Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Can Marijuana Reform Win In A Deep Red State?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Marijuana is on the ballot in South Dakota in November this year. This is a state that has the dubious distinction of being the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. And it has another dubious distinction: It's the only state where people get prosecuted for having marijuana show up on a drug test.

That South Dakota has reactionary drug laws is not surprising; it is a pretty reactionary state. It voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016—he beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 30 points here—and Republican Governor Kristi Noem has (in)famously discussed engraving Trump's image on Mount Rushmore with him. The state's congressional delegation is all-GOP, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune, and Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well, holding a super-majority in both for nearly a quarter-century.

Read Now Show less

Despite Trump Blessing, McConnell Blocks Sentencing Reform

Reprinted with permission from  Independent Media Institute.

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump’s announcement that he would support the effort, but by week’s end, those prospects dimmed abruptly as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn’t bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this in spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the “back end,” such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

  • Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.

  • Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions (“three strikes”) would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner’s and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn’t enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

“McConnell said he didn’t have the time, that’s his way of saying this isn’t going to happen,” said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s (DPA) Office of National Affairs. “McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he’s a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn’t like or care about this issue.”

McConnell’s move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

“Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn’t move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer,” he recounted.

“Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that,” Collins continued. “The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it’s up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed, people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it.”

That means sentencing reform is almost certainly dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will be an impediment to reform.

“McConnell is the obstacle—it’s not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions—it’s McConnell, and he’s going to be there next year and the year after that,” said Collins. “He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn’t going to listen to us, it’s going to be up to them to figure this out.”

“If McConnell doesn’t prioritize this, it doesn’t happen,” said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. That’s a shame, she said, because “I’m optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance.”

But now it doesn’t look like they will get that chance. That’s the downside. But there is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year may lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

“It’s been a long, hard slog to get to where we are,” said Collins, “but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs. Maybe it’s time to go maximalist.”

“My job is to continue to beat the drum for change,” said Gotsch. “It’s always hard, and we don’t get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn’t come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can’t let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years—the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice—and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis.”

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

 

Trump Abruptly Cancels Sessions’ War On Weed

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

President Trump last week signaled a dramatic turnaround in administration marijuana policy, telling Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the Justice Department would not go after state-legal marijuana in Colorado and that he would support moves to address the contradiction between legal marijuana states and federal pot prohibition.

That puts Trump in line with his own campaign statements that marijuana should be a states’ rights issue, but at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and who has explicitly told federal prosecutors they are free to go after the legal marijuana industry. Sessions, who is much abused by Trump for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, now finds himself on the outs on pot policy, too.

And Trump didn’t even bother to tell Sessions he was about to cut the legs out from under him, an almost unprecedented slight from a president to his attorney general.

Gardner, a Republican up for reelection in a pot-friendly state, had placed a hold on Justice Department nominees since Sessions rescinded the Obama-era policy in January and announced the apparent policy shift with a Friday afternoon press release after a phone call with Trump earlier in the week.

“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” Gardner said. “Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo [Obama-era guidance] will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

Gardner said Trump’s comments had convinced him to remove his remaining holds on Justice Department nominees, and that he would continue to work on a bipartisan legislative solution to pass Congress so Trump can “deliver on his campaign position.”

“The president did speak with Sen. Gardner yesterday and again today,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday. She said “the president is a firm believer” in states’ rights and confirmed Gardner’s account of the assurances he received from the president was accurate.

While Trump is notorious for seat-of-the-pants policy shifts and for lack of follow-through on policy pronouncements, some activist groups were quick to laud the apparent shift.

“Sen. Gardner has done a great service for his constituents by standing up for federalism regarding marijuana policy,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Everyone who knew about President Trump’s statements on this issue during the campaign was hoping he would uphold those values and support states’ abilities to enact laws regulating marijuana for medical or adult use while in office. This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs. It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently.”

Congress renewed spending restrictions that prevent federal interference in state medical marijuana in March, but no such protections exist for states that have regulated marijuana for adults. Trump’s statements suggest that the same policy will apply to both medical and adult use providers, but the Dept. of Justice could still legally pursue cases against state-legal adult use operations if federal prosecutors choose to do so.

“With the support of the President, the American public, and mounting evidence that regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol is much preferable to prohibition, there is no reason for Congress to delay any longer,” continued Murphy. “There are several pieces of marijuana policy legislation being considered right now, and every one of them should get hearings immediately.”

But Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson was more cautious. As the head law enforcement officer in a legal marijuana state, Ferguson is adopting a wait-and-see position.

“I understand President Trump has offered his support for states to have the right to regulate marijuana and for legislation to enshrine this right in law,” he said in a Friday statement. “I am cautiously optimistic that the president appears to have heard the will of the people on this issue. But this president has demonstrated a willingness to go back on his word. Until there is a formal agreement protecting Washington’s well-regulated marijuana industry, I will continue to stand ready to defend it.”

Given this president, that is probably the prudent position.

 

 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

WATCH: Jeff Sessions Marijuana Rolling Papers Are A Thing

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

A group supporting the legalization of marijuana has come up with a nifty fundraising scheme: Rolling papers with the attorney general’s image on the packaging.

Who better to poke fun at than the cluelessly anti-marijuana Sessions—the man who claims “good people” don’t smoke pot, that marijuana is a gateway drug, and who once said he liked the local Ku Klux Klan boys until he found out they smoked weed?

The folks at #JeffSesh apparently agreed, selecting the attorney general’s visage to grace the packages of “General Jeff’s Old Rebel Session Papers,” replete with the warning to “Don’t Beauregard That Joint My Friend.”

“We’re not criminals, junkies or idiots. Regular Jeffs all over the country — good, responsible, patriotic Americans — have a sesh now and then… and it’s OK!” the group’s website proclaims. “Every time you sesh with any brand of JeffSesh papers, you’re helping keep the law moving forward — and not back to the Nixon era,” the website says. “You’re saying we’ve moved on, Jeff.”

The rolling paper packages come in either black or white and go for $5 each. #JeffSesh says they’re selling out, but hasn’t said whether any money raised will go to any specific marijuana legalization groups.

Check out the video below:

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

Jeff Sessions Just Kicked Off A Brand-New Civil War In The Republican Party

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.

In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for “a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.” Passage of the bill would be “a grave error,” Sessions said.

The measure is actually 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, mainly aimed at non-violent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged “soft on crime,” but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Sessions has no qualms about hardline drug war policies, and his voicing opposition to the sentencing reform bill doesn’t come as a shock. But Grassley, who has been shepherding the bill along for months, took it personally.

In an interview with Bloomberg Politics Wednesday afternoon, the rock-ribbed Republican ripped into Sessions, accusing him of being ungrateful after Grassley protected him from Democratic demands for public hearings on his contacts with the Russians and supported him when President Trump wanted to fire him.

“I think it’s legitimate to be incensed and I resent it, because of what I’ve done for him. He had a tough nomination, a tough hearing in my committee,” Grassley said. “They wanted to call him back every other day for additional hearings about his Russian connection, and I shut them off of that until we had the normal oversight hearing in October I believe it was, see? And the president was going to fire him, and I backed him, you know? So why wouldn’t I be irritated?”

Grassley also took to Twitter to express his umbrage with his former colleague, tweeting: “Incensed by Sessions letter An attempt to undermine Grassley/Durbin/Lee BIPARTISAN criminal justice reforms This bill deserves thoughtful consideration b4 my cmte. AGs execute laws CONGRESS WRITES THEM!”

For Grassley and the bipartisan coalition attempting to move the bill forward, Sessions’ intervention is little more than a last-minute betrayal. A hearing to mark up the draft bill is set for Thursday.

Again, that Sessions would try to derail sentencing reforms is no surprise. He helped kill an earlier sentencing reform bill that also had broad bipartisan support when he was in the Senate. Since taking over as attorney general, he has refused to deviate from a conservative “law and order” agenda.

Sessions regularly takes rhetorical aim at violent crime, illegal immigration, and drugs, but he puts his policy where his mouth is. Last year, he crafted a memo to federal prosecutors instructing them to charge people with the most serious offense possible, a move designed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. He also crafted another memo to prosecutors undoing Obama’s more laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana, and he blames marijuana for fueling the opioid epidemic.

Grassley didn’t attack Sessions for his draconian policy prescriptions but for his ingratitude at what he saw as a usurping of congressional prerogatives. Still, this battle of the dinosaurs shows how the Trump-Sessions crime agenda is creating fissures at the heart of the Republican Party.

 

 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

 

4 Reasons For A Surprising Change In Racial Incarceration Trendlines

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

It’s long been a given that racial disparities plague the nation’s criminal justice system. That’s still true—black people are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than that of white people—but the disparities are decreasing, and there are a number of interesting reasons behind the trend.

That’s according to a report released this month by the Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Researchers reviewed annual reports from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system and found that between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate for black men dropped by nearly a quarter (24 percent). During the same period, the white male incarceration rate bumped up slightly, the BJS numbers indicate.

When it comes to women, the numbers are even more striking. While the black female incarceration rate plummeted by nearly 50 percent in the first 15 years of this century, the white rate jumped by a whopping 53 percent.

Make no mistake: Racial disparities in incarceration haven’t gone away. As the NAACP notes, African Americans account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 34 percent of the population in jail or prison or on parole or probation. Similarly, black children account for 32 percent of all children who are arrested and more than 50 percent of children who are charged as adults.

When it comes to drugs, the NAACP reports, African Americans use drugs in proportion to their share of the population (12.5 percent), but account for 29 percent of all drug arrests and 33 percent of state drug prisoners. Black people still bear the heaviest burden of drug law enforcement.

Still, that 5:1 ratio for black vs. white male incarceration rates in 2015 was an 8:1 ratio 15 years earlier. Likewise, that 2:1 ration for black vs. white female incarceration rates was a 6:1 ratio in 2000.

“It’s definitely optimistic news,” Fordham University law professor and imprisonment trends expert John Pfaff told the Marshall Project. “But the racial disparity remains so vast that it’s pretty hard to celebrate. How, exactly, do you talk about ‘less horrific?'”

It behooves analysts and policy-makers alike to try to make sense of the changing complexion of the prison population, but that’s no easy task.

“Our inability to explain it suggests how poorly we understand the mechanics behind incarceration in general,” Pfaff said.

Still, the Marshall Project wanted some answers, so it did more research and interviewed more prison system experts. Here are four theories, not mutually exclusive, that try to provide them.

1. Shifting Drug War Demographics

The black vs. white disparity in the prosecution of the war on drugs is notorious, and a central tenet of drug reform advocacy. But even though black Americans continue to suffer drug arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment at a far greater rate than whites, something has been happening: According to BJS statistics, the black incarceration rate for drug offenses fell by 16 percent between 2000 and 2009; at the same time, the number of whites going to prison for drugs jumped by nearly 27 percent.

This could be because the drug crises of the day, methamphetamines and heroin and prescription opioid addiction, are problems mainly for white people. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the drug crisis du jour was crack cocaine, and even though crack enjoyed popularity among all races, the war on crack was waged almost entirely in black communities. The war on crack drove black incarceration rates higher then, but now cops have other priorities.

The shift in drug war targeting could also explain the dramatic narrowing of the racial gap among women prisoners, because women prisoners are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes.

2. White People Blues

Declining socioeconomic prospects for white people may also be playing a role. Beginning around 2000, whites started going to prison more often for property offenses, with the rate jumping 21 percent by 2009. Meanwhile, the black incarceration rate for property crimes dropped 9 percent.

Analysts suggest that an overall decline in life prospects for white people in recent decades may have led to an increase in criminality among that population, especially for crimes of poverty, such as property crimes. A much-discussed study by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that between 1998 and 2013, white Americans were experiencing spikes in rates of mortality, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse. That’s precisely when these racial shifts in imprisonment were happening.

And while African Americans also faced tough times, many whites were newer to the experience of poverty, which, in an explanation the Marshall Project says is “speculative,” could explain why drug use rates, property crime, and incarceration rates are all up:

“Perhaps, says Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, whites are just newer to the experience of poverty, which could explain why their rates of drug use, property crime and incarceration have ticked up so suddenly.”

3. Reform Is More Likely in the Cities, Where More Black People Live

Since the beginning of this century, criminal justice reform has begun to put the put brakes on the mass incarceration engine, but reforms haven’t been uniform. They are much more likely to have occurred in more liberal states and big cities than in conservative, rural areas. And while people are still being arrested for drugs at sky-high rates—more than 1.5 million drug arrests in 2016, according to the FBI—those reforms mean that fewer of them are ending up in prison.

In big cities such as Los Angeles and Brooklyn, new prison admissions have plummeted thanks largely to sentencing and other criminal justice reforms. But in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, the incarceration rate was going up even as crime went down. In fact, people from rural areas are 50 percent more likely to be sent to prison than city dwellers.

Even in liberal states, the impact of reforms varies geographically. After New York state repealed its draconian Rockefeller drug laws, the state reduced its prison population more than any other state in the country in the 2000s. But the shrinkage came almost entirely from the far more diverse New York City, not the whiter, more rural areas of the state.

4. Crime Has Been Declining Overall

Arrests for nearly all types of crime rose into the mid-1990s, then declined dramatically, affecting African Americans more significantly than whites since they were (and are) more likely to be arrested by police in the first place. In the first decade of the new century, arrests of black people for violent offenses dropped 22 percent; for whites, the decline was 11 percent. Since those offenses are likely to result in substantial prison sentences, this shift has likely contributed to the changing racial makeup of the prison population.

Whatever the reason for the shrinking racial disparities in the prison population, there is a long way to go between here and a racially just criminal justice system. If current trends continue, it would still take decades for the disparities to disappear.

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

More Arrests For Marijuana Than For Violent Crime Last Year

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Despite spreading marijuana legalization and a growing desire for new directions in drug policy, the war on drugs continues unabated. According to the FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, overall drug arrests actually increased last year to 1.57 million, a jump of 5.63 percent over 2015. The increase includes marijuana arrests, which jumped by more than 75,000 last year compared to 2015, an increase of 12 percent.

That comes out to three drug arrests every minute, day in and day out, throughout 2016. It’s also more than three times the number of people arrested for violent crimes. Drug offenses are the single largest category of crimes for which people were arrested last year, more than burglaries, DUIs or any other criminal offense.

Unlike previous years, this year’s Uniform Crime Report did not immediately make available data on specific offenses, such as drug possession or drug sales, nor did it break arrests down by type of drug, but the Marijuana Policy Project obtained marijuana arrest data by contacting the FBI. It reported some 653,000 people arrested on marijuana charges last year, although the FBI did not provide data on how many were simple possession charges.

While that figure marks a decline from historic highs a decade ago—pot arrests peaked at nearly 800,000 in 2007—the sharp jump in pot arrests last year demands explanation, especially as it comes after a decade of near continuous declining numbers.

“Arresting and citing nearly half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty,” said MPP communications director Morgan Fox. “Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested.”

Despite the lack of specific offense data, 2016 is unlikely to turn out markedly different from previous years when it comes to the mix of drug arrests. Past years typically had simple drug possession offenses accounting for 85-90 percent of all drug arrests and small-time marijuana possession arrests accounting for around 40 percent.

That means of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, probably 1.3 million or so of them were not drug kingpins, major dealers, gangbangers, or cartel operatives. Instead, they were people who got caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the U.S., particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms.”

Perpetuating the war on drugs leads not only to the criminalization of millions, but also perpetuates racially biased outcomes and heightens racial tensions in the U.S. Black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population and use drugs at similar rates to other ethnic groups, but they constitute 29 percent of all drug arrests and 35 percent of state drug war prisoners.

And it has a huge negative impact on immigrants, fueling mass detentions and deportations. Non-citizens, including legal permanent residents—some of whom have been here for decades and have US citizen family members—face deportation for even possessing any drug (except first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana). Between 2007 and 2012, more than a quarter million people were deported for drug offenses, including more than 100,000 deported for simple drug possession.

In 2016, the Obama administration set the tone on drug policy and criminal justice matters, yet the number of arrests still went up. Now, with the “tough on crime” Trump administration, these disappointing numbers may be as good as it gets for the next few years.

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

While Trump Moves Backward On Drug Sentencing, California Heads In A Different Direction

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The Trump Justice Department under prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving some of the drug war’s worst sentencing practices—mandatory minimum sentences, charging low-level defendants with the harshest statutes.

 

But that doesn’t mean the states have to follow suit. As has been the case with climate change, environmental protection, trade, and the protection of undocumented residents, California is charting its own progressive path in the face of the reactionaries in Washington.

 

The latest evidence comes from Sacramento, where the state Assembly passed a bill to stop sentencing drug offenders to extra time because they have previous drug convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 180, also known as the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, passed the state Senate in June and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

 

The bill would end a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. Under current law, sale of even the tiniest amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can earn up to five years in prison, and each previous conviction for sales or possession with intent add three more.

 

State sheriffs complain that the drug sentencing enhancement is the leading cause of 10-year-plus sentences being served in their county jails, which now shoulder more of the burden of housing drug war prisoners after earlier reforms aimed at reducing prison overcrowding shifted them to local lock-ups. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sales offenses.

 

“People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there’s more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation,” Mitchell said after the final vote on SB 180, which is supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. “By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let’s focus on putting ‘justice’ in our criminal-justice system.”

“This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities,” said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. “These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don’t make our communities any safer.”

 

The bill is part of a set of bills known as the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at reducing inequities in the system. Authored by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), the package also includes Senate Bill 190, which would end unreasonable fees on the families of incarcerated children and also sits on the governor’s desk, as well as Senate Bill 355, which will end the requirement that innocent defendants reimburse the counties for the cost of appointed counsel. Brown has already signed that into law.

 

“Harsh sentencing laws have condemned a generation of men of color, and with SB 180 and other bills in the Equity and Justice package we are on our way to restoring the values of rehabilitation to the criminal justice system,” Lara said.

 

When Washington is in the hands of authoritarian, law-and-order politicians like Trump, Sessions and the Republican Congress, it’s time for the states to step up. California is showing how it’s done.

 

Watch Mitchell and Lara as they began the process of getting it done:

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

 

Roger Stone Yanked As Conference Keynote Speaker After Cannabis Community Erupts

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Long-time Republican political trickster and Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone’s gig as the keynote speaker at Los Angeles and Boston marijuana expos has been canceled after news of his participation roiled the cannabis community.

The Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition had selected the white-haired provocatuer to address the two pot business conferences after Stone came out for pot legalization early this summer. But Stone’s pro-legalization stance wasn’t enough to protect him from charges of racism, misogyny and being too close to Trump, who rode his own racist dog whistles to the White House.

After the announcement of Stone’s participation, numerous speakers and exhibitors announced a boycott of CWCBExpo led by the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, whose members loudly withdrew from the conference.

By Wednesday, CWCBExpo had had enough of the controversy.

“Following collaborative discussions with numerous partners, participants and interested parties who support the legalization of cannabis in an inclusive manner, Cannabis World Congress & Business Expositions, (CWCBExpo) is announcing that Roger Stone will no longer be featured as a keynote speaker at the upcoming CWCBExpo events in Los Angeles and Boston,” the organizers announced in a news release.

Stone’s presence would work counter to the expo’s goals. According to a press release, the conference’s forums “are crucial to the growth and legalization of the cannabis industry and they supersede the distractions that have surrounded the events.”

Stone wasn’t taking the snub lying down. He told the L.A. Weekly he would sue CWCBExpo.

“Sad day for the First Amendment,” Stone told the newspaper. “The expo is in breach of contract. I will be suing them for $1 million. I will not be deterred from my efforts to persuade the president to preserve access to legal medicinal marijuana consistent with his pledge to the American people.”

Expect the prankster to land on his feat. Stone just started a new Internet and radio program on InfoWars, home of Trump supporter and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

 

 

The Claim That The Border Wall Will Stop Drug Smuggling Is Just More Trump Bullsh*t

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

President Trump sure loves his border wall. It was a staple of his campaign rhetoric, and despite Mexico’s firm insistence that there is no way Mexico is ever going to pay for it, Trump’s desire for the wall is unabated. Now, he’s threatening to shut down the government unless he can persuade Congress to make American taxpayers pay for it.

This week, Trump claimed that “building the wall will stop much of the drugs coming into the country.” That claim is yet another example of what CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria pungently referred to as Trump’s primary political product: bullshit.

Here’s what Trump claimed during his joint press conference Monday with Finnish president Sauli Niinisto:

“The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth. So we need the wall. It’s imperative. …The wall is needed from the standpoint of drug — tremendous, the drug scourge, what’s coming through the areas that we’re talking about. …So we will build the wall, and we will stop a lot of things, including the drug — the drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen. We’ll be able to stop them once the wall is up.”

Here’s the Reality

Trump’s own DEA and outside experts agree that building a wall along the 1,700-mile-land border with Mexico will have little impact on the drug trade. Not only do drugs from Latin America enter the U.S. by sea and air as well as across the Mexican border, but the vast majority of drugs crossing the land border do so not in unfenced desert expanses, but through official ports of entry.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations “transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers,” the DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. “The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers.”

Here’s how the DEA detailed trafficking methods for various drugs:

  • Methamphetamine: “Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.”
  • Heroin: “Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas.”
  • Cocaine: “Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles are frequently used to transport multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine. Cocaine is hidden amongst legitimate cargo or secreted inside of intricate hidden compartments built within passenger vehicles.”
  • Marijuana: “Large quantities of marijuana are smuggled through subterranean tunnels.”

May 2017 DEA intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy echoed the 2015 assessment. It, too, found that drugs coming from Mexico went across the border, but mainly concealed in vehicles using ports of entry—not those unfenced expanses. The report also noted that drugs headed for the Northeast United States, especially from Colombia—the world’s leading cocaine producer, as well as source of opium and heroin second only to Mexico in the U.S. market—come more often by plane and boat.

Drug traffickers “generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo,” the report found. “In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport.”

That report did not address the border wall, but its examples of how and where drugs enter the country show that in many cases, building a wall wouldn’t make a scintilla of difference: “According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport,” the report found.

The report concluded with recommendations for reducing the drug trade, but none of them are about building a border wall. Instead, targeting foreign drug trafficking networks within the U.S. “would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis.”

It’s not just his own DEA that is giving the lie to Trump’s bullshit. His own chief of staff, John Kelly contradicted the president’s position at a congressional hearing in April.

Illegal drugs from Mexico “mostly come through the ports of entry,” he said. “We know they come in in relatively small amounts, 10, 15 kilos at a time in automobiles and those kinds of conveyances.”

Drug trafficking experts agreed with Kelly and the DEA—not Trump.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and long-time analyst of drug production and trafficking Vanda Felbab-Brown summed it up bluntly in an essay earlier this month: “A barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally.”

“The wall won’t stop the flow of drugs into the United States,” she told Fact Check this week.

Other experts contacted by Fact Check concurred. Peter Reuter, University of Maryland criminal justice professor and founder of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, pronounced himself skeptical that a wall would have any impact on the drug trade.

“The history is that smugglers eventually figure a workaround,” he said. “There have been many promising interdiction interventions—none of them have made more than a temporary dent.”

And Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Stephen D. Morris, whose research has largely focused on Mexico, came up with two reasons the border wall would not stop drugs.

“First, as you say, most drug shipments come disguised as commerce and are crossing the border by truck or in cargo containers. Human mules, to my knowledge, bring in a small fraction,” he said. “Second, smugglers adapt. Whether it is tunnels, submarines, mules, drones, etc., they are good at figuring out new ways to get drugs to those in the US who will buy them.”

It is a shame that Donald Trump’s ascendency has so coarsened and vulgarized our national political discourse. But his lies demand a forthright response. Bullshit is bullshit.

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

 

Marijuana Becomes A Player In California Politics And It’s Putting Its Money On Gavin Newsom

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Marijuana is already a multibillion-dollar-a-year business in California, and with recreational sales to adults coming online next year, it’s about to get even bigger. Now, the legal pot industry is beginning to throw its weight around in state office-level politics, and it’s doing it the old-fashioned way: with a checkbook.

Fundraising for the 2018 gubernatorial campaign is already well underway, and according to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign contributions, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is running away with the cannabis cash. Pot growers, retailers and others in the industry have donated more than $300,000, swamping industry contributions to his Democratic competitors, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ($5,000) and Treasurer John Chiang ($100).

That means Newsom has hoovered up around 98% of pot industry contributions in the Democratic race for the nomination so far. There’s a reason for that—actually a couple of reasons.

First, the charismatic former San Francisco mayor has been a key player in the state’s path toward full legalization, just as he was an early supporter of gay marriage. One of the first state-level officials to come out for freeing the weed, he has used his largely ceremonial position as lieutenant governor to champion the cause, creating a blue-ribbon commission and holding public hearings to develop policy to support what would ultimately become Prop 64, the legalization initiative approved by voters last fall. He’s earned some political goodwill from the pot people.

Second, he’s actively courting the industry. The Times reports that Newsom has held four industry fundraisers so far, including one in March hosted by the Indus Holding Company, maker of such marijuana-infused treats as Toasted Rooster and Crispy Kraken chocolate bars:

Local business leaders paid up to $5,000 for a chance to talk with the man aiming to be California’s next governor….Banking was a major topic that night, they said. Currently, the vast majority of banks and credit unions will not work with cannabis companies, because the federal government considers their revenue illegal. Some operate on an all-cash basis, and most lack the ability to find traditional financing.

There is a lot at stake for the marijuana industry. Regulatory and tax policies for the new legalization regime are being developed now. As both wielder of the veto pen over legislation and head of the executive branch that will implement legalization, the next governor will be a critical player in decisions that will help decide who makes a fortune and who doesn’t.

And that worries Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents small growers in Northern California’s traditional pot-growing Emerald Triangle. He told the Times the money to Newsom is coming from large enterprises and wealthy individuals seeking to cut out the ma-and-pa growers who paved the way.

“There are fierce and cutthroat business practices coming,” he said. “We’re pushing to keep craft growers in business.”

The $300,000 raised so far by the pot industry is only a small part of Newsom’s $14 million campaign war chest, but it’s more than any other agricultural sector in the state has raised, and it’s a clear sign of pot’s increasing political clout. But with legalization already won—at least on the state level—that clout is going to be focused on who benefits and how.

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.