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Clinton's and Trump's Drug Policies [FEATURE]

(This article was written prior to the election.)

One means of judging the competing presidential candidates is to examine their actual policy prescriptions for dealing with serious issues facing the country. When it comes to drug policy, the contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn't be more telling.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
The country is in the midst of what can fairly be called an opioid crisis, with the CDC reporting 78 Americans dying every day from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. Both candidates have addressed the problem on the campaign trail, but, as is the case in so many other policy areas, one candidate has detailed proposals, while the other offers demagogic sloganeering.

Guess which is which.

Hillary Clinton has offered a detailed $10 billion plan to deal with what she called the "quiet epidemic" of opioid addiction. Donald Trump's plan consists largely of "build the wall."

That was the centerpiece of his October 15 speech in New Hampshire where he offered his clearest drug policy prescriptions yet (though it was overshadowed by his weird demand that Hillary Clinton undergo a drug test).  To be fair, since then, Trump has also called for expanding law enforcement and treatment programs, but he has offered no specifics or cost estimates.

And the centerpiece of his approach remains interdiction, which dovetails nicely with his nativist immigration positions.

Donald Trump wants a wall here to stop drugs and immigrants. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
"A Trump administration will secure and defend our borders," he said in that speech. "A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth."

Trump did not address the failure of 40 years of ever-increasing border security and interdiction policies to stop the flow of drugs up until now, nor did he explain what would prevent a 50-foot wall from being met with a 51-foot ladder.

Trump's drug policy also takes aim at a favorite target of conservatives: so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials refuse to cooperate in harsh federal deportation policies.

"We are also going to put an end to sanctuary cities, which refuse to turn over illegal immigrant drug traffickers for deportation," he said. "We will dismantle the illegal immigrant cartels and violent gangs, and we will send them swiftly out of our country."

In contrast, Clinton's detailed proposal calls for increased federal spending for prevention, treatment and recovery, first responders, prescribers, and criminal justice reform. The Clinton plan would send $7.5 billion to the states over 10 years, matching every dollar they spend on such programs with four federal dollars. Another $2.5 billion would be designated for the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program.

Hillary Clinton has a detailed drug policy position. (state.gov)
While Trump advocates increased border and law enforcement, including a return to now widely discredited mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders, Clinton does not include funding for drug enforcement and interdiction efforts in her proposal. Such funding would presumably come through normal appropriations channels.

Instead of a criminal justice crackdown, Clinton vows that her attorney general will issue guidance to the states urging them to emphasize treatment over incarceration for low-level drug offenders. She also supports alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts (as does Trump). But unlike Trump, Clinton makes no call for increased penalties for drug offenders.

Trump provides lip service to prevention, treatment and recovery, but his rhetorical emphasis illuminates his drug policy priorities: more walls, more law enforcement, more drug war prisoners.

There is one area of drug policy where both candidates are largely in agreement, and that is marijuana policy. Both Clinton and Trump have embraced medical marijuana, both say they are inclined to let the states experiment with legalization, but neither has called for marijuana legalization or the repeal of federal pot prohibition.

If Clinton's drug policies can be said to be a continuation of Obama's, Trump's drug policies are more similar to a return to Nixon's. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)

A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: At Least Four States Voting on MedMJ, Filipino Prez Could Face ICC, More... (8/25/16)

Michigan legalizers lose a court battle, Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates look to be heading for the ballot box, the 10th Circuit rules that having license plates from marijuana states is not sufficient reason for a stop and search, and more.

Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in at least four states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalizers Lose Court Bid to Get on Ballot. The backers of the MI Legalize legalization initiative have struck out in court in their bid to get their measure on this year's ballot. The group had collected some 354,000 signatures, well above the 220,00 required, but more than 200,000 of the signatures were gathered outside a 180-day window that the State Board of Canvassers was the only time signatures could be considered. The campaign argued that the 180-day rule was unconstitutional and unfair, but the state Court of Claims ruled Wednesday that the Board of Canvassers was correct. The campaign says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but the election clock is ticking and time is running out.

Medical Marijuana

These Four States Will Definitely Be Voting on Medical Marijuana in November. Get a look at the details of and prospects for medical marijuana initiatives that have officially qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. There is also an Oklahoma initiative that may still qualify (see below), a second Arkansas initiative that may qualify, and a Montana anti-marijuana initiative that is appealing come up short on signatures.

Arkansas Prohibitionists Go to Court to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. A group calling itself Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act from appearing on the November ballot. The measure has already qualified, but the group's lawsuit claims the wording of the proposal is misleading and omits key information.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Signatures, But Is Not on the Ballot Yet. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced Tuesday that a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has handed in 67,761 valid voter signatures. It only needs 65,987 to qualify for the November ballot, but there are still a couple more hurdles to overcome. The secretary of state's office must send a report on its findings to the state Supreme Court, which will then determine if the number of signatures is enough to put the initiative on the ballot.

Incarceration

Report Finds Women Increasingly Jailed for Drug Offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute for Justice finds that the arrest rate for drug possession for women tripled between 1980 and 2009 and that 29% of women in jails were there for drug offenses. Two-thirds of those women are black or Hispanic, and nearly 80% are mothers, largely single mothers. The report called for localities to adopt cite and release policies and/or decriminalizing drug possession.

Search and Seizure

Marijuana State License Plate is No Reason for Police Stops and Searches, Fed Court Rules. In a case involving a Colorado man pulled over in Kansas, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police violated his constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source." Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana. "It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.

International

Philippines President Could Face International Tribunal Over Drug War Killings, Senator Says. President Rodrigo Duterte could be charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the wave of killings of alleged drug users and sellers since he took office two months ago, according to Sen. Leila de Lima. "There are some experts who are saying that… if this spate of killings go unabated and unchecked, it could reach that point that the ICC could send a prosecutor to our country and investigate all these for possible prosecution under the Rome Statute," she was quoted saying. "This is not a joke. The last thing we need right now is for our dear president to be subjected to an investigation by an international tribunal like the International Criminal Court. I am not threatening the president. I am just stating a fact," she added.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy in Obama's SOTU Speech, New England Legalization Bills Heard, More... (1/13/16)

As New England states ponder marijuana legalization, Colorado is raking in the revenues. Plus, the president touches on drug policy in his SOTU speech, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Will Have Taken in More Than $100 Million in Adult Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. Based on official figures through the end of October, the state will have collected more than $100 million on pot taxes and fees through the end of 2015. The state had already collected more than $109 million by the end of October, but some $17 million of that was for medical marijuana. Still, with the last two months of the year yet to be accounted for, and with tax revenues at $9 million for the lowest month in 2015, the state will certainly top the $100 million mark by the time everything is counted.

Massachusetts Legislative Committee Holding Hearing on Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary is holding a hearing today on House Bill 1561, filed by Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge). The bill would regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state.

Vermont Senate Committee Hears Legalization Bills. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony for and against two legalization bills, Senate Bill 95, introduced last session by Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) and Senate Bill 241, from Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham). If the committee decides to approve one or both bills, it must do so by January 29. In Tuesday's testimony, representatives from law enforcement expressed strong opposition to legalization, especially citing fears of stoned driving.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Hands in Signatures. It looks like Floridians will get a second chance to approve medical marijuana. United for Care, the group leading the campaign, handed in more than one million raw signatures to state officials Monday. The group needs only 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. In 2014, United for Care's initiative failed even though it won 58% of the vote. Because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Drug Policy

President Obama Touches on Drug Policy in State of the Union Speech. The president's State of the Union speech included a call to imprison fewer people. "I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse," the president said. Obama also mentioned people who have reentered society after being imprisoned: "I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over -- and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe."

Telephone Town Hall with "Orange Is the New Black" Author Piper Kerman, June 29

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/piper-kerman-255px.jpg
Piper Kerman
Mass Incarceration: A Conversation With Piper Kerman, Author of "Orange Is the New Black" -- a Telephone Town Hall Meeting Hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance -- Monday, June 29, 1:00-2:00pm ET.

Piper Kerman, author, advocate, and professor, in conversation with asha bandele, Director, Advocacy Grants Progra, Drug Policy Alliance. Visit http://bit.ly/PiperKerman to RSVP -- space is limited. Audience participation is encouraged.

Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog.)

Louisiana State Capitol
The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, Louisiana is now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature' House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, they include:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers pause to determine if the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be corrected or ended.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the house Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, but it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana in Louisiana. Hopefully leading to a more inclusive law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to NOLA.com, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell,

"reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."
 

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare.

NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted,

"Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."
 

The second bill authored by Rep. Austin Badon would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon' bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell' bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

UPDATE: On Thursday Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he would sign the bills if passed by the house and senate. In regards to the sentencing bill he told the Shreveport Times

"We've said all along we're fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. I think this bill does that. That's good for those offenders, that is good for taxpayers. So again, that's another one of those bills that if it got to our desk we'd sign that."

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject:

"Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."

 
 
 

Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)

Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

The election was only last week, but eyes are already turning to 2015 and 2016. (www.regulateri.org)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.

Law Enforcement

Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

Sentencing

ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.

International

Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.

Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.

In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.

Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.

California Defelonization Initiative Appears Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

While the nation focuses on marijuana legalization initiatives in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, a California initiative that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors is quietly heading for a likely victory at the polls in November.

Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters, ranging from crime victims' groups to the Catholic Church and racial and social justice organizations.

The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. (The others include shoplifting under $950, check forgery under $950, and petty theft or receipt of stolen property under $950.)

About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state.

Passage of Prop 47 would also help the state get closer to meeting a looming deadline from the federal courts to shrink its prison population. A new study by the California Budget Project finds that Prop 47 would move in that direction by reducing the number of people sentenced to prison and by allowing those already serving time for such offenses to petition for resentencing in county jails.

In addition to reducing prison overcrowding, Prop 47 aims to reduce felony caseloads in the court system, thus freeing up criminal justice resources for more serious and violent crime. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, if the initiative passes, there would be "state and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Savings from a successful Prop 47 would be dedicated to investment in mental health and drug treatment (65%), K-12 school programs for at-risk youth (25%), and trauma recovery services for crime victims (10%). The impact could be substantial.

San Francisco's DA is a Prop 47 proponent. (wikimedia.org)
"This initiative is very important for California," said Anthony Thigpen, president of California Calls, an alliance of 31 community-based organizations across the state. "We need new safety priorities that stop wasting resources on over-incarceration and invest in treatment and prevention. It's better for state and local budgets, better for public safety and better for the health of all of our communities."

While mainly flying under the radar, Prop 47 has still managed to pick up popular support. A California Field Poll in June and July had the initiative winning with 57% of the vote. And just this week, the campaign got even better news. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday had support for the initiative at 62%, with only 25% opposed.

It has also picked up financial support. According to the California secretary of state's office, Prop 47 campaign committees have taken in more than $3.4 million in donations (including more than $1.2 million from the Open Society Policy Center, $600,000 from the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and several six-figure donations from individuals). And while the campaign has spent more than $2 million so far, it still has about $1.2 million in the bank right now, and will continue to fund raise to finance last-minute advertising.

If that is even necessary. Prop 47 has picked up organized opposition, in the form of the Californians Against Prop 47 campaign finance committee, but the committee, representing groups including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association, has so far raised only $42,000. That doesn't buy a lot of TV ad time.

Opponents charge that Prop 47 would "release dangerous inmates," "tie judges' hands," and is "completely unnecessary" because the state's ongoing "realignment" is already shifting prisoners from the state to the county level. But the initiative's proponents rebut those charges, arguing that it "keeps dangerous criminals locked up," "prioritizes serious and violent crime," and "provides new funding for crime prevention and education."

California State Prison, Solano, and example of the state's voracious prison-industrial complex (cdcr.ca.gov)
"The reason I support this measure is simple: The more addiction and mental health services we provide to communities hardest hit by crime, the less likely another mom will find herself in my shoes. Having to tell your children that their daddy was shot and they will never see him again is something I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

The group is a key part of the campaign and serves as a counterpoint to other crime survivors groups that oppose the initiative, such as Crime Victims United. That group has joined forces with law enforcement and the state district attorneys association to oppose Prop 47.

"When three out of four people go back to prison within three years -- and it's been that way for 30 years -- it's obvious that we need a new plan," Wilson continued. "This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services and drug treatment. I think that's what a sound public safety strategy looks like."

Prop 47 is also a response to the lack of action on the issue in Sacramento, or, more precisely, action thwarted in Sacramento. Last year, a defelonization bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Leno (D-San Francisco) passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"Unable to get meaningful sentencing reform through Sacramento, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity to make responsible and significant fixes to our broken criminal justice system by allowing simple drug possession and other non-violent petty crimes to be treated appropriately as misdemeanors, avoiding the lifelong collateral consequences that go along with felony records and the unsustainable court and incarceration costs that accompany mass felonization in California," explained Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop 47 looks well-positioned to emerge victorious in November. But we're six weeks out now, and this is when initiative campaigns tend to heat up. The opposition is going to do its best to scare Californians into voting no, but it doesn't -- yet -- have enough money to make much of a media splash. At this point, it looks like California is on the verge of taking another big step toward addressing its chronic incarceration crisis.

CA
United States

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

Canada's Marc Emery is a Man on a Mission [FEATURE]

Canada's "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery has finally returned home after spending just over 4 ½ years in US federal prison for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet. From his base in Vancouver, BC, Emery parlayed his pot seed profits into a pro-marijuana legalization political juggernaut.

Marc and Jodie Emery (wikipedia.org)
Not only did the gregarious former libertarian bookseller relentlessly hassle Canadian and American drug warriors -- including the dour then-drug czar, John Walters -- he published Cannabis Culture magazine, created the BC Marijuana Party and helped turn parts of downtown Vancouver's Hasting Street into a Western Hemisphere Amsterdam, complete with a vaporizer lounge and several other cannabis-related enterprises.

Emery also put a bunch of his money -- several hundred thousand dollars -- into financing marijuana reform efforts on the US side of the border. It's hard to say what, exactly, got him in the sights of US law enforcement, but when he was arrested by Canadian police at the behest of US authorities, the DEA was quick to gloat that it had struck a blow against the forces of legalization.

The US eventually got its pound of flesh from Emery, forcing him into a plea bargain -- to protect his coworkers -- that saw him sentenced to five years in federal prison for his seed selling. Emery did his time, was released from prison earlier this summer, then sent to a private deportation detention facility in the US before going home to Canada less than two weeks ago.

But if US and Canadian authorities thought they had silenced one of the biggest thorns in their side, they should have known better. Nearly five years in prison hasn't exactly mellowed Emery; instead, he is more committed than ever to drug war justice, and he's raring to go.

The Chronicle spoke with him via phone at his home in Vancouver Monday. The topics ranged from prison life to marijuana legalization in the US to Canadian election politics and beyond.

"If you go to jail for the right reasons you can continue to be an inspiration," Emery said. "I got a lot of affirmation, thousands of letters, people helped to cover my bills, and that's a testament to my influence. My experience was very positive. I network well and try to live in the present moment, just dealing with what's going on."

Still, Emery needed about $180,000 to get through those 4 ½ years behind bars, including more than $18,000 in email costs -- it isn't cheap for federal prisoners to send emails -- but for Emery, keeping his voice heard in the outside world was a necessity. He reports having received between $70,000 and $80,000 in donations while in the slammer.

"That still left Jodie doing the near impossible," he said. She traveled from Canada to the southern US 81 times to visit her husband, visiting him on 164 days and spending a like amount of time in transit. If it weren't for Jodie Emery, prison would have been a much lonelier place, as it is for most inmates.

"In my prison, there were 1,700 prisoners, but on an average weekend, only 25 were getting a visit," Emery noted, adding that most inmates were either black or brown. "And other than Jodie, only seven people came to visit me."

While Emery waited in prison, the world continued to turn, and he has emerged into a different place. Now, two US states and Uruguay have legalized marijuana outright, and two more states and the District of Columbia are likely to do so this fall. For the Prince of Pot, it's all good.

"I like that Washington and Colorado went for two different models, although I think the Colorado model is better and has been more quickly executed," he said. "In both places, prices haven't really dropped, but they will once other states come on board. It has been really encouraging to see that people would travel to another state to buy it legally."

That's a good thing for the cannabis culture, he said.

"We are a proud culture. Legalization means a lot of things, and one of them is the end of stigmatization. We've been picked on and scapegoated as if we were taking part in some evil practice, but that is largely over in Denver," Emery argued. "They're integrating it into the mainstream economy; we're going to see a lot of interesting things."

Unsurprisingly, the small-L libertarian and marijuana seed entrepreneur is not overly concerned that legalization will lead to the commercialization or corporatization of the herb.

"We need big money in order to have an effective lobby," he said. "When there's something that tens of millions of Americans want, the money will come, and the money is welcome. It's going to put into new products, new technologies, and we have to welcome that. Capitalism is way to make things happen legally, and we need to get those people on board."

But Emery wants people to be able to grow their own, too.

"It's not legal unless we can grow it in our backyards or fields," he said, "and as long as we can grow it, it's basically legal."

The Hastings Street headquarters. (cannabisculture.com)
That's life in these United States, but Emery, of course, doesn't live in the United States -- in fact, he is now permanently barred from entering the country -- he lives in Canada, and things haven't gone nearly as swimmingly there when it comes to freeing the weed.

A decade ago, Canada was the hope of the global cannabis culture. It appeared poised to make the move toward legalization, but first the ruling Liberals were unwilling to even push through their decriminalization scheme, and then they were defeated by the Conservatives, who went in the other direction on marijuana policy, for instance, by adopting mandatory minimum sentences for growing more than small amounts of pot.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives remain in power today, and Emery has sworn political vengeance on them. He has also aligned himself with the Liberals, whose leader, Justin Trudeau, is now an advocate of legalization. That's in line with Canadian public opinion, which consistently shows strong support for marijuana law reform, including a poll this week that showed two-thirds support for reform, with 35% saying legalize it and 31% saying decriminalize it.

The Liberals are going to try to take back the federal government in elections in October 2015, and Emery is happy to help savage the Conservatives whether it makes Liberals squeamish or not. His return just two weeks ago has already ignited a firestorm of media coverage, with his pot politics naturally front and center.

"We've now hijacked the whole conversation about the election; we are dominating the conversation," he gloated. "It's the number one election topic and has been since the second I arrived back in the country. There have been more than 150 articles about me in the last two weeks. It's a big deal, and I'm delighted it's a big deal. I have critics using up column inches to say disparaging things about me, and that's great, too. There's a real dialog going on, and we have the opportunity to change the feelings of our opponents and get them to understand the benefits to their communities in legalizing marijuana."

But can the Liberals win? Yes, says Emery.

"Election day -- October 19, 2015 -- will be legalization day in Canada. If Trudeau becomes prime minister, there is no going back," he prophesied. "And I am confident the Liberals will win. Normally, the anti-Harper vote is divided among the Greens, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberals, but this time, with Trudeau being so charismatic, I am urging everyone to just this once vote for the Liberals. And the feedback I am getting is that this is going to happen, a Liberal majority is going to happen, and you should be in on it."

When it comes to marijuana reform, in Emery's eyes, Canadian politicians should take a lesson from their counterparts south of the border.

"My opinion of Americans has only improved," he said. "You did a great job in Colorado and Washington, and even your legislators are underrated. At least one from every state has gone to Colorado to check it out. It's wonderful! Up here, if it weren't for Justin Trudeau, we wouldn't hear anything."

Well, and now, Marc Emery. Again.

Vancouver
Canada

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