Tag: Pending Legislation

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill

A bipartisan group of Senate heavy-hitters have filed a bill aimed at reducing the swollen federal prison population by moving away from harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences, among other reforms. But it’s not completely reformist.

The measure is a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions will provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged “soft on crime,” but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

The federal prison system has swollen dramatically since President Reagan reinvigorated Nixon’s war on drugs. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal prison population has increased eight-fold since 1980, and while it peaked in 2012 and 2013, before Obama era sentencing reforms began to bite, there are still 192,000 people currently behind bars in the federal system.

The federal incarceration boom has largely been driven by the war on drugs. While the prison population jumped eight-fold, the number of drug prisoners jumped nearly 25-fold during the same period, according to the Sentencing Project. The nearly 81,000 people currently doing federal time for drug crimes constitutes nearly half (46.2%) of all federal prisoners.

The reform bill, S. 1917, was rolled out Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with cosponsors senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

“Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe,” said Grassley. “This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society. This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward.”

“This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform,” said Durbin. “The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done.”

Given who is behind it and the senatorial compromise it represents, the measure actually has a chance of moving in the Republican-controlled body. Still, even if it were to pass there, sentencing reform faces murkier prospects in the House and, if the first months of the Trump administration are any indication, implacable hostility from the White House and the Justice Department.

According to a summary from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill:

  • Reduces enhanced mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offenders and eliminates the mandatory life provision for third strike offenders.
  • Increases judicial discretion by expanding existing the “safety valve” allowing judges to sentence beneath federal guidelines to include offenders with broader criminal histories, including people with prior felonies or violent or drug trafficking offenses if a court finds those offenses overstate a defendant’s criminal history and recidivism risk. The bill also creates a second “safety valve” allowing judges to sentence some low-level drug offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.
  • Reforms sentences for drug offenses with firearms to clarify that enhanced mandatory minimums only apply for people who have previously been convicted and served a sentence for such an offense and gives judges the discretion to order lesser sentences if the firearm wasn’t brandished or discharged during the commission of a drug or violent crime. This provision would prevent abominations like the case of Weldon Angelos, the Salt Lake city music producer who got nailed for selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant, but ended up being sentenced to 55 years because he had a pistol in an ankle holster when he did his pot deals. (He was released last year after winning a sentence reduction.)
  • Makes the Fair Sentencing Act and certain other sentencing reforms retroactive, which would allow some nonviolent offenders current serving time to seek sentence reductions upon a judicial review.
  • Establishes programs to reduce recidivism, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Prisoners who successfully complete those programs could get to serve up to the final quarter of their sentences under home confinement or in a reentry center.
  • Limits solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody.
  • Creates a national criminal justice commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.
  • Creates new mandatory minimums for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons and defense materials to prohibited countries or designated terrorist groups, and creates a five-year sentencing enhancement for trafficking heroin containing fentanyl.

There’s plenty in there to appeal to sentencing reformers, and some sops to conservatives, but from a drug reform and anti-prohibitionist perspective, this is just some fixes on the back end. From that vantage point, instead of haggling over how many months to shave off some poor sap’s sentence, we should be questioning why he was even arrested and prosecuted in the first place.

But you have to start somewhere, and ameliorating some of the cruelest injustices of the drug war is a good place to get going.


This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license from StopTheDrugWar.org and was first published here.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Atlanta Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance Becomes Law

Downtown Atlanta (Wikimedia Commons)

ATLANTA, GA — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has signed legislation amending citywide marijuana possession penalties.

Members of the Atlanta city council unanimously approved municipal legislation last week decriminalizing cannabis possession offenses. Ordinance 17-0-1152 amends local law so that possession offenses involving up to one ounce of cannabis are punished by a civil fine of no more than $75 — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.

Under Georgia state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Atlanta City Council Votes Unanimously to Decriminalize Marijuana, Heads to Mayor’s Desk

ATLANTA, GA — Monday afternoon, after two hours of debate amongst the city council members, the Atlanta city council voted unanimously 15-0 to pass Ordinance 17-O-1152.

This legislation makes the possession of marijuana under one ounce a non-arrestable offense and lowers the fine to a maximum ticket of $75.

The mayor has eight days to decide whether to sign it.

One complicating factor is that under current Georgia state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will be dependent on law enforcement discretion.

Under Georgia state law, the possession of any amount of marijuana can result in 180 days of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

“The city council sent a strong message that we need to end these wasteful and discriminatory arrests,” said Michelle Wright, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill is an important step forward, but now it’s up to the Mayor to sign it and the police to implement it correctly and consistently.”

Since May, the legislation has been held by the council’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, but during last Tuesday’s meeting, the tide turned. It was brought to light that in Atlanta, the overwhelming number of arrests for marijuana are African Americans (92%), even though studies have determined usage is at similar levels across racial demographics.

This led to the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee moving the legislation forward to full council with a favorable recommendation.

Andre Dickens, the Chairman of the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, stated “I support the ordinance which will reduce the offense of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket/fine, rather than jail time. It is unfortunate, that although marijuana use is equal amongst all racial lines, more than ninety percent of all marijuana charges that require jail time are disproportionately given to African Americans. I support the valuable use of our police officers to focus on more serious crimes that have an immediate effect on our citizens and communities.”

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Atlanta Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance

Downtown Atlanta (Wikimedia Commons)

ATLANTA, GA — The Atlanta City Council unanimously voted to pass Ordinance 1700-1152 on Monday, decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses within the city.

This measure amends the local law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $75 fine — no arrest, jail time, or criminal arrest record.

Annually, over 30,000 Georgians — many of whom reside in Atlanta — are arrested and charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Those arrested and convicted face up to one-year in prison, a $1,000 fine under state law, or up to six months in jail under local statutes.

National statistics indicate that African Americans are an estimated four times as likely as whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws, despite using marijuana at rates similar to Caucasians.

“Court costs, the jail time, ruining young people’s lives, they lose their scholarships, it breaks up families, and it wastes our tax dollars. That’s the reason for doing this,” said Kwanza Hall, a city Councilman and candidate for Mayor.

With the passage of this measure, citizens of Atlanta no longer have to fear unnecessary jail time for possessing a drug that should not be illegal in the first place. However, because the law only applies to Atlanta city limits, it conflicts with the state law that calls for jail time and gives police leeway in deciding which law (state or city) should be enforced.

However, Atlanta has now joined the growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level.

This new ordinance may not be perfect, but it is a victory nonetheless.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Maryland’s Marijuana Expungement Law Takes Effect

A recently passed law that makes it easier for people who have been convicted of marijuana possession in Maryland to clear their records took effect on Sunday.

The bill, Senate Bill 949, became law in May without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature. The new law took effect on October 1.

Before the passage of SB 949, those convicted of marijuana possession were required to wait ten years before they could apply to have their records expunged, despite the state decriminalizing the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.

Now, the waiting period to apply for expungement has been reduced to four years following conviction.

Having previously been passed in the Senate by a unanimous 47 to 0 vote, the bill was given final approval by the House in April with a vote of 94 to 43.

In 2014, Maryland lawmakers decriminalized offenses involving the possession of up to ten grams of cannabis.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

DC Councilmember Looks to Medical Marijuana to Help Fight Opioid Crisis

WASHINGTON, DC — District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso introduced improvements to the nation’s capitol’s medical marijuana program Tuesday, recognizing the power of cannabis to fight the opioid crisis.

The Medical Marijuana Improvement Amendment Act of 2017 reduces major barriers that previously existed in D.C.’s medical cannabis program. Councilmember Grosso is joined by Councilmembers Vincent Grey, Robert White, Jr., and Brianne Nadeau in introducing this important bill.

The legislation, which shares components of model legislation drafted by Americans for Safe Access, increases access to medical cannabis for the residents of the District of Columbia – particularly those who struggle with chronic pain.

Significantly, it allows a patient to receive cannabis on the same day a patient is issued a doctor’s recommendation, like any other medicine, and allows for delivery of medical cannabis. It also allows a patient without a primary care physician to self-certify a medical condition through a signed affidavit.

Low income patients who struggle to pay for doctor’s visits will particularly benefit from these provisions.

“We are thrilled with Councilmember Grosso’s leadership in fighting the opioid crisis. Although President Trump has delayed in formally declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, it is clear that we can fight the epidemic on a local level. Medical cannabis is a critical tool in combating the opioid epidemic and we should lower the barriers to access. The District of Columbia is one step closer to reducing the number of preventable deaths that relate to the opioid crisis, “ said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be a viable alternative to the prescription of opioid painkillers, which can set people down the path to addiction,” said Councilmember David Grosso. “While we have made significant improvements to our medical marijuana program here in D.C., there is more we can do to improve access for patients and reduce opioid reliance and overdose.”

Grosso also introduced the Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act of 2017, which allows for access to new technology that allows intravenous drug users to test their own drugs, removes criminal penalties for personal use of drug testing kits, and expands safe injection sites.

Medical cannabis has the potential to be a powerful tool in combating America’s opioid epidemic. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that in states with medical cannabis programs, there has been a 25% reduction in opioid deaths.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

New Hampshire’s Marijuana Decriminalization Law Takes Effect

CONCORD, NH — New Hampshire’s bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana officially took effect on Saturday, making New Hampshire the 22nd state in the nation — and the last of the New England states — to eliminate the possibility of jail time for simple marijuana possession.

“The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.

“A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been supporting decriminalization bills since 2008,” Simon said. “It was refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue in 2017. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire.”

HB 640 was introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, where it received overwhelming approval in February (318-36). The Senate amended and approved it on May 11 (17-6), and the House passed the Senate version by a voice vote on June 1. Gov. Sununu signed it on July 18.

This legislation reduces the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor — currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 — to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense. A fourth offense within three years of the first offense may be charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.

“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Simon said. “Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether.

“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” Simon said. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”

More than two-thirds of adults in New Hampshire (68%) support making marijuana legal, according to a Granite State Poll released last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Medical Marijuana Protections Temporarily Extended

Medical marijuana patients protest during a DEA raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in Hollywood, California in 2007. (Wikimedia)

WASHINGTON, DC — President Donald Trump reached an agreement late last week with Congressional leadership to enact a three-month continuing resolution that maintains present federal spending levels and priorities through December 8, 2017.

The resolution extends medical cannabis patient protections imposed by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment until that date.

The amendment, which has been in place since 2014, maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Congressional leadership must reauthorize this language as part of the forthcoming budget in order for the provisions to stay in effect. In July, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) offered identical language before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved it.

However, House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) has refused to allow House members to vote on similar language. The provision will now be considered by House and Senate leadership when the two chambers’ appropriations bills are reconciled.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Surprise! House Votes to Curb Sessions’ Asset Forfeiture Revival

Jeff Sessions speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

WASHINGTON, DC — In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to  curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency.

In response to a rising clamor over civil forfeiture reform abuses, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder had reined in the program, known as Equitable Sharing. Now, Sessions’ attempt to bring it back has been blocked by a congressional coalition of progressives and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.).

The amendment aims directly at “adoptive forfeiture,” the process by which the federal government agrees to take cases brought to it by local law enforcement agencies attempting to skirt state-level restrictions, which can include an outright ban on civil asset forfeiture (seizure without a criminal conviction) or designating that seized funds are to go the general fund or other designated fund—not the cops.

Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that the search for lucre distorts policing priorities, creates perverse incentives, and amounts to policing for profit. Numerous states have moved to end civil asset forfeiture outright, while others have imposed various restrictions on the practice.

While Sessions claims the program is needed so that criminals “are not allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime,” a whopping 87% of federal asset forfeiture cases take place in cases where there has been no criminal conviction.

The House has acted. Now, it’s up to the Senate to act. If the Senate fails to pass a similar measure, the amendment could still become law if it gets adopted by the conference committee that will attempt to sort out differences between the two bills.

In the meantime, Sessions has been put on notice that his gift to profit-hungry state and local cops has serious opposition.


This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license from StopTheDrugWar.org and was first published here.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Congress Passes Three Month Budget Continuation; Marijuana Protections Included

Congress Passes Three Month Budget Continuation; Marijuana Protections Included | NORML

In a quick deal between President Trump and Congress, a three-month budget continuing resolution will be in effect until December 8, 2017, maintaining current spending levels. While this seems mundane (it is), it is important for marijuana policy because it guarantees a temporary extension of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer protections for lawful medical marijuana programs from Attorney […]

Congress Passes Three Month Budget Continuation; Marijuana Protections Included | The Daily Chronic


Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.