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REDEEM Act Aims to Fix Criminal Justice System [FEATURE]

A pair of US senators from opposite sides of the political spectrum have teamed up in a bid to fix "the nation's broken criminal justice system." Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this summer introduced the Record Expungement to Designed to Enhance Employment Act, generally referred to as the REDEEM Act.

The REDEEM Act aims to help young offenders break the cycle of criminal justice system involvement. (samhsa.gov)
While observers say the bill is unlikely to pass this year, its introduction lays the groundwork for moving forward on it in the next Congress.

The act, Senate Bill 2567, its sponsors say, is designed to give people convicted of nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses, a second chance at succeeding. It also aims to divert many teenagers out of the adult criminal justice system.

Booker, a black northeastern liberal, and Paul, a libertarian-leaning southern conservative, may appear to be strange bedfellows, but both said fixing the criminal justice system was more important than partisan rivalries in statements made when the bill was introduced.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that," Sen. Booker said. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend."

"The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record," said Sen. Paul. "Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment."

Even though the United States contains only 5% of the world's population, it contains 25% of the world's prisoners. US prison populations have more than tripled since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, largely under the impetus of the war on drugs. American taxpayers have seen their bill for mass incarceration rise from $77 each per year in when Reagan took office in 1980 to more than $260 each per year in 2010.

The REDEEM Act would seek to reduce those costs by reforms that would divert juvenile offenders from adult courts, improve the conditions for juvenile offenders, allow some adult offenders a means to expunge their records, and allow adult drug offenders who have done their time to be eligible for benefits they are now barred from obtaining.

The act would:

  • Incentivize states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old: Currently 10 states have set the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts below 18 years old. The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to change that by offering preference to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications for those that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts.
  • Allow for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: Provides for automatic expungement of records for kids who commit nonviolent crimes before they turn 15 and automatic sealing of records for those who commit non-violent crimes after they turn 15 years old.
  • Restrict use of juvenile solitary confinement: Ends the practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.
  • Offer adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information -- thereby protecting job applicants -- because of provisions to improve the background check system.
  • Lift the ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use and possession crimes, and for those who have paid their dues for distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

Cory Booker
While the bill was filed last month, it remains a work in progress. A number of advocacy groups, including the Sentencing Project, the Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition have been meeting with Booker and Paul staffers in an effort to make it even better. That work continues.

"A lot of the criminal justice and civil rights and faith groups and the Legal Action Center have been involved in trying to develop legislation like this and are supportive of at least parts of the REDEEM ACT," said Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for the Sentencing Project. "Both senators have said they are willing and want to hear from advocates about how to make the bill better. We've been doing that," he noted.

"We'd like to see it strengthened in some areas in terms of the repeals of bans for people with felonies getting federal benefits, as well as Pell grants and housing benefits. We'd like to see the bill expanded to take away those bans on services as well because they are all counterproductive for a safer reentry when people are released from prison," Haile continued.

While the bill has been described as a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, Haile said, it really addresses a few distinct areas around the repeal of bans on benefits, as well as the juvenile justice measures.

Rand Paul
"Repealing the SNAP and TANF bans for people with drug offenses is something we're really interested in," he said. "As it is, the bill will be especially beneficial for people with drug possession and use offenses. People with drug distribution offenses will have to show they have taken advantage of drug treatment and other things."

There is still time to make the bill stronger, Haile said, especially given partisan gridlock and upcoming midterm elections.

"Given that it's an election year and the lack of progress in Congress on just about everything, it's probably not going to pass before the election," he predicted. "But the bill sponsors are very committed to trying to advance it, if not during this session or during the lame duck, then they will reintroduce it next year."

In the meantime, the country and the economy will continue to suffer the effects of over-criminalization and over-incarceration, Booker said.

"Our country's misguided criminal justice policies have placed an economic drag on communities in both of our states, and on our nation's global competitiveness -- all while making us less, not more, safe," he proclaimed.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- August 14, 2014

A bill to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is close to becoming law in California, the US Sentencing Commission still has work to do on mandatory minimums, the 50th anniversary of America's first pot protest will be commemorated this weekend, and more. Let's get to it:

There's action on sentencing on a couple of fronts today. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

50th Anniversary of First Pot Protest to Be Commemorated at Seattle Hempfest This Weekend. On August 16, 1964, a lone crusader named Lowell Eggemeier marched into the San Francisco Hall of Justice, fired up a joint, and puffed it in the presence of the police inspector. "I am starting a campaign to legalize marijuana smoking," he announced, "I wish to be arrested." He was promptly hauled off to jail for marijuana possession, at that time a felony. California NORML will lead a commemoration of Eggemeir's historic first step Saturday at the Hempfest in Seattle.

National Council of State Legislatures to Consider Marijuana Reform Resolution Next Week. The council's Law and Criminal Justice Committee will consider a resolution encouraging prohibiting the federal government from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have authorized either medical marijuana or adult marijuana sales and use. Click on the link to read the resolution.

Medical Marijuana

Public Hearings Set for Iowa's New CBD Cannabis Oil Law. Iowans who have something to say about the state's new law decriminalizing the possession of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptics will get a chance at a series of public hearings. They will be held in six cities: Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Mason City, Ottumwa, and Sioux City. Click on the link for times and dates, as well information on submitting comment via email or snail mail.

Harm Reduction

Federal Overdose Prevention Act Text Now Available Online. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) filed the bill, Senate Bill 2755, on July 31, and the text is now available online. The bill would create a task force to come up with ways to reduce overdose deaths. Click on the link to read the bill.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Includes More Work on Mandatory Minimums As Part of Next Year's Priorities. The Commission today approved its list of priorities for the coming year and includes "continued work on addressing concerns with mandatory minimum penalties." The Commission said it would "once again set as its top priority continuing to work with Congress to implement the recommendations in its 2011 report on federal mandatory minimum penalties, which included recommendations that Congress reduce the severity and scope of some mandatory minimum penalties and consider expanding the 'safety valve' statute which exempts certain low-level non-violent offenders from mandatory minimum penalties.

California Fair Sentencing Act Passes Assembly. The California Assembly today approved the Fair Sentencing Act, which would remove the legal disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenders under state law. The measure, Senate Bill 1010, has already passed the state Senate. It goes back to the Senate for a pro forma concurrence vote, and then on to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill would remove not only sentencing disparities, but also disparities in the guidelines for probation and asset forfeiture in cases of possession of cocaine for sale. The disparities have resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and imprisonment in the state.

International

British Drug Minister Calls for Legalizing Medical Marijuana. British Drug Minister Norman Baker is calling for new drug laws that allow the use of marijuana to treatment certain medical conditions in a letter he will send to Health Minister Jeremy Hunt. Baker is a Liberal Democrat, the junior partner in the Conservative-led government. Lib Dems have a significantly softer drug policy line than the Tories, as was evidenced yet again when the Tories immediately slapped down Baker's proposal.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana bills pick up some support in Congress, Maryland and Minnesota issue draft rules, California continues to be a battleground, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that medical marijuana has not led to more teen use. The finding comes in the working paper Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero," the authors said.

Last Friday, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act picked up a 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.

On Monday, the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act picked 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 through Monday. There are five Democrats and five Republicans now sponsoring it.

California

Last Monday, Mendocino County activists announced the formation of a new marijuana lobby. More than a hundred people met at the Laytonville Grange to form a cannabis coalition to lobby for local interests as marijuana legalization looms on the horizon and a bill to regulate medical marijuana in the state moves closer to passage. Present were some stalwarts of the Mendo scene, including Pebbles Trippet, California Cannabis Voice, and the Emerald Growers Association.

On Tuesday, the Costa Mesa city council rejected an initiative to regulate dispensaries and grows. The last-minute proposal introduced by Councilman Gary Monahan was designed as an alternative to two different citizen initiatives currently in the signature-gathering process. The two groups said they would drop their initiatives if the city placed its own alternative on the ballot. But the city has decided not to.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Clara County supervisors voted to ban dispensaries. In doing so, the board killed a late 1990s ordinance allowing cultivation in a handful of locations. The board did order staff to monitor the situation in San Jose, where there are currently about 70 dispensaries, but most are expected to be forced to close under new city rules. If the number drops below 10, the board may reconsider.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors voted to put a dispensary tax before the voters. The board said it would ask voters to approve a 7% tax on dispensary receipts. Both medical marijuana industry representatives and patients objected strongly, saying the rate was too high. There are only a handful of local governments statewide that tax medical marijuana.

Maryland

Last Friday, the Maryland medical marijuana commission issued draft regulations. 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.

Minnesota

On Monday, the state Health Department issued draft regulations for medical marijuana. The department issued draft rules for applications and oversight for medical marijuana manufacturers. Public comment can be made by going here. The department will also host a public meeting for people interested in the manufacturing process.

New Mexico

On Wednesday, a veteran who is a medical marijuana patient sued her employer for wrongful firing. A veteran and licensed physician's assistant who is enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program is suing Presbyterian Health Care Services after being fired for testing positive for marijuana. When she provided them with her state-issued medical marijuana card, they informed her that they did not recognize it and that her termination would stand. The lawsuit has just been filed in state court for violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NM Statute § 28-1-7).

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

End the Drug War "For the Kids" Coalition Forms [FEATURE]

In a move precipitated by the child immigration border crisis, but informed by the ongoing damage done to children on both sides of the border by law enforcement-heavy, militarized anti-drug policies, a broad coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations came together late last week to call for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting the kids.

The failures of the war on drugs transcend borders. (wikimedia.org)

"The quality of a society can and should be measured by how its most vulnerable are treated, beginning with our children," said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that coordinated the letter. "Children have every right to expect that we will care for, love and nurture them into maturity. The drug war is among the policies that disrupts our responsibility to that calling."

The groups, as well as prominent individuals such as The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, signed on to a letter of support for new policies aimed at ending the war on drugs.

"In recent weeks," the letter says, "the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the US border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."

Organizations signing the letter include a broad range of groups representing different issues and interests, but all are united in seeing the war on drugs as an obstacle to improvement. They include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization. For a complete list of signatories, click here. [Disclosure: StoptheDrugwar.org, the organization publishing this article, is a signatory.]

In the past few months, more than 50,000 minors fleeing record levels of violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have arrived at the US border seeking either to start a new life or to reconnect with family members already in the country. The causes of the violence in Central America are complex and historically-rooted, but one of them is clearly the US war on drugs, heavy-handedly exported to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in the past several decades.

Those northern Central American countries -- the so-called Northern Triangle -- have been especially hard hit by drug prohibition-related violence since about 2008, when, after the US helped Mexico bulk up its war on the drug cartels via the $2.4 billion Plan Merida assistance package (President Obama wants another $115 million for it next year), the cartels began expanding their operations into the weaker Central American states. Already high crime levels went through the roof.

Honduras's second largest city, San Pedro Sula, now has the dubious distinction of boasting the world's highest murder rate, while the three national capitals, Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa, are all in the top 10 deadliest cities worldwide. Many of the victims are minors, who are often targeted because of their membership in drug trade-affiliated street gangs (or because they refuse to join the gangs).

Protesting for schools, not prisons in California (Ella Baker Center)
The impact of the war on drugs on kids in the United States is less dramatic, but no less deleterious. Hundreds of thousands of American children have one or both parents behind bars for drug offenses, suffering not only the stigma and emotional trauma of being a prisoner's child, but also the collateral consequences of impoverishment and familial and community instability. Millions more face the prospect of navigating the mean streets of American cities where, despite some recent retreat from the drug war's most serious excesses, the war on drugs continues to make some neighborhoods extremely dangerous places.

"In the face of this spiraling tragedy that continues to disproportionately consume the lives and futures of black and brown children," the letter concludes, "it is imperative to end the nefarious militarization and mass incarceration occurring in the name of the war on drugs. So often, repressive drug policies are touted as measures to protect the welfare of our children, but in reality, they do little more than serve as one great big Child Endangerment Act. On behalf of the children, it is time to rethink the war on drugs."

Although the signatory groups represent diverse interests and constituencies, coming together around the common issue of protecting children could lay the groundwork for a more enduring coalition, said Jeronimo Saldana, a legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The idea was to get folks together to make a statement. Now, we have to figure out how to move forward. The letter was the first step," he said.

"The groups have been very positive," Saldana continued. "They're glad someone was speaking up and putting it all together. What's going on in Central American and Mexico is tied into what's happening in our own cities and communities. This crosses partisan lines; it's really obvious that the failed policies of the war on drugs affects people of all walks of life, and the images of the kids really brings it home. We hope to build on this to get some traction. We want folks to continue to make these connections."

Different signatories do have different missions, but a pair of California groups that signed the letter provide examples of how the drug war unites them.

Child refugee in a US border detention facility (presente.org)
"We have a history of working on behalf of youth involved in the criminal justice system and their families," said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We see desperate families trying to stay connected, strong, and healthy, but mass incarceration is really making that difficult. We work both with families whos kids are involved in the justice system and with families with one or both parents in prison or who have lost custody of their kids because of their involvement in the criminal justice system," she explained.

"We are working to combat this, and we think the war on drugs overall has had disastrous consequences for families, both here and abroad," Zohrabi continued. "The trillions poured into policing and militarization has just produced more misery. It's time for drugs to be dealt with as a public health issue, not a crime."

"We signed on because the letter is very clear in addressing an important component of the discussion that hasn't really been out there," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of the Latino social justice group Presente.org. "This crisis on the border is not the result of deferring actions against immigrant child arrivals, as many right-wing Republicans have been saying, but is the result of one of the most deadly peaks in crime and violence in the Northern Triangle in recent memory," he argued.

"The violence there is one of the main push factors, and when we talk about this in the US, it's critical that we acknowledge these push factors, many of which are connected to the war on drugs," Carmona continued. "You'll notice that the kids aren't coming from Nicaragua, where we haven't been supporting the war on drugs, but from countries that we've assisted and advised on the drug war, where we've provided weaponry. This is very well-documented."

While Presente.org is very concerned with the immigration issue, said Carmona, there is no escaping the role of the war on drugs in making things worse -- not only in Central America and at the border, but inside the US as well.

"We're very concerned about the chickens coming home to roost for our failed war on drugs policy," he said. "The American public needs to be made very aware of this, and we are starting to see a greater understanding that this is a failed policy -- not only in the way we criminalize our young Latino and African-American kids here in the US, but also in the way this policy affects other countries in our neighborhood. As Nicaragua shows, our lack of involvement there has seen a lower crime rate. Our military involvement through the drug war is an abysmal failure, as the record deaths not only in Central America, but also in Mexico, shows."

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.

House Passes Pain Meds Bill

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed House Resolution 4709, the Ensuring Patient Access and Drug Enforcement Act of 2014. The measure sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) passed on a voice vote.

Attempts in recent years to tighten up access to opiate pain medications have led to insistent charges that legitimate pain patients are left to suffer needlessly. This bill attempts to both reduce the diversion of prescription medications and ensure that people with medical needs for them have access.

The bill does the former by amending the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) to clarify that when the Justice Department issues a license to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance "consistent with the public health and safety," that means the issuance of the license has a substantial relation to the CSA's purpose of preventing diversion and abuse.

It also clarifies that when the Justice Department issues a finding of "imminent danger" justifying the immediate suspension of such a license, that means a significant, current risk of death or serious bodily injury is more likely to occur without such a suspension.

The bill includes language providing some protections to licensees who face a revocation of their registrations. The Justice Department must provide specific grounds for doing so, and if it alleges a legal violation, it must cite the specific law. The Department would also have to give the registrant the opportunity to present a corrective plan of action.

When it comes to ensuring patient access to prescription pain medications, the bill calls for the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to assess "how patient access to medications could be adversely impacted by federal and state enforcement activities" and identify "how collaboration between agencies and stakeholder can benefit patients and prevent diversion and abuse of controlled substances."

The bill specifies that such an evaluation include consultation with patient groups, as well as pharmacies, drug manufacturers, health care providers, state attorneys general, state and federal law enforcement agencies, health insurance providers, common carriers, and wholesale drug distributors.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Washington, DC
United States

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.

Medical Marijuana Update

A pair of federal bills get filed, California's medical marijuana wars continue, Florida looks set to pass medical marijuana this fall, pressure is rising for New York to get its program up and running, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a medical marijuana amendment to Senate Bill 2569, the "Bring Jobs Home Act." It would explicitly allow states to pass medical marijuana laws despite the provisions of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The amendment would also bar prosecutions of patients and doctors for engaging in medical marijuana activities in states where it is legal.

On Monday, a Pennsylvania Republican filed a bill to allow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The bill is the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act (House Resolution 5226).

Arizona

On Tuesday, a fired University of Arizona medical marijuana researcher lost her appeal. Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher whose pending study of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans was halted when she was fired last month, has lost an appeal to regain her job. Sisley is now looking for a new academic home to pursue the research.

California

On Tuesday, police in Redding raided the Planet Herb Collective. They arrested two women running the collective, which they said was operating in violation of a local ordinance banning them. The two women face charges of criminal conspiracy and sale of marijuana.

Also on Tuesday, the Cathedral City council voted to permit dispensaries. The council voted 3-2 to allow three dispensaries to open. Cathedral City becomes the second Coachella Valley community to allow dispensaries; Palm Springs is the other.

Also on Tuesday, Riverside County supervisors voted to approve draft regulations penalizing medical marijuana grows. People growing fewer than a dozen plants in unincorporated areas of the county would be charged with an infraction and hit with fines, while people growing more than 12 plants would face a misdemeanor charge and six months in jail.

Florida

On Monday, a Quinnipiac University poll found overwhelming support for medical marijuana. The poll had support at 88%. Floridians will vote on a medical marijuana initiative in November.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, the state named a medical marijuana director. The state Department of Health has named department employee Michelle Larson the first-ever director of the Office of Medical Cannabis. She is charged with managing the office's staff and creating and implementing administrative policies for things like an application process for a manufacturer and a patient registry. The state's law limits medical marijuana to eight specified diseases or conditions and does not allow for the use of smoked marijuana.

New York

Last Thursday, a poster child for medical marijuana died without her medicine. Nine-year-old Anna Conte, whose family has been at the center of the Empire State medical marijuana debate, has died without ever gaining access to marijuana medicines that may have alleviated her condition. Conte suffered from Dravet Syndrome, which caused her to suffer hundreds of crippling seizures every day. The state passed a medical marijuana law last month, but it won't go into effect for another year and a half.

On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo told the state Health Department to hurry up with medical marijuana. Impelled by the deaths of two children with epileptic seizure disorders whose conditions could be alleviated with medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to the Department of Health urging it to find ways to "accelerate the process for this specific dire population." Cuomo added that he looked forward "to any progress you can make for the children of our state living with epilepsy."

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

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.)

Summer Reading Assignment for Congress

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Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network is in Washington today to give copies of his book, "To End the War on Drugs," to every member of the House and Senate. There is a press conference at 10:00am this morning in room 340 of the Cannon House Office Building, with Dean, members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, sponsored by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX).

Phil reviewed Dean's book last night.

I was also on Dean's radio show last week talking about my two new papers; check out the audio or transcript of the interview, which also featured Judge James P. Gray.

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