Chronicle AM: Calls for Obama to Cut More Sentences, Iran Drug Death Penalty Moves, More... (11/29/16)
Scholars, advocates, and a US congressman are calling on Obama to ramp up the commutation process in the final weeks of his term, the CDC issues a report calling for expanded syringe exchange, Maryland moves to address racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in the medical marijuana business, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Massachusetts Marijuana Victory Faces Certification Delay. Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that the November 8 election results may not be certified in time for marijuana legalization to go into effect on December 15, that date it is supposed to become legal. Ballot initiatives in the state do not become law until they are officially certified, and a December 14 meeting is the earliest date voting tallies on the initiative are likely to presented, Galvin said. But if not by December 15, certainly by early next year, he added: "All those tokers can hold their breath a little longer, but they'll be able to exhale" by early 2017, Galvin quipped.
Maryland Moving to Improve Diversity in Medical Marijuana Industry. The state Cannabis Commission announced Monday that it is hiring a consultant to advise it on steps it can take to improve racial diversity in the nascent industry. The consultant will decide whether a study can be conducted to determine whether minorities have been unfairly excluded. If such a finding is made, that would allow the state to consider race when awarding medical marijuana licenses.
Groundbreaking Report from CDC Calls for Expansion of Syringe Access Programs. In a report on HIV and injection drug use released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls strongly for expanding needle exchange programs. "Syringe services programs (SSPs) can play a role in preventing HIV and other health problems among people who inject drugs (PWID)," the report found. "They provide access to sterile syringes and should also provide comprehensive services such as help with stopping substance misuse; testing and linkage to treatment for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; education on what to do for an overdose; and other prevention services. State and local health departments can work with their lawmakers and law enforcement to make SSPs more available to PWID."
Calls Mount For Obama to Ramp Up Commutations as Term Nears End. A coalition of scholars and activists as well as a US congressman are calling on President Obama to expand clemency efforts in the final weeks of his administration -- including considering granting clemency to entire groups of people without case-by-case review. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than a thousand people sentenced under draconian drug war sentencing laws, but thousands more have applied for commutations without those applications yet being acted on.
Iran Keeps Moving Toward Ending the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Iranian parliament last week agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors." Iran is one of the world's leading drug executioners, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed last year.
Some California pot shops open their doors to all adults, some California defendants are starting to walk free, DC-based activists turn their ire on Trump attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Oklahoma (!) defelonizes drug possession, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
DC-Based Marijuana Activists Hold First of Five Anti-Sessions Protests. Activists led by DCMJ, the folks behind the District's 2014 legalization initiative, Monday held the first of five protests planned in response to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be attorney general in the incoming Trump administration. The "Smoke Sessions" protesters are demanding that "Senator Sessions evolve" on his anti-marijuana positions and that President-elect Trump makes "a clear and unequivocal statement that he supports the full legalization of cannabis in every state." It would be best if Trump came up with another nominee, said event organizer Adam Eidinger. "We’re saying, we don't want this guy, and if he is going to be the guy he's got to clarify his positions," Eidinger said. "But really, we don't want him. This is just an unacceptable pick."
Supreme Court Rejects Church's Appeal Over Marijuana Laws. The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Hawaii Native American church that sought an religious freedom exemption from federal marijuana laws. The Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii filed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act lawsuit in 2009, but lost in both trial court and on appeal. Now, it's lost again.
Some California Pot Shops Are Already Selling to Everyone. You don't need a medical marijuana card to buy pot in at least a handful of California dispensaries, even though adult non-medical pot sales won't be legal until 2018. At least three dispensaries are reportedly selling weed to all adult comers, including Mr. Nice Guy in downtown Los Angeles. "21 years and older may enter with no doctor's recommendation," the dispensary posted to its Weedmaps page. "However, those 21 and under are still required to have a rec."
California Marijuana Defendants Are Starting to Walk Free. California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all since the passage of Prop 64 legalizing marijuana. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names. Before November 8, illegally growing a single pot plant was a felony; now, it's no longer a crime. A dozen or so other marijuana offenses have either been deleted or downgraded as well.
Portland, Oregon, Prosecutors Now Require Field Drug Test Verification Before Accepting Guilty Pleas. In response to the Pro Publica investigative series "Busted," which detailed how people across the country are being jailed and accepting plea bargains for drug possession over faulty field drug tests that have been shown to regularly return false positive results, prosecutors in Portland say they will no longer accept guilty pleas for drug possession unless the field test results are confirmed by a lab test.
Oklahoma Quietly Passed Drug Defelonization on Election Day. Voters in the Sooner State passed a pair of measure on Election Day that reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies. State Question 780 also defelonized some other crime, mainly property crimes. State Question 781 allows counties to use the money saved from not imprisoning drug offenders to fund community rehabilitation services. State Question 780 passed with 57% of the vote; so did Question 781.
Australia Greens Embrace Drug Decriminalization. This past weekend, the Australian Greens abandoned their blanket opposition to drug legalization and instead a embraced the principle that the legal approach to drugs should be based on evidence about their harms. Saying that the law and order approach to drugs has failed, the Greens now call for drug decriminalization.
Recovery advocates have organized a call-in to pressure Congress to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, Minnesota may tighten up on opioid prescribing, South Africa advances on medical marijuana, and more.
Move Underway to Get Pot Deliveries in Washington State. Officials in Seattle are working on a draft bill to legalize marijuana delivery services. A similar effort failed in the last legislative session. "As Pete and the Mayor said last January, we support legislation allowing local jurisdictions to opt in to legal, regulated marijuana delivery," said Deputy City Attorney John Schochet, referring to City Attorney Pete Holmes. "We are actively working with the Mayor's office and stakeholders to craft legislation that would allow this."
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Recovery Advocates Urge Calling Congress on Monday to Get $1 Billion to Address the Opioid Epidemic. The recovery community is urging its members and friends to call Congress Monday to urge it to come up with money to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed Congress this past summer. "We, the 95 member organizations of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery, urge Congress to authorize $1 billion to fight the opiate addiction crisis. We are on the ground in urban and rural communities across the nation fighting this epidemic and we see first-hand the devastation addiction causes to individuals, their children and families, and communities. Our work brings hope to solving this crisis by helping people find and maintain long-term recovery and rebuild their lives." The CARA would increase access to naloxone, provide increased treatment resources for prisoners and bar the Education Department from asking about drug convictions on student loan forms. It would also "improve prescription drug monitoring programs," something drug reformers tend to be wary about due to their potential impact on the availability of pain medications to patients.
Minnesota Attorney General Recommends Opioid Prescribing Changes. Attorney General Lori Swanson Wednesday issued a report on the opioid problem calling for requiring doctors to check state prescription drug databases before issuing new prescriptions and limiting controlled substance prescriptions to 30 days instead of one year. She also called for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. "Growing addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is devastating families from all walks of life across all parts of our state,"Swanson said. "We need all hands on deck to push forward solutions, which must involve those in health care, the criminal justice system, patients, families, and policymakers."
Swiss Canton of Zurich Moves to Issue Own Medical Marijuana Cards. Swiss citizens can already use medical marijuana if they have authorization from federal health officials, but that process has proven complicated and over-bureaucratized, so the cantonal government in Zurich has approved Green Party-sponsored legislation that would let the canton issue cards itself. But now the canton must get approval for the scheme from the federal government, so stay tuned.
South Africa Takes Another Step Toward Okaying Medical Marijuana. The government's Medicines Control Council has told parliament that the Department of Health is moving ahead with plans to recognize marijuana as a medicine. The council said that it could be ready by February to start issuing permits to allow the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. The proposed move would also reschedule marijuana from a banned drug to a prescription one.