Sentencing

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Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in Alaska, Ohio Initiative Hits Bump, Bad CA Bills, More (2/24/15)

It was legalization day today in Alaska, Ohio's Responsible Ohio initiative goes back to the drawing board, a Georgia CBD medical marijuana bill moves, there are a couple of bad bills filed in California, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana possession and consumption now legal in Alaska. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana is Now Legal in Alaska. As of Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the first phase of Alaska's voter-approved Measure 2 marijuana legalization initiative goes into effect. Now, people 21 and over can legally possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants in their home (only three flowering). Adults may also share up to an ounce of weed with other adults and give them up to six plants. Taxed and regulated marijuana commerce will come next year. Click on the link for more.

Alaska Governor Files Bill for Marijuana Control Board. Gov. Bill Walker (R) yesterday filed a bill to create a marijuana control board to oversee the state's coming legal marijuana industry. Legalization supporters had sought to have pot regulated outside the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and this bill is a step in that direction. The measure is Senate Bill 60.

Ohio AG Rejects Wording on ResponsibleOhio Ballot Summary. Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) says the ballot language "omits that the proposed amendment permits the sharing of specified amounts of marijuana between adults 21 years old and older" and "does not accurately reflect the manner in which proposed taxes would be distributed." That means ResponsibleOhio will have to fix the ballot language and submit another 1,000 signatures to try again.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). The bill was amended to restore a maximum 5% THC level (up from 3%) and to limit the personal information police can access when verifying a medical marijuana authorization, but an amendment that would have reinstated illnesses removed at the request of law enforcement failed.

Asset Forfeiture

California Bill Would Allow Civil Forfeiture Before Criminal Complaint is Filed. A bill touted as a measure against transnational crime that would give prosecutors the power to freeze assets before a criminal complaint is filed was introduced Monday. The bill is Assembly Bill 443, and it is being backed by state Attorney General Kamala Harris (D).

Drug Testing

Montana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for food stamps to be screened for possible drug use. Authorities will use the screenings to determine which applicants would have to submit to a drug test. Refusal to be screened would result in a denial of benefits. The bill now heads to the state.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Let Prosecutors Charge Possession of "Date Rape" Drugs As a Felony. Just last November, Californians voted to defelonize simple drug possession. Now, a bill has been filed that would allow prosecutors the option of charging possession of Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine as either felonies or misdemeanors. The bill is Assembly Bill 46, sponsored by Rep. Tom Lackey (R-Antelope Valley), a former Highway Patrol sergeant.

Chronicle AM: More CO Lawsuits, 2016 MI Inits, New Paid Med Rules a Pain for Vets, More (2/19/15)

An anti-crime group has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Colorado's legal marijuana law, a decrim bill is moving in Hawaii, 2016 initiative plans are getting underway in Michigan, DEA rules on pain pills are causing problems for vets and others, and more. Let's get to it:

Recent DEA rules tightening access to prescription opiates are causing problems for veterans and others.
Marijuana Policy

Revised Alaska Marijuana Bill Removes It From Controlled Substances List; Adds New Misdemeanors. The legislature's effort to regulate legal marijuana has been revised to remove pot from the controlled substances list, according to an updated draft of Senate Bill 30. The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana, including selling it without a license, possessing more than six plants, transporting more than an ounce, providing it to minors, and making hash oil with a volatile or explosive gas. The bill got a hearing in committee yesterday.

California's Attorney General Not Opposed to Legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law enforcement officer and Democratic front-runner for a 2016 US Senate seat has said she has no moral objection to legalizing marijuana, but worries about impacts on children and public safety. "I don't have any moral opposition to legalization," she said, "but I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details... to make sure that if it were legalized... that vulnerable people are safe."

Private Group Sues Colorado Over Legalization. Two months ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's legal marijuana law, and now, two more lawsuits are being filed by a private group, Safe Streets Alliance, an anti-crime organization led by a former Reagan administration official. In one suit, two Colorado property owners are suing a handful of marijuana industry participants under federal racketeering laws and state and local officials under the charge that they are violating the constitution's supremacy clause by not enforcing federal law. In the other suit, Safe Streets joined with the Holiday Inn in Frisco to sue a number of marijuana industry participants on racketeering charges. That suit claims that a planned legal marijuana store is causing the hotel to "suffer injuries to its business and property." Pot supporters say the lawsuits are unlikely to go anywhere.

Hawaii Senate Committee Passes Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Health Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 596, which would decriminalize up to an ounce, replacing a petty misdemeanor with a civil infraction and a $100 fine.

Two Michigan 2016 Legalization Initiative Efforts Getting Underway. At least two different groups are eyeing a legalization initiative effort next year. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank filed paperwork Tuesday for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, while East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, a marijuana industry advocacy group, filed paperwork last month to create the Michigan Responsibility Council, which says it will soon transform itself into a ballot committee for 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Bill Would Free Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzanskey. Rep. Shamed Dogan this week filed House Bill 978, which would require the release of anyone serving life without parole for marijuana offenses. That means Jeff Mirzanskey, who is 21 years into his life sentence. Efforts have been afoot to persuade Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to commute his sentence, but he has yet to do so.

Medical Marijuana

Activists Target Wasserman Schultz Over Medical Marijuana Stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

Colorado Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Gets Stripped Down. The bill, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crackdown on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Defeated. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was defeated in the House Wednesday on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Ruidoso) has introduced a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance. It does not yet have a bill number and is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Wyoming Legislators Prepare to Try to Override Governor's Veto of Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state Tuesday, but the bill passed by a veto-proof margin, and now legislators and bill supporters are angling for an override vote. The measure, Senate File 14, passed the Senate 26-3 and the House 54-6.

Undertreatment of Pain

New Federal Opiate Prescription Rules Are Causing Problems for Veterans. Restrictions on prescription opiates adopted last summer by the DEA are causing hardships for veterans, the Washington Post reports in a lengthy piece. And it's not just veterans, but they're being hit particularly hard. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Sentence for Pot Dealer. Utah resident Weldon Angelos has already spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of three marijuana sales while he had a pistol in his sock. That pistol led to consecutive mandatory minimum sentences resulting in a whopping 55 years in prison for the aspiring rapper. Now, Paul Cassell, the then federal judge who sentenced him, wishes he had a do over. "I do think about Angelos," he said. "I sometimes drive near the prison where he's held, and I think, 'Gosh he shouldn't be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there... That wasn't the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it. I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds," Cassell continued. "But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that. I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer," Cassell pointed out. "I think it's just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don't really think anyone believes that's an appropriate sentence."

Utah Ready for Drug Defelonization, Poll Finds. Strong majorities of Utahns favor defelonizing drug possession offenses, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Some 58% support defelonization, while 59% said probation and community-based drug treatment were more appropriate than jail for being caught with small amounts of drugs. The poll comes as a defelonization bill, House Bill 348, is introduced today.

International

UK Liberal Democrat Leader Supports Medical Marijuana. Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, has said people should be able to use marijuana to alleviate medical problems. "I strongly agree that where there is a proven medicinal use for cannabis for instance we should make that easier for those to have access to it in a straightforward legal way in order to alleviate the symptoms that you clearly have that you know as a user are alleviated by the use of cannabis," he said. "Let's take a more intelligent approach -- where there is a clear medicinal use, make sure you have access to that in a regulated way." This is yet one more way that the Lib Dems and the Tories are at odds on drug policy.

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

Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Blocked, AL Life Sentence for Pot, Ominous Afghan Opium News, More (2/18/15)

A New Jersey coalition for marijuana reform has formed, an Alabama judge sentences a man to life in prison over 2 1/2 pounds of pot, the Hawaii legislature advances a dispensary bill, asset forfeiture reform gets slapped down in Virginia and Wyoming, the opium trade is expanding in western Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Coalition Forms, Includes Prosecutors. Representatives from a number of groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association held a news conference in Newark today to announce the formation of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Cannabis Chamber Supports Tightened Regulations on Caregivers. The chamber, which represents recreational marijuana business interests, has come out in support of Senate Bill 14, which would require medical marijuana caregivers to be licensed and registered with the state. The measure would help law enforcement maintain a tighter control on who is growing how much marijuana for whom. The chamber said the "caregivers system is being abused" by people who don't want to abide by the same regulations as the rest of the industry. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins House Committee Vote. Fourteen years after the legislature approved medical marijuana, it may finally get around to approving dispensaries. A bill that would do that, House Bill 321, was approved by the House Committee on Health and the Judiciary Tuesday. It now goes before the House Committee on Finance. A similar proposal in the Senate was slated for a decision in a joint committee hearing today.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Senate Committee Vote. An asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week has been killed in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure, House Bill 1287, was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James County) said the bill will now be studied by the State Crime Commission.

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have made it more difficult for police and prosecutors to seize property from people they believe are involved in drug crimes. The bill, Senate File 14, would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. Mead, a former US attorney, said he didn't believe asset forfeiture had been abused in the state. The measure passed both houses by a veto-proof margin, so stay tuned.

Harm Reduction

Virginia 911 Good Samaritan Bill Awaits Final Senate Vote. A bill that would provide protection from prosecution to people who report drug overdoses has passed the Senate and House of Delegates, but was amended in the House and now requires a final Senate concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The measure is Senate Bill 892.

Sentencing

Alabama Man Gets Life in Prison for Marijuana Distribution. A Houston County judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to life in prison Tuesday for trafficking 2 ½ pounds of pot. Richard Bolden was also hit with another eight years for bail-jumping -- to be served consecutively. Bolden had one prior federal drug conviction and was out on bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, but had not been convicted of that. He had also been arrested 37 times, but never actually convicted in any of those arrests. But prosecutors said he was "a habitual and dangerous criminal offender" and the judge agreed.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Man Jailed on Three Meth Charges Freed After Tests Showed Powder Was Vitamins, Not Amphetamines. Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, spent three months in jail on meth charges after a Mankato police officer mistook his vitamins for meth. Burrell tried to tell the cops what the powder was, but they didn't believe him and jailed him on $250,000 bail. He was set for trial February 4, but test results came back two days before, and police were forced to admit he was telling the truth. The charges were dropped and Burrell was released. No mention of restitution.

International

Opium Booms in Western Afghanistan; Taliban, ISIS, Corrupt Officials Benefit. A weak government in Kabul is unable or unwilling to reign in rampant opium production and trafficking in remote western Farah province bordering Iran. Taliban insurgents control half the region, a former Taliban commander who has pledged allegiance to ISIS is roaming the area with a band of dozens of gunmen, and police and local government officials seem more interested in profiting off the crop than suppressing it. That bodes ill for the Kabul government. Much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: VT MJ Legalization Bill, Texas Pot Lobby Day, Federal Sentencing Softens, More (2/17/15)

There's now a marijuana lhttp://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/iowans-plead-for-expanded-medical-marijuana-program-20150216egalization bill in Vermont, an Ohio initiative decides to allow home cultivation, Attorney General holder touts a softening in federal charging and sentencing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

It's marijuana lobby day at the Texas capitol in Austin Wednesday. (texasmarijuanapolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

Responsible Ohio Revises Initiative, Will Allow for Home Grows. "After extensive conversations with experts and concerned citizens across the state and nation, Responsible Ohio has decided to include regulated and limited home growing as a part of our amendment," Responsible Ohio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander said in a press release Monday. "Combined with a lower tax rate for consumers, these changes will make our communities safer by smothering the black market." The group's original proposal had called for only 10 grow sites in the state. At least one other group, Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, has a competing initiative campaign underway.

Texans to Lobby for Marijuana Reforms in Austin Wednesday. Texans will gather at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to urge elected officials to support House Bill 507, which reduces the penalties for possession, and for establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. The lobbying effort is being led by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Click on the title link for event details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed. Sen. David Zuckerman has filed Senate Bill 95, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults, establish a regulatory system for marijuana commerce, and impose a $40 an ounce excise tax on marijuana sold in the state. Whether the bill will go anywhere remains to be seen; key legislative leaders said they did not plan to hold hearings on it this year.

Wyoming Legalization Study Bill Killed. A bill to study the impact of legalization in neighboring states was killed on the House floor late last week. House Bill 187 was defeated on a vote of 39-19. The governor's office has the money to do a study, and that may still happen, but it won't be tied to finishing before the next legislative session, as was the case with this bill.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Plead for Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. A small number of Iowa patients and family members appeared before state legislators Monday to ask for expansion of the state's medical marijuana program, which they say is effectively useless as is. Each speaker called on legislators to expand the law to allow them to legally produce and obtain the high-CBD cannabis oils that could aid them. A law passed last year allows Iowans to use the cannabis oils, but not to produce or import them.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Touts More Flexible Federal Sentencing. The attorney general today said federal prosecutors are changing the way drug defendants are charged and sentenced, and he cited US Sentencing Commission statistics to back himself up. The new figures show prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum sentences in only 51% of their cases, the lowest rate on record, and down from 64% last year. Federal drug trafficking cases also declined by 6%. Holder said that showed prosecutors are being more selective in which cases they bring.

International

Uruguay's Medical Marijuana Will Be More Expensive Than Recreational Marijuana. As the country moves slowly towards rolling out its legal marijuana program, officials there are saying that medical marijuana will be more expensive than recreational because it will have to be grown separately from recreational, it will be grown by different companies, and it will be grown under stricter -- more expensive -- controls than pot for the recreational market.

Chronicle AM: CO 2014 Legal Pot Sales at $700 Million, Kettle Falls 5 Will Go to Trial, More (2/13/15)

Final marijuana sales figures are in for Colorado, twin legalization bills are filed in Maryland, a second Ohio legalization initiative campaign gets underway, a federal judge orders the Kettle Falls Five to trial, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

$700 Million in Legal Weed Sales for Colorado Last Year. According to the state Department of Revenue, total legal marijuana sales in 2014 amounted to $699,198,805. That's $385.9 million for medical marijuana and $313.2 million for recreational weed. Since 2014 was the rollout year for legal recreational marijuana sales in the state, look for that figure to increase next year.

Maryland Legalization Bills Introduced. Identical bills to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana were filed in the state House and Senate last week. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) filed the bills, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow six plants at their homes and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce. The Senate version is Senate Bill 531; the House version is House Bill 911.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing Tuesday. There will be a public hearing on House Bill 618 Tuesday, as well as pre-hearing press conference. The press conference is at 1:30pm and the hearing is at 2:30pm. The bill would decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less and make growing six or fewer plants a misdemeanor.

Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Coming. A second Ohio group wants to put legalization on the 2016 ballot. Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis is turning in a ballot petition and 1,000 preliminary signatures today for its proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The amendment would legalize marijuana for those 18 and older, allow for marijuana commerce, and allow non-commercial grows of up to 99 plants and possession of up to 99 pounds. Another group, Responsible Ohio, is also in the early stages of its petition drive. The Responsible Ohio measure would set up 10 designated commercial grows and has no provision for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Rejects "Kettle Falls 5" Request to Throw Out Charges. Five Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted by federal authorities will have to go to trial. A federal judge Thursday refused to dismiss the criminal case against them, even though the prosecution appears to violate Justice Department guidelines for medical marijuana prosecutions and even though marijuana is now legal in their state.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. After a month of deliberations, the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources has announced a bill that would create a one-year pilot program in which food stamp applicants in three counties would be subject to screening for drug use and some would be required to take and pass drug tests at their own expense. The measure is House Bill 2021.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Hike Penalties for School Zone Drug Sales. State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) has filed Senate Bill 212, which would add three, four, or five years to sentences for drug sales or manufacturing within 1,000 feet of a school or preschool. The bill would also extend existing school zone law to include private property within the zone.

International

Massive Raid on Liverpool Nightclub. Garlands nightclub, one of the city's oldest and most popular, has been shut down after a massive police raid Thursday night. More than 140 officers stormed the club after a months-long investigation into drug sales at the venue. Police were seeking a court hearing today to shut it down permanently. More than 300 revelers were evicted from the club before police searched it. Police said they found large quantities of drugs on the scene, but only arrested two men.

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress [FEATURE]

(This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, last week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

"We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system," the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

  • restore proportionality to drug sentencing;
  • promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming;
  • make sentencing reductions retroactive;
  • expand BOP's Compassionate Release Program; and
  • expand time credits for good behavior.

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as the Obama administration and members of both parties have all shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth. Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I've expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing," he said earlier this year. "White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there's an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity."

"It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration," said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. "To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry."

"It's clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "It's important that legislation doesn't just paper over the cracks."

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Refiled, CT Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization, More (2/4/15)

There's Florida medical marijuana news, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act is reintroduced, Connecticut's governor wants to defelonize drug possession, an Oregon bill would let localities opt out of legal marijuana commerce, and more. Let's get to it:

At both the federal and the state level, efforts to reduce the prison population are underway. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill That Would Let Localities Ban Pot Businesses Filed. A bill that would repeal parts of the Measure 91 legalization initiative to give local governments the power to regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses was filed Monday. The bill is Senate Bill 542. It is part of a package of bills before the Senate Implementing Measure 91 Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Continued Medical Marijuana System Passes Senate. The bill would allow residents with medical marijuana cards to continue to use dispensaries until at least 2019. That means people with cards could continue to buy marijuana for a lower price than in the adult retail market because medical marijuana has lower taxes. The bill is Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill (R- Colorado Springs).

Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Doing Well. A new Gravis Insights poll has support for medical marijuana at 64% in the Sunshine State. The poll comes as the legislature prepares to take up a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 528, and with the prospect of another initiative in 2016 looming. Last year's medical marijuana initiative won 57% of the vote, but was defeated because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass.

Florida Sheriffs Object to Medical Marijuana Bill. The Florida Sheriffs Association has come out against Senate Bill 528 while meeting at their winter conference in Tallahassee. The sheriffs, with all their medical expertise, say that "smoked marijuana is not medicine" and list the medical conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. They have other demands, too; click on the link to read their press release.

Ohio CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) has filed House Bill 33, which would allow doctors to prescribe high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. The bill would make the oil available at a limited number of hospitals in the state.

New Synthetics

Indiana Bill Seeks to Punish New Synthetics Like Other Drugs. After the Court of Appeals threw out the state's law banning synthetic drugs as overly broad and too complicated to be unconstitutional, lawmakers are responding by filing a bill that would increase the penalties for "dealing in a counterfeit substance if the person represents the substance to be cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD or a schedule I or II narcotic drug." The bill is Senate Bill 278, sponsored by state Sens. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) and Randall Head (R-Logansport).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Makes it Official -- He Wants to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled his budget proposal Tuesday, and it includes plans to require drug testing for those seeking a variety of public benefits. Walker would drug test not only people seeking food stamps, but also people seeking unemployment payments and people seeking Medicaid.

Sentencing

Federal Justice Safety Valve Act Reintroduced. A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced Senate Bill 353 (the House version is HR 706), the Justice Safety Valve Act. The Senate bill was filed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT); the House version was filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors.

Federal Drug Manufacturing Sentencing Enhancement Bill Filed. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Tuesday filed Senate Bill 348, which would "impose enhanced penalties for conduct relating to unlawful production of a controlled substance on Federal property or... while intentionally trespassing on the property of another that causes environmental damage." That language is from the bill summary; the actual text is not yet available.

Connecticut Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization. Gov. Dannell Malloy Tuesday proposed rewriting the state's criminal law to make all simple drug possession arrests misdemeanors. Possession with intent to distribute would not be included. He would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and expand the state's pardon system. Under current state law, all drug possession arrests except for small amounts of marijuana are felonies, with sentences of up to seven years.

International

Senior British Cop Says Give Addicts Free Heroin. Mike Barton, chief constable for Durham, has called for an end to arresting heroin addicts and said it would be better to supply addicts with pharmaceutical heroin in a controlled setting. Targeting drug users is counterproductive, he said. "Their entrapment in criminal justice is a waste of police time and the state's money and dissuades addicts from revealing themselves for treatment for fear of criminal consequences," Barton said.

Chronicle AM: More Decrim & MedMJ Bills, Obama Budget Lets DC Legalize, WI Drug Test Opposition, More (2/3/15)

The president's budget adds one word that allows DC to move ahead with legalization, the marijuana and medical marijuana bills keep coming, hemp is coming to Oregon (get your permits now!), opposition is mounting to public aid benefits drug testing in Wisconsin, and more. Let's get to it:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to impose drug testing on public aid benificiaries is drawing opposition. (wi.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Budget Leaves DC Free to Legalize. Tucked inside the president's just-released 2016 budget proposal is a subtle language change that would let DC legalize and regulate marijuana sales any way it sees fit. It does so by adding a single word. The Obama budget bars the use of any federal funds, while the congressional budget language bars the use of funds. By adding the word "federal," the Obama budget language leaves DC free to use its own funds to implement the legalization measure approved by voters in November.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, with violators paying a fine of no more than $100. The measure is House Bill 218.

Maryland Paraphernalia Decriminalization Bill Filed. Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) has filed legislation that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Maryland decriminalized pot -- but not paraphernalia -- last year, and this bill seeks to rectify that oversight. The bill is House Bill 105.

Wyoming Marijuana Study Bill No Longer Blocks Consideration of Other Pot Bills. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would study marijuana legalization in other states, but not before amending it to remove language that would have blocked consideration of other marijuana-related bills. The measure is House Bill 187.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Questions Attempt to Shut Down Oakland Dispensary. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today challenged federal prosecutors over their attempt to shut down Oakland's Harborside dispensary. The judges wanted to know why the effort was continuing given recent policy pronouncements from the Justice Department that it would not go after dispensaries where they are legal.

Federal Bill to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana Filed. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors have introduced a bill that would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. The Veterans Equal Access Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Illinois Issues Medical Marijuana Licenses. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Monday issued medical marijuana licenses and permits to qualifying growers and sellers. The move came after former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) failed to act on the permits before his term expired. See the full list of licenses and permits here.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair) has filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces and would require that the medicine be grown in the state. The measure is House Bill 800.

Virginia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that would allow epilepsy patients to use low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana won a committee vote Monday. Senate Bill 1235 passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on an 11-2 vote.

Hemp

Oregon Now Accepting Industrial Hemp Applications. The state Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for licenses and permits for industrial hemp. Click here for license and permit applications.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Public Aid Drug Testing Scheme Will Be Opposed By Dane County. Dane County (Madison) executive Joe Parisi (D) said Monday he might sue Gov. Scott Walker over his plans to drug test recipients of public aid benefits. "People who fall on hard times should not be treated like criminals; they should be treated like people who have fallen on hard times: with dignity and respect. Requiring someone who has just been laid off from their job to pee in a cup is not treating people in a dignified manner; it is degrading and insulting," Parisi said in a statement.

Wisconsin Governor's Public Aid Drug Testing Scheme Challenged by Coalition. A coalition of 15 groups are challenging Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to require applicants for and recipients of public assistance and unemployment insurance to pass drug tests. The groups all signed onto a letter criticizing the plan. The coalition includes advocates for Wisconsin's poor and women, members of the state's faith community, organized labor, and more.

International

Indonesia Set to Execute Eight More Drug Offenders, Including Seven Foreigners. A spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general's office said today that the country is preparing to execute eight drug smugglers, including citizens of Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Philippines. It executed six others just two weeks ago, despite international condemnation.

Chronicle AM: VA Forfeiture Reform, Jamaica to Decriminalize, Supreme Court Drug Dog Case, More (1/22/15)

There's medical marijuana action in the states, the Supreme Court hears a case about drug dogs, Jamaica is about to decriminalize ganja, an asset forfeiture reform bill is moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

South Dakota Highway Patrol drug dog and trainer. How long can you be detained waiting for them to show up? (dps.sd.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State "Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act" Filed. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is filing this week legislation designed to bring the state's existing medical and recreational marijuana systems into agreement. "The main intent of my bill is to simplify and unify the two systems so that complex gray areas and dangerous illicit markets will eventually cease to exist," she said. The bill would eliminate unregulated dispensaries and collective gardens, but it would also direct the state Liquor Control Board to increase the number of retail outlets by adopting a competitive, merit- and experience-based licensing application system.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Parents Get Senate Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard Wednesday from parents of chronically ill children were speaking in support of pending medical marijuana legislation, SB 9, introduced by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City). Click on the title link for hearing details.

Maine Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana in Hospitals. State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) has filed LD 35, which would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals. It does so by adding hospitals to list of eligible primary caregivers, the list of places where patients can store and use medical marijuana, and barring hospitals from prohibiting the use of smokeless marijuana by patients.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Tommy Garrett (D-Bellevue) has filed LB 643, a full-blown medical marijuana bill that allows patients or caregivers to grow up to 12 plants and possess up to six ounces, envisions a dispensary system, and allows the plant to be used for a specified list of diseases and conditions.

Opiates

New Jersey Legislators Tackle Package of Heroin and Pain Pill Bills. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodridge), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, announced Wednesday that legislators from both parties had introduced a package of 21 bills aimed at confronting widespread heroin and prescription pill use. The bills are designed to increase access to treatment and recovery. Click on the link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia House Panel Approves Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has passed the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Committee for Courts of Justice. HB 1287, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) now heads for a full committee vote.

Criminal Justice

Vera Institute for Justice DC Event Next Week Features Sen. Cory Booker. The Vera Institute is hosting "Justice in Focus: The Path Forward," in Washington, DC, next Tuesday. The event will feature a keynote interview with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as panels with other major figures in criminal justice reform. Click on either link for more information and event details.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Public Benefits Drug Testing Scheme. Republican Gov. Scott Walker today announced more details of his plan to require drug screening and testing of people seeking public benefits, including food stamps and unemployment benefits. He said that those who fail the drug test would get a chance for free drug treatment and receive job training. More details will come when he unveils his budget proposal on February 3.

Search and Seizure

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Roadside Detentions While Awaiting Drug Dogs. How long can a police officer detain you on the side of the highway while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to come sniff your vehicle? That was the question before the Supreme Court Wednesday. The case is that of a man pulled over in Nebraska. He was issued a warning ticket and asked to consent to a search of his vehicle. He refused, but rather than allow him to go on his way, the officer detained him for eight more minutes until a drug dog arrived. From their questions, it doesn't appear the justices are inclined to side with the defendant; click the link to get the flavor of their comments. The case is Rodriguez v. US.

International

Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja. The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries. The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday. It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

Drug War Issues

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