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Supreme Court Limits First Step Act Safety Valve, KY MedMJ Bill Would Bar Patients with Drug Felonies, More... (3/18/24)

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Consequences of Prohibition

Dutch marijuana coffeeshops in a legal supply pilot program will have until September to go all legal supply, Colombia suspends a truce with a leftist rebel faction, and more.

A Dutch marijuana coffeeshop. Under a pilot program beginning in June, some shops will start switching to a legal supply. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Bill That Would Bar People with Drug Convictions from Qualifying for Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill that would require prospective patients to pass background checks and bar people with "violent" or drug felonies from eligibility for the state's medical marijuana program, House Bill 829, passed the House last week and is now under consideration by the Senate. 

In addition to the move against people with drug convictions, the bill would also require patients to meet with a pharmacist before they can buy marijuana from a dispensary and allow K-12 schools to opt out of medical marijuana access policies. 

"This is going to cause a lot of folks to probably avoid the program altogether," said Kentucky NORML Executive Director Matthew Bratcher. "This is not a great start. It’s going to be problematic going forward."

Bratcher also criticized the schools provision. "If a student is [prescribed a] controlled substance, and they have access to it, it shouldn’t be an issue. And isn’t, with any other scheduled drug," Bratcher said. "Cannabis should be no different. There’s not much of an upside to it."

Sentencing Policy 

Supreme Court Limits Who Qualifies for Safety Valve Sentencing Relief. An unusual coalition of justices united around an unusual reading of the word "and" to find that the 2018 First Step Act does not provide sentencing relief to all defendants seeking revisions of their mandatory minimum sentences. 

Under the First Step Act, defendants do not qualify for the safety valve if they have more than four criminal history points in total, an individual three-point offense, and a two-point violent offense. But in the 6-3 decision restricting the First Step Act's reach authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the majority of justices held that the "and" in the law did not mean "and"—instead it meant "or," meaning that courts did not have to prove all three elements to deny sentencing relief. 

Kagan's opinion found that defendants could be disqualified from the safety net if they met any of the three criteria under the law—not all three. Her opinion upheld a lower court opinion that restricted the pathway for defendants to avoid mandatory minimums. 

The defendant in the case, Mark Pulsifer, had argued that "and"  meant "and" and that he should be eligible for a reduction of his 15-year mandatory minimum sentences for meth distribution. But Kagan and the majority found that that reading of the law effectively eliminated one of the three requirements.

In a dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Neal Gorsuch argued that the majority opinion cut against the avowed purpose of the law, which was to reduce the resort to mandatory minimum sentencing. 

The majority opinion "guarantees that thousands of people in the federal criminal justice system will be denied a chance, just a chance, at an individualized sentence," Gorsuch wrote. "It is a chance Congress promised in the First Step Act, and it is a promise this Court should have honored."

The case is Pulsifer v. United States.


Colombia Partly Suspends Truce With FARC Rejectionist Rebel Faction. The Colombian government has suspended a truce with the Central General Staff (Estado Mayor Central—EMC), a group of FARC dissidents who broke off from the leftist guerrilla army when it signed a peace pact with the government in 2016 and who have since made a living in the drug trade. 

The suspension came in three different parts of the country and was prompted by violence including an attack on indigenous groups that led one woman dead. 

The EMC opened peace talks with the administration of President Gustavo Petro last year. Since being elected in 2022, Petro has worked toward a "total peace"' that seeks to end conflicts between the security forces, leftist guerrillas, rightist paramilitaries, and apolitical drug trafficking gangs,  although the process has been rocky. 

The government said Sunday that the halt to the truce was because of the EMC's "non-compliance with the ceasefire," and the military would resume "offensive actions" against them in the departments of Narino, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. 


The EMC is made up of some 3,500 fighters and controls drug trafficking routes along the borders with Ecuador and Venezuela. 

Dutch Coffeeshops in Pilot Legal Supply Program Will Be Limited to Legal Weed Beginning in September. A limited pilot program aimed at ending the country's marijuana "back door problem," where coffeeshops are allowed to sell marijuana but have no legal source of supply, is set to begin in June, and after a three-month transition period where those shops can sell both legal and back-door weed, they will have to switch to legal marijuana supplies. 

That will be "enough time to sell the quantity, quality, and diversity of the regulated products," said Pia Dijkstra, the caretaker minister for medical care, who said coffeeshop owners are concerned that they have sufficient legal supply.

 "Coffeeshop owners find it very important that several growers are ready to deliver so that their supply has originated from various growers." This is one of the reasons that the adjustment period was moved from six weeks to three months.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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