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Sessions continues to attempt his hard line on marijuana

Jeff Sessions personally asked Congress to let him prosecute medical marijuana providers

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking congressional leaders to undo federal medical marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014, according to a May letter that became public Monday.

The protections, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent certain states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

In his letter, first obtained by Tom Angell of Massroots.com and verified independently by The Washington Post, Sessions argued that the amendment would “inhibit [the Justice Department’s] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.”

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Steve Rolles on the drug war

Steve Rolles has been one of the best voices in drug policy reform internationally. This fantastic article — Recreational drugs market should be managed by ‘governments not gangsters’, says expert — talks about his book, Legalizing Drugs: The Key to Ending the War. This interview in the Independent is loaded with quotes from Steve that provide a great primer into the futility of the drug war.

In an interview with The Independent, Rolles, who has previously served as an adviser to the Global Commission on Drugs, argues that the “most striking thing about the war on drugs is its spectacular failings on its own terms”.

He says the idea behind the policy was to eradicate drugs from the globe in order to create a drug-free world by 2008, with the official slogan of the 1998 UN conference on the world drug problem being: “A Drug-Free World: We Can Do It.”

“Not only did that not happen but actually things continued to get worse so drug markets were founded, prevalence increased and all the problems related to drug use and illegal drug markets increased as well,” Rolles says. “For a policy that is specifically trying to eradicate drugs from the world, it has overseen the most rapid expansion of drug use in human history.”

The policy has instead backfired, he points out, leading to the creation of an “enormous illegal market where hundreds of billions every year are controlled by violent gangsters. So we have all of this crime and violence, both on UK city streets and around the world, which is fuelled by the illegal drug trade. We don’t have those issues with legal drugs. We don’t have tobacconists gunning each other down in the streets. All the problems associated with the vast illegal drug trade are essentially a result of prohibition.”

Instead of protecting the health of the public, the war on drugs has made drugs more dangerous, Rolles maintains. “It’s not deterring youth. It’s not preventing availability of access to drugs. It’s actually making drugs more dangerous.

“All drugs are fundamentally risky but when they’re produced and supplied through an illegal market they become more risky. People don’t know how strong they are, people don’t know what’s in them, their potency can vary wildly. All of the things that that the war on drugs is supposedly achieving in terms of protecting our health or protecting us from crime, it’s actually doing the opposite.”

Good stuff. And there’s lots more in the article.

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Trump and Duterte

Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept has the story about President Trump’s phone call to Philippine President Duterte. TRUMP CALLED RODRIGO DUTERTE TO CONGRATULATE HIM ON HIS MURDEROUS DRUG WAR: “YOU ARE DOING AN AMAZING JOB”

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the beginning of their call, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

“Thank you Mr. President,” replied Duterte. “This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”

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Debate

For your enjoyment…

@ISSUE: Should we make marijuana legal?

The arguments for and against legalization are debated… by advocate Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and by opponent Kevin A. Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

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AG Sessions’ move, while despicable, isn’t the real problem

In the last post, Sessions’ Justice Department goes all-in on sentencing, we learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has mandated a revival of the discredited “tough-on-crime” charging and sentencing approaches.

And, as comforting as it is to blame Sessions, there’s a more important point.

Sessions is only able to do this because horrendous laws exist.

For us, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to complain about the actions of an administration that goes all-out in the enforcement of unjust laws, or a Supreme Court that refuses to override unjust laws. But the reality is that the best way to prevent them is to eliminate (or prevent the passing of) the laws themselves. And that, unfortunately, involves the messy self-serving chaos that is Congress.

Fortunately, we’re making progress. It used to be that any Congressperson could bolster their reelection efforts by proposing the expansion of criminal laws or adding new sentencing enhancements. We’re finally getting to the point where that’s not automatic. We need to get to the point where a representative will actually lose support by considering such a thing, and get ridiculed on the floor of Congress.

While Congress has not yet succeeded in passing significant sentencing reform (it’s always harder to remove bad laws than to pass them), the reaction to Sessions’ proclamation is heartening.

If you have not yet subscribed to Tom Angell’s excellent Marijuana Moment newsletter, you really should do so. In today’s issue, he includes a powerhouse of reactions.

A number of members of Congress criticized the new U.S. Department of Justice drug prosecution policy:
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long. Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice.”
https://www.paul.senate.gov/news/press/dr-rand-paul-releases-statement-on-attorney-generals-action-on-mandatory-minimums

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): “The Attorney General’s new sentencing policy is an ideologically motivated attempt to resurrect the failed policies of the War on Drugs. Make no mistake, low-level offenders will spend years and even decades more in prison. This will not make us safer — quite the opposite, it will strip critical public safety resources away from targeting truly violent criminals in order to house nonviolent drug offenders.”
https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/comment-of-senator-patrick-leahy-d-vt-judiciary-committee-member-and-appropriations-committee-vice-chairman-on-attorney-general-sessions-new-sentencing-policy

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): “This policy shift flies in the face of the growing bipartisan consensus that we need to reduce—not increase—the length of prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. It will send already skyrocketing prison costs even higher, undermining other important public safety priorities and separating nonviolent drug offenders from their families for years, which has a destructive effect on communities and erodes faith in our criminal justice system.”
https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-statement-on-ag-sessions-move-to-force-needlessly-harsh-prison-sentences-for-nonviolent-drug-offenses

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): “To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): “Jeff Sessions wants to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made on sentencing reform—and we must speak out against it.”

Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX): “Trump/Sessions: Let’s double down on failed strategy, add to highest incarceration rate in the world. America: Let’s end the war on drugs.”
https://twitter.com/BetoORourke/status/863040937894838272 https://twitter.com/BetoORourke/status/863041181609074688

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI): “Let’s pass criminal justice reform to put an end to this unjust, ineffective, and costly policy.”

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN): “Sessions’ memorandum is a return to the failed policies of the War on Drugs. It is bad for our communities, and utterly destructive for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. The only people who benefit from these laws are those who have a financial stake in imprisonment: the private prison industry and vendors to the public system.”
https://ellison.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-ellison-statement-on-harmful-department-of-justice-sentencing

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN): ” Harsher sentences for non-violent drug crimes cost taxpayers more money and waste limited resources that are needed to go after more dangerous, violent offenders who put the public at risk. The beneficiaries of these policies are often private prisons who profit from locking up more inmates, disproportionately affecting people of color.”
https://cohen.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/cohen-s-statement-doj-s-new-guidelines-charging-and-sentencing-criminal

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): “Will fight AG Sessions’ effort to revive failed War on Drugs. Mass incarceration has destroyed lives & devastated our minority communities.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “As President Trump distracts with outlandish threats, AG Sessions quietly brings back the harshest sentences of the failed War on Drugs.”

There may be some hope in that domed building in Washington, DC. We need to keep applying the pressure to our representatives that sentencing reform, not sentencing enhancement is what is needed to fix our broken criminal justice system.

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Sessions’ Justice Department goes all-in on sentencing

Sessions Tells Prosecutors To Seek ‘Most Serious’ Charges, Stricter Sentences

In a memo to staff, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” — a move that marks a significant reversal of Obama-era policies on low-level drug crimes. […]

Holder had asked prosecutors to avoid slapping nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carried mandatory minimum sentences — which, as NPR’s Tamara Keith explains, “give judges and prosecutors little discretion over the length of a prison term if a suspect is convicted.” Holder’s recommendation had been aimed partly at helping reduce burgeoning prison populations in the U.S. […]

Tamara notes this marks a return to the “tough-on-crime philosophy of the 1990s.”

Here’s some text from the May 10 Sessions memo

First, it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.

There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted. In that case, prosecutors should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified. Consistent with longstanding Department of Justice policy, any decision to vary from the policy must be approved by a United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, or a supervisor designated by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, and the reasons must be documented in the file. […]

Any inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is rescinded, effective today.

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Pushback on drugged driving hysteria from… MADD?

Study on drug-impaired driving gets pushback — from other safety advocates

A week after a report suggesting that drug-impaired driving is moving to the fore of concerns in traffic safety, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) jumped in Monday to express concern that the report could lead the public to believe the country has turned the corner on drunk driving. There is still much work to do, MADD officials said.

“There is no way you can say drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway,” J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at MADD, said Monday. “The data is not anywhere close to being in a way that would suggest that … We’re doing a lot of good things on drunk driving, but the public needs to understand this problem is not solved.”

MADD officials also questioned the methodology of the research in the report, noting that there is no scientifically agreed level of impairment with drugs such as marijuana. There is also no uniform test, roadside or otherwise, to determine such a level. […]

To some, the report smacked of an attempt by the makers and purveyors of booze to shift the conversation. That’s because the GHSA report was also underwritten by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, whose members include makers of alcoholic beverages such as Bacardi USA; Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s whiskey; and Constellation Brands, whose labels include Corona beer.

“I don’t know what their motives are,” Griffin said. “But I do know this: I know alcohol is a drug, and that’s something a lot of people don’t like to talk about, but it is. It impairs the mind. And I know alcohol causes many more deaths than drugs do. We can talk about an increase in drug-impaired driving. But it is not accurate in any way to say drugs have overtaken alcohol in terms of deaths on our highways.”

The days of just uncritically parroting this mindless drug war nonsense may actually be nearing an end.

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Odds and Ends

A few things I’ve found interesting recently…

Canada will legalize pot, after arresting a bunch of people for pot offences first:
Why? Our ministers can’t really explain
by Neil MacDonald

Why the government cannot simply decide to invoke prosecutorial and police discretion, and cease enforcing the cannabis laws it considers unjust, was not explained. Why that would necessarily be a “free for all” also went unexplained.

And Goodale went even further. All those Canadians who were prosecuted successfully in the past for this trifling, minor, non-violent offence will continue to bear the burden of a criminal record, even though this government says such prosecutions were wrong and is moving, albeit slowly, to strike down the law.

Goodale was explicit: there will be no blanket pardon. Again, no explanation. He was too busy administering stern warnings about continued enforcement, and, of course, “strictly regulating and restricting access” once the law is finally changed.

All of this is to satisfy conservative Canadians who, even though they probably can’t explain it, continue to believe smoking pot should be a crime.


Ashley Halsey III continues to stink up the pages of the Washington Post by unhelpfully amplifying the misleading press statements of drug warriors.

Drugged driving eclipses drunken driving in tests of motorists killed in crashes

The number of drivers who tested positive for drugs after dying in a crash rose from almost 28 percent in 2005 to 43 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

Though the dates when each state passed a law vary, that period coincided with more-permissive laws covering the use of marijuana. […]

Counterbalancing that assessment of crash risk is this stark statistic: In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 48 percent after the state legalized recreational use of the drug.

Ah yes, the ever-meaningless “marijuana-related” phrase pops up again as if it actually implied causation.

[Thanks, Tom]

This delightfully confusing mash-up from Tom Angell and the Marijuana Majority April Newsletter:

More mixed signals from the Trump administration.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to make recommendations for changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy by late July. But he also told Colorado’s governor in a meeting that the Obama-era memo that lets states implement their cannabis laws largely without federal interference is “not too far from good policy.” The Justice Department issued a memo reminding bankruptcy officials that they can’t liquidate or restructure marijuana businesses.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that marijuana is “not a factor in the drug war” but a few days later added that it is “a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.”

The Transportation Security Administration posted on its website that medical cannabis is allowed on airplanes. But after the media noticed it soon added a caveat that while its agents don’t search for marijuana, when it is found they refer the matter to law enforcement. If the local cops determine that the traveler is a legal patient, they’re then allowed to fly with their medicine.

The U.S. Postal Service refused to let an Alaska marijuana business mail its state tax payments.

And it was leaked that President Trump apparently intends to nominate Congressman Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, an ardent marijuana law reform opponent, as White House drug czar.

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420

Watch Rachael Leigh Cook Remake ‘Brain on Drugs’ Ad for 4/20 — via Rolling Stone

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Doesn’t make me feel safer

“Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges.”

Sheriff Peyton Grinnell Lake County Sheriff’s Office Community Engagement Unit message. “Community Engagement Unit” – now there’s a euphemism.

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