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Aides expect President Barack Obama, sometime in the coming weeks, to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up for nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, the President will likely commute more sentences at one time than has been done in half a century, since the days of LBJ.
Flexing his clemency power is part of a bigger effort by the President to correct what he sees as the excesses of the “tough on crime” crowd, where politicians threw away the key even for minor criminals, reports Peter Baker at The New York times. With many Democrats and even Republicans now admitting the nation went too far, Obama holds the power to make a difference, especially for many young minority males who are disproportionately affected by biased enforcement of the drug laws.
The total number of sentence commutations by Obama may surpass 80 in the coming weeks, but more than 30,000 federal inmates have come forward after his administration’s call for clemency applications. A slow-as-molasses review process has advanced only a few of those, and just a tiny fraction have reached the President’s desk for a signature.
“I think they honestly want to address some of the people who have been over-sentenced in the last 30 years,” said Julie Stewart, founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “I’m not sure they envisioned that it would be as complicated as it is, but it has become more complicated, whether it needs to be or not, and that’s what has bogged down the process.”
Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Thursday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, a bill that would allow banks to provide depository and other financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses.
Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many cannabis businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.
“One of the motivations for legalizing marijuana is to eliminate the black market and put marijuana in the hands of a legitimate regulated market,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Whether you are for or against legalization, you have to recognize that having marijuana businesses handling huge amounts of cash with nowhere to deposit the money is a public safety concern that Congress has to tackle.”
“In addition to the obvious public safety concerns cited by federal, state and local law enforcement officials, forcing these businesses to deal exclusively in cash makes it difficult for states to collect taxes, monitor transactions and enforce regulations supported by voters,” said Dan Riffle, federal policy director at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Allowing these businesses to access basic banking services is a critical step toward letting states regulate marijuana as they see fit without federal interference, a position virtually every serious contender for the 2016 presidential nomination has taken.”
Dreams of a new era of federal tolerance of cannabis cultivation on Native American tribal lands took a big hit Wednesday as law enforcement officers from at least four agencies raided land occupied by two tribes in California, seizing at least 12,000 plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.
“Other than contraband marijuana and items of evidentiary value, no tribal property was seized and no federal charges are pending,” claimed U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of the Eastern District of California, which includes Modoc County, where the raids occurred, reports Denny Walsh at The Sacramento Bee.
Warrants signed on Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney gave federal agents the authority to search “two large-scale marijuana cultivation facilities located on federally recognized tribal lands at the Alturas Indian Rancheria and the XL Ranch in Modoc County.” The county is in the northeast corner of California, with Oregon directly to the north and Nevada directly to the east.
An application signed by an agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs claims that the chairman and vice-chairman of the Alturas Rancheria, a tribe with just five members and 20 acres of land, told the Modoc County Sheriff back in March that they planned to start growing marijuana near a casino the tribe operates, reports the Associated Press. The federal Department of Justice had announced in December that Native American tribes may grow and sell cannabis if they follow the same public safety and non-diversion policies required of states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.
Republican Congressmen H. Morgan Griffith (VA-09) and Andy Harris, M.D., (MD-01), and Democratic Congressmen Sam Farr (CA-20) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) on Wednesday introduced the “Credible Research on Medical Efficacy of Marijuana Amendment” to the 21st Century Cures Act, or H.R. 6, which is currently scheduled to be considered on the House floor this week.
The amendment focuses on removing barriers that inhibit research on marijuana. This amendment encourages the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to initiate and collaborate on research about the medical risks and benefits of marijuana.
This does not change marijuana from a Schedule I drug, but does create a new subclassification within Schedule I – “Schedule 1R” for marijuana that would make research easier to conduct.
“There has been little research into potential therapeutic benefits and risks of medical marijuana use,” said Congressman Griffith. “In many cases, research into specific relief it provides, how it can best be used, etc. has been obstructed by federal obstacles.”
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Sheriff John Urquhart must have envisioned quite a different news conference than the one which actually happened Wednesday morning, when they announced the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in King County.
The medicinal cannabis dispensaries, which in some cases after years of smooth operation have now been suddenly defined as “unlicensed” in a money grab by I-502 recreational marijuana store operator, represent the only safe and affordable access to cannabinoid medicines for many limited mobility and low income patients in King County.
The dispensaries have to shut down in 30 days, if they don’t have a license — oh, and did we mention that there aren’t any licenses available?
Satterberg and Urquhart — who maybe expected to be hailed as heroes at their news conference — were joined by Russ Hauge of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), at the Sheriff’s Office White Center Storefront. But that’s not what happened, reports Gwen Davis at the West Seattle Herald.
They were greeted by a vocally hostile crowd of about 30, with hecklers screaming at the prosecuting attorney and the sheriff as they were trying to give their prepared speeches, which were rendered mostly inaudible.
“You are horrible people!” one woman yelled at Satterberg.
Texas has a law allowing law enforcement to write a ticket rather than taking someone to jail for less than two ounces of marijuana, and it’s been on the books since 2007 — but most cops statewide aren’t using it.
That’s where Yvette Gbalazeh, a graduate of the University of Houston, comes in. Gbalazeh spends her days educating people about the law, reports Shaun Rabb at Fox 4 News.
“Over the past week, I’ve spoken to 13 out of the 26 chiefs of police for all the cities in [Dallas] County,” Gbalazeh said.
Balch Springs, Texas police are now trying the cite and release option.
“You make an arrest on it, then you have to process the marijuana, you have to put it into evidence or into the property room,” said Lt. Mark Maret with the Balch Springs Police Department. “Plus you go back and you have to file the paperwork, your arrest report for our police department, but then you also have to file all the paperwork to file charges though Dallas County.”
Chile has made a move towards decriminalizing marijuana after the lower house of congress approved — by a wide 68-39 margin — a bill that would change the cannabis laws in this South American country.
Observers believe Chile, while not quite ready to follow neighboring Uruguay’s lead on full legalization, may be ready to decriminalize personal use and cultivation of cannabis, reports Reuters.
The lower house of congress on Tuesday, to loud cheers from the public galley, voted to push forward with marijuana law reform. The bill would allow possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis, and the growing of up to six plants.
Current marijuana penalties in Chile can get up you to 15 years in prison, reports the BBC.
A health committee will now study the bill before the lower house again votes on each of its specific elements. It will then go to the Senate.
Toke Signals Must Read of the Week
Legendary psychedelic rockers The Grateful Dead, never prone to do anything half-heartedly, went out in style this weekend with a series of three 50th Anniversary Fare Thee Well shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Drummer Bill Kreutzmann didn’t disappoint at Sunday’s final performance, sporting a pro-hemp message on his t-shirt, which pictured Uncle Sam with the words “I Want You To Grow Hemp.”
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