Sentencing

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Comedian Randy Credico's Deadly Serious Quest to Run New York [FEATURE]

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is widely expected to cruise to an easy victory in the Democratic primary on September 9, despite festering influence-peddling scandals, despite his embrace of corporate benefactors, and despite his lackluster support for the ever-popular medical marijuana. He faces only one traditional challenger, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Credico campaign ad in The Nation magazine
But he also faces the insurgent candidacy of comedian, satirist, political gadfly, and perennial candidate Randy Credico, who bills himself as "the most progressive candidate since FDR" and who is running on an anti-corporate and pro-drug reform platform. That's nothing new for Credico, who has long been active in the Rockefeller drug law repeal movement, the prison reform movement, and other progressive social movements.

"Cuomo's father built 37 prisons, Teachout's father [a judge] sends people to prison, my father went to prison -- I know what it does to families," Credico said, beginning to sketch out not only the policy differences but the life experiences that sets him apart from the other contenders.

Credico's father did 10 years in Ohio for a nonviolent offense, the candidate explained.

Credico lays out his platform on the home page of his campaign web site, and it is the stuff of a populist backlash to both overweening corporate control and the state's alive-and-kicking prison/law enforcement industrial complex.

Keeping to the FDR comparison, he calls for "A New Deal for New York" to "Tax Wall Street, Not Main Street," bring "Benefits for the average person," "Clean up City Hall and policing," and "Build infrastructure to create jobs." The platform calls for taxes on the sales of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, income-based real estate taxes, and a more progressive income tax, as well as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, lowering subway fares and other transit tolls, and providing Medicare for all.

But his drug policy platform is also something to behold, and goes well beyond the baby steps taken by even the most progressive mainstream politicians. His criminal justice planks include:

  • legalize marijuana;
  • close Attica prison;
  • ban racial profiling and end stop and frisk;
  • end the Rockefeller drug laws; and
  • direct election of all criminal judges.

The Candidate (credico2014.com)
"I'm for decriminalizing all drugs and legalizing marijuana," Credico told the Chronicle Monday. "I'm not sure if the state is ready for legalizing cocaine and heroin, but I can't believe methadone is better than heroin. We ought to be transforming Rikers Island from a penal colony to a center for job training, education, and treatment. When Attica exploded, there were only 10,000 people in the state prison system; now there are 10,000 on Rikers alone."

[Editor's Note: The 1971 Attica state prison riot left 43 people dead, including 10 guards, and was a spark for the prisoners' rights movement of the 1970s.]

Although the draconian Rockefeller drug laws have been reformed in recent years and the prison population has declined somewhat -- from an all-time high of 95,000 at the end of 2006 to just over 81,000 at the end of June -- there are still more than 10,000 people serving prison time for drug offenses, or, as Credico notes, more than there were people in prison for anything 40 years ago.

"This is happening under the purview of Democrats," he said. "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman walked with us against the Rockefeller laws, but he's been captured by the powers that be and has ignored any calls for further reform, not just of the drug laws, but also of odious prison conditions."

Once upon a time, political candidates had to deny ever having smoked marijuana. Then, one famously denied ever having inhaled. Now, they admit to having used, but brush it off as a youthful indiscretion from their wild school days. Not Credico.

"I've admitted being a pot smoker," he said. "Not every day, but it's been good for me. I smoked and I inhaled, and I believe marijuana is better for you than e-cigs. People should have access to it. It's better than drinking or doing blow," he added.

But Credico even argues that he should have the right to do blow, if that's what he wants to do.

"I can eat Ritalin, I can gobble down all those pharmaceuticals, but if somebody shows up with some pure Bolivian, I want to try that. That's against the law? Who is responsible for that, and who is enforcing it? Nobody gives a shit if I smoke a joint or do a line," he declared.

At a forum at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (credico2014.com)
Of course, that could be because Credico is a middle-aged white guy. But New York City, Credico's home, is infamous for its arrests of tens of thousands of young black and brown city residents each year on marijuana charges, and Credico, of course, is aware of that.

"All the kids I see getting arrested are black. It's against the law to smoke pot -- if you're black," he scoffed.

"They arrest 50,000 kids for smoking pot, but I smoked it at the state capitol, and they wouldn't arrest me," he said. "We have 55,000 homeless people in this city, 20,000 homeless kids. Just think what we could do if marijuana was legal and taxed and we used it to rebuild the infrastructure and create low cost housing. Instead, he keep arresting brown and black kids."

Credico's campaign is low-budget, but he's using tactics honed by years of activism to get his message out. He travels to events throughout the city and state and works crowds -- many of whom already know him from his years of activism around prison issues.

"I'm focusing on the projects; that's where I'm getting my support," he said. "People are tired of the marijuana arrests, the abuse by police. We need a state law banning racial profiling. We're supposed to be the guiding light of the nation, and we don't have a racial profiling law."

Credico is using social media to the best advantage he can. He's produced an award-winning documentary, Sixty Spins Around the Sun, to explain how he's gotten to the point where he's spending his 60th year trying to unseat a powerful incumbent governor, and he's got a Facebook campaign page.

Over the weekend, he penned a piece for the Huffington Post, "Is New York Ready for a Governor Who's Ready to Inhale?", but when it comes to mainstream media attention, he feels like the Rodney Dangerfield of New York politics.

"I don't get no respect," he intoned. "I'm running against two people from the ruling class."

But at least he was on his way to do an interview with NY 1, one of the city's 24-hour cable news channels. And the campaign continues.

(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.)

NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- August 7, 2014

The legalization debate packed 'em in in Anchorage, California's medical marijuana regulation bill is going down to the wire, Massachusetts has a new substance abuse law, China executes two for drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Anchorage (Frank K. via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Debate Draws Big Crowd. The Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage was packed last night as supporters and opponents of the legalization initiative, Ballot Measure 2, duked it out. Click on the link to get the flavor of the debate.

NJ Weedman Becomes a Newspaper Columnist. Longtime New Jersey marijuana activist Ed Forchion, better known as the NJ Weedman, is about to get a new platform. He announced today that he now has a new gig: columnist for the The Trentonian newspaper, where he will produce the "Cannabis Column."

Lewiston, Maine, Initiative Campaign to Turn in Signatures Tomorrow. Citizens for a Safer Maine, the organizers of the Lewiston initiative to legalize marijuana possession for adults, will turn in more than 1,250 signatures tomorrow. They need 859 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They will also hold a media availability at 11:00am in front of city hall.

Poll Finds Strong Support for Marijuana Reform in Pennsylvania. A new poll from Keystone Analytics has strong support for marijuana reform, with 47% supporting medical marijuana and another 22% saying they supported legalization for any reason. Only 27% thought marijuana should remain illegal for all purposes. The poll has a +/- 4.4% margin of error.

Medical Marijuana

California Still Struggling with Statewide Regulation Bill. The clock is ticking on Senate Bill 1262, the last effort to regulate medical marijuana statewide still alive in the legislature. It needs to pass before month's end or it dies, but the marijuana community itself is divided over it, and it's not clear that the interests of lawmakers, law enforcement, cities and counties, and the medical marijuana industry can all be aligned. As of now, the most recent version of the bill is still supported by the police chiefs and Americans for Safe Access. But California NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition oppose it unless it's amended. Click on the title link for more details.

Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Governor Signs Substance Abuse Bill. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 2142, which expands access to drug treatment by requiring insurers to pay for up to 14 days of inpatient care and bars them from requiring prior authorization. The bill also allows the public health commissioner to classify a drug as "dangerous" for up to a year, effectively banning its use in the state, and it creates a commission to come up with substitutes for opiates. And it has new reporting requirements on overdose deaths, infants born exposed to drugs, and for the state's prescription monitoring program. The bill is a response to increases in opiate addiction and overdose deaths in the state. But it contains no provisions explicitly protecting access to opiates for patients suffering from chronic pain.

International

China Executes Two South Korean Drug Traffickers. Two South Korean citizens were executed for drug trafficking in China yesterday. They were killed after being found guilty in Intermediate People's Court in Baishan, Jilin Province of smuggling about 30 pounds of amphetamines. The two men were the first South Koreans executed in China in a decade. Along with Iran, China is one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders.

Chronicle AM -- August 4, 2014

Sentencing reform bills look to be picking up steam in Congress, Massachusetts is expanding drug courts, Tennessee's welfare drug test law generates unimpressive results, drug reform conferences are coming in Latin America, and more. Let's get to it:

Oregon drug court (co.washington.oregon.us)
Marijuana Policy

Toledo, Ohio, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Backers of a Toledo municipal decriminalization initiative handed in some 13,000 signatures Monday. They need 6,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign is being led by Northwest Ohio NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The bill, House Resolution 5226, would exclude low-THC therapeutic cannabis oil from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It was filed with three cosponsors, and picked up seven more late last week. There are five Democrats and five Republicans now sponsoring it.

Sentencing

Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, Senate Bill 1410, would allow federal judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases, apply adjusted crack cocaine sentences to people after the passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, as well as other sentencing reform provisions. The latest cosponsor is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill now has 31 cosponsors -- 23 Democrats, two independents, and six Republicans.

House Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3382, is identical to the Senate version above. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). The bill now has 49 cosponsors -- 35 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

House Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3465, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), amends the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow for funding for grants for family-based drug treatment and for drug treatment and criminal justice collaboration for people leaving prison. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX). The bill now has 40 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Law Screens 800 Applicants; One Fails Drug Test. In the first month that the new welfare drug screening and testing law went into effect, 812 applicants were asked to submit to screening for evidence of possible drug use. Four refused the initial screening, a series of questions about drug use. After initial screening, only six people were asked to submit to drug tests in order to receive benefits. Five out of the six passed. One failed the drug test.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 5212, was introduced late last week by. Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI). It would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. It now has a cosponsor, Rep. Renee Elmers (R-NC).

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts to Expand Drug Courts. Faced with an increase in heroin overdoses and opiate addiction, the state will add five drug courts to the 21 it currently has. Drug reformers criticize drug courts as not the answer for dealing with people whose only "crime" is their drug habit.

International

Mexican State Moves to Limit Coverage of Violent Crime. The state of Sinaloa, home to -- you guessed it -- the Sinaloa Cartel, has barred reporters from covering the violence there. The state congress last Thursday approved a law that restricts journalists to official government press releases for crime information and bans them from inspecting the scene, taking any photos or videos, or recording audio on-site.

Uruguay Solicits Bids for Marijuana Growers. Would-be marijuana growers in Uruguay have until August 18 to submit bids for licenses to grow pot at government-run fields and then sell it to consumers. The government there will license up to five growers.

Colombia Drug Reform Conference Later This Month. A drug reform conference will be held in Bogota on August 14 and 15. The conference is "Drug Policy 25 Years After the Death of Luis Carlos Galan: How Much Have We Advanced?" The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and Dr. Carl Hart will be there, as will numerous Colombian and other Latin American presenters and participants. Click the title link for more details.

Fifth Annual Latin American Drug Reform Conference in Costa Rica Next Month. The hemispheric conference will be held in San Jose on September 3 and 4. The conference will also include the First Annual Central American Drug Reform Conference. Click on the title link for lots more information.

Denmark's Liberal Alliance Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The opposition Liberal Alliance called at its summer meeting Sunday for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs, increasing the use of medical marijuana in the national health sector, and continuing the safe injection site initiative. "We know that it doesn't help to punish people for being in possession of drugs," said party leader Anders Samuelson. "We are not talking about a total liberalization of drug dealing. It should still be illegal to sell drugs, but not to be in possession of them." The proposal is not winning support from other political parties.

Chronicle AM -- August 1, 2014

The New York Times isn't done talking about marijuana, a House committee hears about stoned driving, you can comment now on Maryland's draft medical marijuana regulations, federal asset forfeiture and overdose prevention bills get introduced, and more. Let's get to it:

The New York Times says it's time for Reefer Madness to come to an end.
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Has a Week's Worth of Legalization Editorials. The Times's editorial last Sunday calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition, Repeal Prohibition, Again, was only the beginning. Throughout this week, the "newspaper of record" has kept at it -- and there's still more to come. The other editorials printed so far are Let States Decide on Marijuana, The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests, The Federal Marijuana Ban is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia, and What Science Says About Marijuana. Still to come are editorials addressing track records and regulation. There is also a blog post providing background on the Times's decision to endorse legalization.

House Holds Hearing on Stoned Driving. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing yesterday on driving under the influence of marijuana, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned," but the upshot was that the federal government has very little information about stoned driving and little basis for setting a legal limit for marijuana impairment. "No one is arguing that [driving while high is] a good idea, but the fact of the matter is that we don't have a lot of data," said Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly. "[Public policy has] got to be based on science, and we need more of it." Researchers testifying before the committee agreed. Click on the hearing link to watch the whole thing.

Washington Attorney General Intervenes in I-502 Lawsuits. Attorney General Bob Ferguson yesterday moved to intervene in three marijuana lawsuits filed against the cities of Wenatchee and Fife, which have passed local ordinances barring the operation of retail marijuana outlets. An opinion released by Ferguson in January concluded that I-502 does not bar localities from banning such businesses, so it appears he will be siding with the localities.

More Michigan Towns to Vote on Marijuana Reform Measures. Three more Michigan communities have joined the list of towns and cities that will vote on municipal legalization measures. Saginaw, Clare, and Harrison all have measures that have qualified for the ballot. In Saginaw, up to an ounce would be legalized; in Clare and Harrison, up to 2.5 ounces. More than a dozen Michigan communities are expected to vote on reform measures in November.

Portland, Oregon, Moves to Tax Marijuana Before It's Even Legal. The city of Portland has created a marijuana advisory committee in anticipation of voters legalizing marijuana statewide in November. The committee is discussing where to allow pot shops, but it is also moving to create a city sales tax -- and it has to do that before the November election because the language of the New Approach Oregon initiative does not allow cities to impose taxes beyond the state tax it imposes. The thinking is that if a tax is passed before the election, it can be grandfathered in.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations are Now Available -- And You Have Until Tuesday to Comment. Maryland's medical marijuana commission has released draft regulations for cultivators and physicians. The Marijuana Policy Project has some problems with them, including calls for an "unnecessary" training course on medical marijuana for all certifying physicians, mandatory drug testing for patients, and a requirement that doctors specify dosage and strain type. These are draft regulations, but the period for comment on the draft ends Tuesday. Interested parties can email the commission to register their comments.

Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, has picked up a fourth cosponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act and block the act from being used against medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 Picks Up New Cosponsor. Senate Bill 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, has picked up its 31st cosponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The bill would allow judges in some cases to sentence without regard to mandatory minimums, reduce mandatory minimums, and allow people sentenced for crack offenses after the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act went into effect to seek sentence reductions.

Harm Reduction

Senator Jack Reed Introduces Overdose Prevention Act. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and four Democratic cosponsors today introduced the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand overdose prevention services and providing funding for access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bill is not yet up on the congressional web site.

Asset Forfeiture

Rep. Tim Walberg Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has filed House Resolution 5212, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. The bill would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to  prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. This is the second asset forfeiture reform bill filed in as many weeks. Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Report Scolds DEA for Leaving Student in Cell for Five Days. A Justice Department report on the detention of San Diego student Daniel Chong, who was left unattended in a holding cell for five days at a DEA office there, has concluded that the DEA did not take simple measures to ensure that detainees are not forgotten. The report also slammed the agency for having the same agents who left Chong in the cell conduct the investigation into how it happened. Chong earlier received a $1.4 million payout from the DEA to settle a lawsuit he brought against the agency.

International

Russian Drug Agency Proposes Giving Social Benefits to Recovering Drug Users. In something of a surprise move, the Russian Federal Drug Control Service has proposed providing free housing, food subsidies, and home health care to help recovering drug users progress in their rehabilitation. The bill would add drug addicts to a list of categories of people considered socially vulnerable, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities. The proposal has drawn harsh criticism from opponents, who argue that it would encourage drug use.

Chronicle AM -- July 29, 2014

Marijuana Policy

New York gubernatorial candidate Randy Credico slams Cuomo on clemency. (credico2014.com)
Colorado, Washington Senators Urge White House to Intervene to Fix Muddled Federal Marijuana Policies. All four US senators from the legal marijuana states signed onto a letter to the White House yesterday saying that federal policies about marijuana in states where it is legal are "at odds with one another" and asking the administration to establish "consistent and uniform" guidelines across the federal government. "Without such guidance, our states' citizens face uncertainty and risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution," wrote Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett of Colorado and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Picks Up Endorsements. The New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative has announced endorsements from three groups: the Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and the national group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

No Legalization Vote in Grosse Point, Michigan, After All. A marijuana legalization initiative won't be on the ballot in Grosse Point this fall after city officials disqualified some signatures over a technicality. One set of signatures had the wrong date on it, disqualifying 106 of the 596 signatures turned in and leaving the signature count at 490, five fewer than needed to make the ballot.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Supporters Hand in Signatures. Supporters of a decriminalization initiative in New Mexico's largest city handed in 16,000 signatures to city officials Monday. They need 11,203 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. A similar effort in Santa Fe came up short last week, but there is still time to gather more signatures there.

York, Maine, Selectmen Reject Putting Legalization Ordinance on Ballot; Advocates Will Have to Come up With More Signatures to Force Vote. If the people in York want to vote to legalize marijuana, they will have to do it themselves. The town Board of Selectmen yesterday voted not to put a legalization initiative on the November ballot, so now advocates will have to come up with 613 more signatures to force a vote.

Harm Reduction

UNODC Issues Call for Harm Reduction Proposals from Civil Society Organizations. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has issued a call for civil society organizations to apply for funding to support work in harm reductions. The proposals should be strategic initiatives addressing HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support among injection drug users. The deadline for applications is August 20. Click on the link for more details and to apply.

Law Enforcement

The Year's 27th Drug War Death. The Drug War Chronicle has been tracking deaths related to US domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011. We're going to start including them here, beginning with the death last week of Ohio resident Agyasi Ector, 27, who was walking to his job when he was struck and killed by a vehicle being driven at high speeds as it was being chased by police doing a drug investigation. Police said they plan to charge the driver with murder, but hold themselves blameless in the high-speed pursuit. Click on the link for more details and for links to previous drug war deaths.

Sentencing

Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Includes Nod to Sentencing Reform. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)'s plan to address poverty in America includes some mention of sentencing reform. He calls for reduced resort to mandatory minimum sentencing and encourages states to enact sentencing reforms as well.

Independent New York Governor Candidate Slams Cuomo Over Failing to Use Clemency Powers. Independent gubernatorial candidate and political gadfly Randy Credico accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo of Grinch-like behavior in failing to exercise his power to grant clemency and pardons to prisoners and ex-prisoners. Cuomo has granted zero clemencies. Credico notes that previous governors have made use of that power, but that Cuomo is even worse than his father, Mario Cuomo, who "granted an enemic 33 pardons while bouncing and stuffing 30,000 poor blacks and Latinos into the 36 new state prisons he built with funds that could have been used for low cost housing or improving the school system."

(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.)

Rand Paul Files Crack Sentencing Reform Bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 2657 the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender unveiled the bill publicly the following day as he pitched his criminal justice reforms before an African-American audience at the National Urban League.

Rand Paul (congress.gov)
The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it seeks to address the issue of drug weights in food items by clarifying that only the weight of the drug itself -- not the weight of the food containing it -- can be used in charging decisions, thus resulting in lesser charges for defendants.

As of early Tuesday morning, the text of the bill is not yet up on the congressional web site, but can be viewed here.

The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties by removing the sentencing enhancements for crack.

It's been a busy month for Paul when it comes to criminal justice matters. In addition to the RESET Act, he has also introduced an asset forfeiture reform bill and a medical marijuana amendment explicitly allowing states to set their own laws. And he also cosponsored, along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another sentencing reform bill.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Sentencing Commission Makes Drug Sentencing Reductions Retroactive

The US Sentencing Commission Friday voted unanimously to make previously agreed upon federal drug sentencing reductions retroactive. That means tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could see sentence cuts beginning in November 2015.

The move comes after the Commission's April decision to amend federal sentencing guidelines by lowering base offense levels in the guidelines' Drug Quantity Table across all drug types, which should lead to lower sentences for most federal drug offenders. Today's vote means that sentencing judges can extend that reduction to people currently serving drug sentences.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

"We did it! We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment," an elated Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), wrote to supporters. "Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. The average sentence reduction for those who qualify will be two years!"

The Sentencing Commission had asked for public input on its pending decision and was swamped with some 65,000 letters. FAMM took credit for much of that.

"I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," Stewart wrote. "With your help, we generated most of the 65,000 letters the US Sentencing Commission received about this issue. And more than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 to reject the amendment to reduce drug guidelines. If it fails to act by then, federal courts could begin considering petitions for sentence reductions, but no prisoners would be released under the reductions until November 15, 2015.

"The delay will help to protect public safety by enabling appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges, ensuring effective supervision of offenders upon release, and allowing for effective reentry plans," Saris said.

Look for a Chronicle feature article on this ground-breaking move early next week.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.

International

Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

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