix man who was arrested with a tiny amount of hash and sentenced to two years in prison. An appeals court had ruled against him, but here's what the Supreme Court said: "We hold that the definition of marijuana in § 36-2801(8) includes resin, and by extension hashish, and that § 36-2811(B)(1) immunizes the use of such marijuana consistent with AMMA. We reverse the trial court's ruling denying Jones's motion to dismiss, vacate the court of appeals' opinion, and vacate Jones's convictions and sentences."

Iowa Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) last Friday vetoed a medical marijuana expansion bill, HF 732. The bill would have removed the 3% cap on THC and replaced it with a 25-gram limit per patient every 90 days. Reynolds said she vetoed the proposal because the cap of 25 grams over 90 days would allow an individual to consume more THC per day even than a recreational marijuana user. "If approved, it would drastically expand Iowa's medical CBD program far beyond its original scope of CBD-based treatments and could open the door to significant unintended consequences to the health and safety of Iowans," Reynolds said in a statement.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Rules Finalized. The state Department of Health and Human Services posted a list of 11 regulations for the medical marijuana industry on its web site. The revised rules will be implemented starting next week. Under an initiative passed by voters last fall, the state is required to license 60 growing facilities, 86 manufacturers and 192 dispensaries, 24 for each of the state's eight congressional districts.

Collateral Consequences

West Virginia Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons Ends. A law that would exempt the state from federal law prohibiting people with felony drug convictions from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits has now gone into effect. Only people whose drug convictions resulted in injury or death to another will remain banned from the program. West Virginia becomes the 48th state to authorize an exemption from the federal law.

Search and Seizure

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Drug Dog Sniffs are a Search. The state Supreme Court ruled last week that a sniff of a car by a police drug dog constitutes a search. The case was originally about whether a drug dog trained to recognize marijuana alerting on a car would constitute grounds for a search, but the court went beyond that question, ruling that any drug dog sniff is a search, meaning police would have to have probable cause to even do the drug sniff. "The dog's sniff arguably intrudes on a person's reasonable expectation of privacy in lawful activity," Justice William Hood wrote in the majority's ruling. "If so, that intrusion must be justified by some degree of particularized suspicion of criminal activity."

Pill Testing

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Saying Pill-Testing Kits are Not Drug Paraphernalia. As part of a package of bills aimed at easing the opioid crisis, Gov Jared Polis (D) has signed into law SB19-227, which amends state law to exclude testing kits used to identify controlled substances from being considered drug paraphernalia.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Making Most Drug Possession Felonies Misdemeanors. Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a major drug policy reform bill into law Tuesday aimed at prioritizing treatment over incarceration and alleviating overcrowding in state prisons. HB19-1263 lowers the penalty for most low-level drug possession offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor beginning in March 2020, and it dedicates funds to substance abuse treatment services and diversion programs. Currently, possession of any amount of a schedule I or II drug is classified as a level 4 drug felony, which is punishable by six to 12 months in prison. After HB19-1263 takes effect, possession of up to four grams of a schedule I or II drug will be classified as a level 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to two years of probation. The punishment increases to up to 364 days in jail for a third offense, and a fourth or subsequent offense would be a level 4 drug felony. The legislation applies the same penalty reductions to possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana or more than three ounces of marijuana concentrate. It does not make any changes related to drug distribution offenses.

Categories: Latest News

Why Are Prosecutors Trying to Send a First Step Act Ex-Prisoner Back to Prison? [FEATURE]

Drug War Chronicle - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 06:34

Back in 1994, in the depths of the war on drugs, Sonny Mikell picked up a third federal drug conviction in Florida and was handed a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. No guns, no violence, but the 22-year-old black man was still looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars.

[image:1 align:left]"I had jobs off and on, I worked as a cook, but I got on the path of selling drugs and caught and charged in 1991 and 1992, and then caught that last one in '94," Mikell said in an interview last week. "And they gave me a life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack. All they needed was the two priors, and then they could hand down a life sentence."

Sonny Mikell is emblematic of the tens of thousands of people, disproportionately black and brown, imprisoned with draconian sentences under repressive drug laws passed with bipartisan support in the 1980s and 1990s. The war on drugs caused both state and federal prison populations to skyrocket, cementing the land of the free's status as the world's leading jailer.

In the federal prison system, where Mikell did his time, fewer than 5,000 people were doing time for drug offenses in 1980, before the Reagan-era acceleration of the Nixon-era drug war. By 1995, that number had increased a whopping ten-fold to more than 52,000. With more harsh drug sentences in the 1994 crime bill, the number of federal drug prisoners doubled again to a peak of nearly 99,000 in 2010, before beginning to fall as 21st century efforts to undo the damage of mass incarceration began to kick in.

For 25 years, Mikell did his time quietly while picking up only one minor disciplinary infraction: "I worked, I was a cook in the kitchen, I studied law, I worked on my case, I filed motions to try and see what could help," Mikell said of his years behind bars. "Most got denied."

But as Mikell and thousands like him rotted behind bars for decades, attitudes toward the war on drugs and the resort to mass incarceration to wage it have changed and pressure for relief mounted. Given the failure of the drug war to eliminate drug use, arguably even to reduce it, and given the damage done to communities of color by heavy-handed policing and ever-increasing numbers of breadwinners hauled off to prison and families disrupted, the states began embracing sentencing reforms shortly after the turn of the century.

But it would take a few years more for those new realizations to work their way to the federal law and give Mikell and his fellow federal drug war prisoners the hope that they might somehow, someday be given a second chance. That came under the Obama administration.

While Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder took significant steps to ease drug-related mass incarceration, such as advising prosecutors to not seek the toughest possible charges, it was the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 that marked the first effort to redress the inequities of the drug war. That law reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the disparity in the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine offenses. According to the US Sentencing Commission, the new law helped both to reduce the federal prison population and to lower sentences for new crack offenders,

But because the new law wasn't retroactive, it did no good for Mikell and his imprisoned peers. That changed in 2011, when the Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply new, more lenient sentencing guidelines in the Fair Sentencing Act to people sentenced before the law was enacted. With that move, thousands of federal prisoners have been able to seek and obtain sentencing reductions.

But not Sonny Mickell. The Sentencing Commission's move only affected federal sentencing guidelines, not the mandatory minimum laws that had him in a box for life. It would take that rare Trump-era bipartisan achievement, the passage of the First Step Act late last year, to give Mickell a shot at freedom. That law extended the sentencing reductions for crack offenders to people sentenced prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act -- even those with mandatory minimums.

"Hoping it was my chance, I filed for clemency when Obama was in office," Mikell recalled. "The Clemency Project tried, but I get denied. I told myself I couldn't lose hope, and when the First Step Act passed and made those sentencing cuts retroactive, I contacted my lawyers and asked if I qualified."

"I was assigned to Sonny's case," explained Juliann Welch, a federal public defender in the appellate division of the Middle District of Florida. "The judge set a hearing for the case on March 15 and I was ready to argue that he was eligible for some relief, but the judge had already reviewed the records and said he didn't see any reason to keep Sonny in prison and reduced his sentence to time served right there."

Even though federal prosecutors objected to the summary ruling, Welch said it was clearly the correct call: "When they passed the First Step Act, sentences like Sonny's are the wrong they were trying to right," she said. "He had never done a day in prison and then got a mandatory life sentence as a young kid for a nonviolent drug crime."

"Ms. Welch called me the same day the judge issued the order, and they gave me a bus ticket home," Mikell recalled. "That's all they gave me."

In the couple of months that Mikell has been free, he's been reuniting with family, trying to catch up with technology, and trying to reestablish himself in society.

"I have good family support," he said, explaining that the mother of a woman he had dated basically adopted him while he was in prison. "She is a goodhearted woman, she always stayed in contact, and she's still there. It was a sight for me to see her. I can still hardly believe it. I still don't know how to use these phones, though," he laughed.

But being able to find employment is no laughing matter for an ex-con. "I've got a drivers' license and I'm looking for a job, but people want to know what's on your resume, where you've been. Every day I try to find a job, but it's tough with that hanging over my head."

Mikell has something else hanging over his head, too: A potential move by federal prosecutors to appeal his sentence cut and send him back to prison for life.

While prosecutors have yet to actually file their appeal to send Mikell back to prison, Welch said their legal issue was a bit of sentencing arcana that revolved around the weight of the drug for which he could be held culpable. Although he was only found guilty for 50 grams by a jury, a sentencing judge using a lesser standard of evidence in effect at the time found him culpable for 290 grams.

Prosecutors will argue that current federal drug statutes that have a 280-gram cutoff would render Mikell ineligible for release under the provisions of the First Step Act. Welch is prepared to fight that case on its merits, but wonders what the prosecutors are thinking.

"Even though the judge found him responsible for 290 grams, the government never proved anything beyond 50 grams," she said. "But we will argue it and have to wonder why they think a sentencing finding of ten extra grams is worth sending him back to prison for life."

"I think that's just wrong," said Mikell. "The law is designed to help guys like me who have been in for years and years. It gives judges the discretion to give a man a second chance, and these prosecutors are coming back and saying we want you in prison, but they're not looking at the individual, just the law. I didn't do any violent crime on the street or in prison. I don't understand why they're trying to send me back to prison."

Neither does public defender Welch. "They haven't move to reincarcerate him pending appeal," said Welch. "If they really thought he was a public threat, they would have moved to keep him in prison, but they didn't."

Appealing First Step Act sentence cuts would seem to run counter of the law's goals, and it's not clear who in the Justice Department is advising prosecutors to appeal Mikell's case, Welch explained.

"The US Attorney has to have the permission of the Solicitor General to appeal, but we don't actually know how far up the chain this has gone," she said.

Hundreds of inmates have already received sentence cuts under the First Step Act, but at least one other released prisoner has been threatened with an appeal. Gregory Allen's was a similar case to Mikell's, with federal prosecutors raising the same legal issues.

In Allen's case, though, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the appeal. Maybe it was because it they thought it would look bad since the man they were going after had just been to the White House in an event where President Trump hosted ex-inmates helped by the First Step Act.

"We don't know why that dropped that appeal," Welch said. "We suspect it had something to do with the optics. The Justice Department and US Attorneys have to consider which cases they want to make the face of this fight."

Prosecutors have until the end of the month to actually file their appeal. Welch and Mikell are hoping they will reconsider. After all, that's what the First Step Act is supposed to do.

Categories: Latest News

Why Are Prosecutors Trying to Send a First Step Act Ex-Prisoner Back to Prison? [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 06:34

Back in 1994, in the depths of the war on drugs, Sonny Mikell picked up a third federal drug conviction in Florida and was handed a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. No guns, no violence, but the 22-year-old black man was still looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars.

[image:1 align:left]"I had jobs off and on, I worked as a cook, but I got on the path of selling drugs and caught and charged in 1991 and 1992, and then caught that last one in '94," Mikell said in an interview last week. "And they gave me a life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack. All they needed was the two priors, and then they could hand down a life sentence."

Sonny Mikell is emblematic of the tens of thousands of people, disproportionately black and brown, imprisoned with draconian sentences under repressive drug laws passed with bipartisan support in the 1980s and 1990s. The war on drugs caused both state and federal prison populations to skyrocket, cementing the land of the free's status as the world's leading jailer.

In the federal prison system, where Mikell did his time, fewer than 5,000 people were doing time for drug offenses in 1980, before the Reagan-era acceleration of the Nixon-era drug war. By 1995, that number had increased a whopping ten-fold to more than 52,000. With more harsh drug sentences in the 1994 crime bill, the number of federal drug prisoners doubled again to a peak of nearly 99,000 in 2010, before beginning to fall as 21st century efforts to undo the damage of mass incarceration began to kick in.

For 25 years, Mikell did his time quietly while picking up only one minor disciplinary infraction: "I worked, I was a cook in the kitchen, I studied law, I worked on my case, I filed motions to try and see what could help," Mikell said of his years behind bars. "Most got denied."

But as Mikell and thousands like him rotted behind bars for decades, attitudes toward the war on drugs and the resort to mass incarceration to wage it have changed and pressure for relief mounted. Given the failure of the drug war to eliminate drug use, arguably even to reduce it, and given the damage done to communities of color by heavy-handed policing and ever-increasing numbers of breadwinners hauled off to prison and families disrupted, the states began embracing sentencing reforms shortly after the turn of the century.

But it would take a few years more for those new realizations to work their way to the federal law and give Mikell and his fellow federal drug war prisoners the hope that they might somehow, someday be given a second chance. That came under the Obama administration.

While Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder took significant steps to ease drug-related mass incarceration, such as advising prosecutors to not seek the toughest possible charges, it was the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 that marked the first effort to redress the inequities of the drug war. That law reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the disparity in the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine offenses. According to the US Sentencing Commission, the new law helped both to reduce the federal prison population and to lower sentences for new crack offenders,

But because the new law wasn't retroactive, it did no good for Mikell and his imprisoned peers. That changed in 2011, when the Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply new, more lenient sentencing guidelines in the Fair Sentencing Act to people sentenced before the law was enacted. With that move, thousands of federal prisoners have been able to seek and obtain sentencing reductions.

But not Sonny Mickell. The Sentencing Commission's move only affected federal sentencing guidelines, not the mandatory minimum laws that had him in a box for life. It would take that rare Trump-era bipartisan achievement, the passage of the First Step Act late last year, to give Mickell a shot at freedom. That law extended the sentencing reductions for crack offenders to people sentenced prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act -- even those with mandatory minimums.

"Hoping it was my chance, I filed for clemency when Obama was in office," Mikell recalled. "The Clemency Project tried, but I get denied. I told myself I couldn't lose hope, and when the First Step Act passed and made those sentencing cuts retroactive, I contacted my lawyers and asked if I qualified."

"I was assigned to Sonny's case," explained Juliann Welch, a federal public defender in the appellate division of the Middle District of Florida. "The judge set a hearing for the case on March 15 and I was ready to argue that he was eligible for some relief, but the judge had already reviewed the records and said he didn't see any reason to keep Sonny in prison and reduced his sentence to time served right there."

Even though federal prosecutors objected to the summary ruling, Welch said it was clearly the correct call: "When they passed the First Step Act, sentences like Sonny's are the wrong they were trying to right," she said. "He had never done a day in prison and then got a mandatory life sentence as a young kid for a nonviolent drug crime."

"Ms. Welch called me the same day the judge issued the order, and they gave me a bus ticket home," Mikell recalled. "That's all they gave me."

In the couple of months that Mikell has been free, he's been reuniting with family, trying to catch up with technology, and trying to reestablish himself in society.

"I have good family support," he said, explaining that the mother of a woman he had dated basically adopted him while he was in prison. "She is a goodhearted woman, she always stayed in contact, and she's still there. It was a sight for me to see her. I can still hardly believe it. I still don't know how to use these phones, though," he laughed.

But being able to find employment is no laughing matter for an ex-con. "I've got a drivers' license and I'm looking for a job, but people want to know what's on your resume, where you've been. Every day I try to find a job, but it's tough with that hanging over my head."

Mikell has something else hanging over his head, too: A potential move by federal prosecutors to appeal his sentence cut and send him back to prison for life.

While prosecutors have yet to actually file their appeal to send Mikell back to prison, Welch said their legal issue was a bit of sentencing arcana that revolved around the weight of the drug for which he could be held culpable. Although he was only found guilty for 50 grams by a jury, a sentencing judge using a lesser standard of evidence in effect at the time found him culpable for 290 grams.

Prosecutors will argue that current federal drug statutes that have a 280-gram cutoff would render Mikell ineligible for release under the provisions of the First Step Act. Welch is prepared to fight that case on its merits, but wonders what the prosecutors are thinking.

"Even though the judge found him responsible for 290 grams, the government never proved anything beyond 50 grams," she said. "But we will argue it and have to wonder why they think a sentencing finding of ten extra grams is worth sending him back to prison for life."

"I think that's just wrong," said Mikell. "The law is designed to help guys like me who have been in for years and years. It gives judges the discretion to give a man a second chance, and these prosecutors are coming back and saying we want you in prison, but they're not looking at the individual, just the law. I didn't do any violent crime on the street or in prison. I don't understand why they're trying to send me back to prison."

Neither does public defender Welch. "They haven't move to reincarcerate him pending appeal," said Welch. "If they really thought he was a public threat, they would have moved to keep him in prison, but they didn't."

Appealing First Step Act sentence cuts would seem to run counter of the law's goals, and it's not clear who in the Justice Department is advising prosecutors to appeal Mikell's case, Welch explained.

"The US Attorney has to have the permission of the Solicitor General to appeal, but we don't actually know how far up the chain this has gone," she said.

Hundreds of inmates have already received sentence cuts under the First Step Act, but at least one other released prisoner has been threatened with an appeal. Gregory Allen's was a similar case to Mikell's, with federal prosecutors raising the same legal issues.

In Allen's case, though, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the appeal. Maybe it was because it they thought it would look bad since the man they were going after had just been to the White House in an event where President Trump hosted ex-inmates helped by the First Step Act.

"We don't know why that dropped that appeal," Welch said. "We suspect it had something to do with the optics. The Justice Department and US Attorneys have to consider which cases they want to make the face of this fight."

Prosecutors have until the end of the month to actually file their appeal. Welch and Mikell are hoping they will reconsider. After all, that's what the First Step Act is supposed to do.

Categories: Latest News

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

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 05/23/2019 - 20:58

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

[image:1 align:left caption:true]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.

Categories: Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 21:07

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.

[image:1 align:right]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.]

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Descheduling Bill Filed, Model West African Drug Law Presented, More... (5/22/19)

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 21:01

A federal marijuana descheduling bill picks up some cosponsors who want to be president, the California Senate approves a bill to allow special banks to deal with state-legal pot businesses, the drug czar announces a new initiative, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Four Democratic Presidential Contenders Sign on to Federal Descheduling Bill. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are all cosponsors of companion marijuana rescheduling bills filed Monday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). The bills would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and use some funds from marijuana taxes to help socially disenfranchised individuals find a role in the legal industry.

California Senate Approves Special Banks for Marijuana Retailers. The state Senate voted 35-1 Tuesday to approve a bill that would allow people to start banks and credit unions that could accept cash from state-legal marijuana businesses. SB 51 would allow those banks to issue special checks to retailers that could only be used for certain purposes, such as paying state taxes and state-based vendors. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

New Jersey Decriminalization, Expungement Bills Held Up. A last-minute move to pass decriminalization and expungement bills after legalization was stifled in the legislature is itself now stalled. A vote that was set for Thursday has been canceled after Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said he was not in favor of the legislation.

Hemp

Louisiana Hemp Bill Advances, But Is Encumbered by Regulations. A bill to legalize hemp farming in the state, HB 491, has passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but only after committee chair Sen. Francis Thompson (R), an avowed hemp skeptic, tacked a series of amendments on the measure that imposes a "tremendous amount" of regulation, according to Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who supports the bill. The measure has already passed the House and now goes to the full Senate. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has said he will sign it if it makes it to his desk.

Drug Policy

ONDCP Director Carroll to Convene Emerging Threats Committee. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Director Jim Carroll announced Tuesday the formation of an Emerging Threats Committee to identify and respond to evolving and emerging drug threats in the United States. "The drug threats facing the United States are constantly changing and more complex than ever before. It is critical we not only meet the challenges of today, but also prepare to address the threats of tomorrow. By bringing together those people on the front lines of this fight, we can position ourselves to proactively respond to these threats, and preserve the safety and security of American citizens," Carroll said. The committee consists of 14 representatives from National Drug Control Program agencies, state, local and tribal governments, and non-governmental agencies.

Foreign Policy

House Committee Votes to Increase Colombia Anti-Drug Aid. The House Appropriations Committee has approved a $40 million increase in development and counternarcotics assistance to Colombia. That would make next year's package worth $457 million, far more than the $344 million the Trump administration requested in its budget. "The committee is inclined to continue its partnership with Colombia and to build on the progress of recent years made possible by the adoption of the peace accord. The agreement, combined with a renewed initiative to fight illegal crop cultivation and drug trafficking, offers great hope for the social, economic and political future of the country," the committee said in a statement. $189 million of the funds would go to anti-drug efforts.

International

Model Drug Law for West Africa Presented to Health Ministers on Sidelines of 72nd Session of the World Health Assembly. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, UNAIDS and the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented the Model Drug Law for West Africa to ministers of health of the Economic Community of West African States on Wednesday. The model drug law provides concrete templates that countries can adapt to reform their drug laws -- legal provisions and how they relate to international legal obligations -- as well as useful commentary that explains different options and reasons for choosing the proposed legal solutions. The model drug law offers a measured way for decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal use by introducing thresholds, thereby allowing people who use drugs to access health services and seek support. The model drug law acknowledges that barriers must also be removed so that the millions of people in need of health services, including people living with cancer or with HIV, can access the treatment and care they need.

(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.)

Categories: Latest News

The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:54

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Categories: Latest News

The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:54

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Categories: Latest News

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

Drug War Chronicle - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 20:43

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.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]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.

Categories: Latest News

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

Drug War Chronicle - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 20:02

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.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]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.

Categories: Latest News

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

Drug War Chronicle - Fri, 05/17/2019 - 20:56

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.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]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.)

Categories: Latest News

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

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 18:56

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.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]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.)

Categories: Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 21:15

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.

[image:1 align:right]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.]

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

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 20:56

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.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]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.

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