judiciary committee

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U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 58 People In Federal Prison For Drugs

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Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 58 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 61 individuals on March 30, 2016, 95 people in December of 2015, 45 people in July, 22 people in March 2015, and 8 people in December of 2014.

All of those who received commutations on Thursday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and many were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.

Five of the individuals whose sentences were commuted on Thursday were imprisoned at least in part due to at least one marijuana charge.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

"The President is using his constitutional power, but he can only do so much," said Michael Collins, deputy director at Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs. "There is legislation in the Senate that would reduce mandatory minimums and have a greater impact on the prison population, and Leader McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote."

U.S.: Obama Grants Clemency To 61 People In Prison For Drug Offenses

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Clemencies Come As Advocates Push Mitch McConnell on Sentencing Reform

Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

President Barack Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 61 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses.

This follows the commutation of 95 people in December, 2015, 45 people in July of that year, 22 people in March 2015, and 8 people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations Wednesday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and many were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.

To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.

“The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws,” President Obama wrote in a letter to the 61 individuals receiving clemency on Wednesday.

The President cautioned those receiving clemency that what they do with this unexpected opportunity reflects not only on each individual person, but also on all those still behind bars who are seeking the same shot at a new life.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

Kentucky: Press Conference To Push Senator McConnell To Schedule Criminal Justice Bill

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Over 30,000 Signatories Demand a Vote on Criminal Justice Reform

On the afternoon of March 29, Kentucky advocates, including faith leaders and students, will hold a press conference outside the Lexington office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, to demand that he bring an important criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.

The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 29 Republican and Democratic Senators currently sponsoring. The bill was passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last October, and is now awaiting a vote on the floor. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently promised to bring criminal justice reform legislation up for a vote, but Mitch McConnell has not made the same commitment.

Advocates will deliver a petition that was organized by Drug Policy Alliance, Change.org, #cut 50, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The petition was signed by over 30,000 people, and calls for McConnell to schedule a vote on the bill.

Who:
Rev. Dean W. Bucalos, Program Coordinator, Mission Behind Bars and Beyond.
Reverend D. Anthony Everett, Pastor, Wesley United Methodist Church (Lexington, KY), Commissioner At Large, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 95 People

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Clemencies Come As Congress Looks More Likely Than Ever To Pass Sentencing Reform

Drug Policy Alliance: The President Is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 95 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 45 people in July, 22 people in March, and 8 people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations on Friday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

In taking this step, the President has now issued 170 commutations, the vast majority to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

Two marijuana lifers were among those whose sentences were commuted by the President on Friday.

U.S.: Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Unanimously Passes House Judiciary Committee

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Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Returns Some Discretion to Judges, Makes Reductions Retroactive

Legislation Now Moves to the House Floor Amid Momentum to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by 30 other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.

“This vote today is a significant step toward reducing the federal prison population,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “We have a bill moving in the Senate, and now we have a companion bill moving in the House, so I’m optimistic we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk in a matter of months.”

The vote comes a few weeks after Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its sentencing reform bill by a 15-5 vote. The Senate bill includes provisions around reentry and recidivism, which the House is expected to address in a separate bill.

U.S.: House Leaders Announce Sentencing Reform Deal

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Agreement Comes on Heels of Historic Senate Deal

High Hopes that Congress will soon Pass Criminal Justice Reform

House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on Thursday announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill -- The Sentencing Reform Act -- takes a similar approach to the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions.

“This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President’s desk.”

The Senate deal, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expansion of reentry programming and early release, among other things.

Delaware: Governor Markell Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Into Law

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Delaware becomes 20th state in the nation to remove the threat of jail for simple marijuana possession

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill into law Thursday night that will remove criminal penalties and potential jail time for adult possession of a small amount of marijuana. The Delaware Senate approved the bill 12-9 earlier in the evening. The new law will take effect in six months.

HB 39, introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South) in the House and sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chair Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) in the Senate, will replace criminal penalties for adult marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of a $575 fine and three months in jail.

Delaware is the 20th state to decriminalize marijuana possession or make it legal for adults. Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws removing the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession, four of which also regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. The Illinois General Assembly approved a similar measure in May, which is now awaiting action from the governor.

New Hampshire: Senate Blocks Widely Supported Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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Despite overwhelming approval in the House — and a poll released last week that found 63% of New Hampshire voters support such legislation — the Senate tabled HB 618 on Thursday evening

The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday evening blocked a widely supported bill that would have removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

After Senators voted 9-15 to overturn the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that the bill be killed, Sens. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) and David Pierce (D-Etna) proposed a compromise floor amendment to HB 618. Four senators argued strongly against the bill and the amendment: David Boutin (R-Hooksett), Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Gary Daniels (R-Milford), and Jeannie Forrester (R-Meredith).

Senators were unable to agree on the language and the bill was tabled.

HB 618, which the House approved 297-67 in March, would have made possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. Under current state law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

Louisiana: Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Bill Reforming Marijuana Possession Law

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Measure Would Allow Second Chance for First-Time Offenders and Save Millions of Dollars

Bill Heads to Full Senate

Lawmakers in Louisiana on Wednesday took a major step forward when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to reform the state’s harsh marijuana possession law. If passed, Louisiana would join the growing number of states that have recently reduced penalties for small amounts of marijuana.

“This is a long-sought opportunity to take a more compassionate and commonsense approach to marijuana,” said Yolande Cadore, director of strategic partnerships at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Louisiana's overdue for a major overhaul of its drug policies and this is a good first step."

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world – and Louisiana has the highest rate in the U.S. Louisiana’s incarceration rate has doubled in the last 20 years and is nearly five times higher than Iran's, 13 times higher than China's and 20 times higher than Germany's.

One of the key drivers of Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate is the War On Drugs – 18,000 Louisiana residents are arrested for drug law violations each year.

New Hampshire: Former Narcotics Officer To Testify In Support Of Marijuana Decrim Bill

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A former narcotics officer will testify at a New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday in support of a bill to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

At 9 a.m. ET, immediately prior to the hearing, Maj. Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), will join Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project at a news conference in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9: 40 a.m. ET in Room 100 of the State House.

HB 618, sponsored by Rep. Schroadter and a bipartisan group of seven co-sponsors, would make possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and up to $500 for third and subsequent offenses. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

The House of Representatives approved the measure 297-67 on March 11.

“New Hampshire is the only state in New England that still doles out criminal records and jail time for simple marijuana possession,” said Simon, a Goffstown resident and New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “People’s lives should not be turned upside down just for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.

Kentucky: Medical Marijuana Doubtful In Legislature Despite Popular Support

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says he plans to file a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session to allow medical marijuana in the Bluegrass State, but he says its chances are slim.

Outright opposition to medicinal cannabis among lawmakers has softened, reports Gregory A. Hall at The Courier-Journal, but many lawmakers just haven't yet discovered the courage to vote for it.

"I think it's going to get some play this session; I don't know how much," said Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).

The steady progress of medical marijuana legislation in other states is seen as increasing the likelihood for positive change in Kentucky. State residents expressed support for medical marijuana in Bluegrass Polls for the past two years.

Last session, timid lawmakers passed a no-risk "CBD-only" law that allows non-psychoactive cannabidiol oil to be used to control seizures. Two bills to allow broader medical marijuana use died, including one in the House that made it out of the Health and Welfare Committee before dying in the Judiciary Committee.

U.S.: Obama Plans Clemency For 'Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands' Sentenced for Drug Law Violations

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Follows on Footsteps of White House’s Recent Call For Clemency Candidates

Drug Policy Alliance: Positive Step, But Comprehensive Sentencing Reform Is Needed to Prevent More Mass Injustice

A White House official has told Yahoo News that President Obama is prepared to use his pardon power to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been jailed for nonviolent drug crimes.

The report said that the administration is making moves that will help it handle the increase in petitions that Mr. Obama is planning to sign off on before he leaves office. Last Tuesday, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

The White House’s new moves would follow in the footsteps of a January announcement that the Obama administration would taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases.

Michigan: Medical Marijuana Advocates Concerned About Saliva Testing For Drugged Driving

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Medical marijuana advocates are fighting proposed changes to Michigan's driving laws that would allow police to check a driver's saliva for the presence of drugs during a traffic stop.

The Michigan House Judiciary Committee on Thursday heard testimony on a three-bill package of legislation concerning "drugged driving" and make driving under the influence of a controlled substance subject to the same testing as drunk driving, reports Brian Smith at MLive.com.

Michigan law already allows for blood, breath and urine testing for driving impairment. House Bill 53895 would add saliva testing through a mouth swab. The Los Angeles Police Department are already using saliva tests at DUI checkpoints in a pilot program.

The changes would "put a new tool in our toolbox" for dealing with impaired driving, Sgt. Dwayne Gill, legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police, told the House panel. Sgt. Gill claimed the cops wouldn't immediately use the tests until the science behind them was proven.

"It's forward-thinking," Gill claimed. "These tests have not been proven to be reliable in Michigan yet, but we are looking to have pilot testing in the future on some of these tests."

But medical marijuana advocates told legislators they are worried about saliva testing because of questions surrounding the accuracy of the tests.

Connecticut: New Report Shows Failure of Drug Sentencing Enhancement Zones

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Current 1,500-Foot Zone Blankets Almost All Urban Areas

CT Senate Bill That Would Reduce Enhancement Zones from 1,500 to 200 Feet Passes Judiciary Committee

The Prison Policy Initiative on Thursday released a report, “Reaching too far: How Connecticut’s large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark”, that analyzes Connecticut’s failed 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones. Connecticut’s law, meant to protect children from drug activity, requires an additional sentence for certain drug offenses committed within 1,500 feet of schools, day care centers, and public housing projects.

The resulting sentencing enhancement zones are some of the largest in the country.

“The law’s sheer expanse means it fails to actually set apart any meaningfully protected areas and it arbitrarily increases penalties for urban residents,” explains report author Aleks Kajstura, legal director at the Prison Policy Initiative, a national, non-profit, nonpartisan research and policy organization, with a focus on how geography impacts criminal justice policy.

The report mapped eight of the zones in the state’s cities and towns and demonstrates that the law doesn’t work, and in fact cannot possibly work as written.

U.S.: Wednesday Senate Hearing to Highlight Opposition to Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

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Hearing Builds on Bipartisan Patrick Leahy/ Rand Paul Legislation and Attorney General Holder’s Recent Call for Federal Sentencing Reform

As Opposition to Mass Incarceration Builds, Mandatory Minimums Face Increased Scrutiny From Across Political Spectrum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear testimony from four conservative witnesses who have concerns with the continued use of mandatory minimum sentencing, a costly and counterproductive cookie-cutter approach that binds a judge’s ability to apply a meaningful sentence that will address the offense and provide for public safety.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to the overcrowding crisis in the Bureau of Prisons and drastic racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The BOP operates at nearly 140 percent of capacity -- one-fourth of the Justice Department’s budget.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. In his remarks, Attorney General Holder encouraged a partnership between the legislative and executive branches to work to solve the issue.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population -– but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population -– the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.

New Jersey: Senate Panel Backs Bill To Make Medical Marijuana Available To Kids

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A New Jersey Senate panel on Thursday approved a measure which would make it easier for children to access medical marijuana.

The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would eliminate requiring written confirmation from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist in order for juveniles to use medicinal cannabis with a physician's authorization, reports CBS New York.

The same bill also calls for medical marijuana to be produced in edible form, and allows for more different strains to be made available in the state.

The father of a two-year-old girl who has severe epilepsy testified about being unable to get certification from a psychiatrist for his child to participate in the medical marijuana program.

The director of the American Academy of Pediatrics in New Jersey claimed that eliminating the requirement for a pediatrician's approval is "dangerous" because only pediatricians can assess how medicine affects children. Since marijuana is essentially non-toxic, that sounds a bit like "job protection" to us.

(Photo: Herbal Mission)

Vermont: Attorney General Says Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Should Include Plants

There is a truth that must be heard!By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A marijuana decriminalization bill is making its way through the Vermont House, and Attorney General Bill Sorrell wants it changed -- he wants it to also allow Vermonters to grow their own.

Sorrell said that if the state doesn't allow people to grow one or two plants, it will force them to buy marijuana illegally, reports Kirk Carapezza at Vermont Public Radio.

"I see the concern about a commercial grow operation trying to say it's all for personal consumption," Sorrell said. "But I don't think you want to foster somebody having to buy marijuana behind a bar in downtown Burlington or Montpelier or wherever."

The bill in the House would decriminalize up to two ounces of marijuana; Sorrell supports decriminalizing 1.25 ounces (about 35 grams).

Meanwhile, Public Safety Commissioner Kevin Flynn claims he's worried that allowing people to grow even small amounts of cannabis would make marijuana "more accessible."

"It's clearly just reclassifying the offense from a crime to a civil infraction," Flynn said. "I think it might be kind of naive to think that people are only going to grow one ounce and then immediately destroy the rest." (Hey, Commissioner Flynn, have you considered that might not end civilization, even if it happens?)

Hawaii: House Judiciary Committee Approves Marijuana Decrim Bill

Photo: Care2By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana continues to advance through the Hawaii House of Representatives.

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the bill, SB 472 SD1 HD1 over predictable objections from law enforcement officials who claimed the proposal would "undermine their work," reports Anita Hofschneider of The Associated Press.

The Senate version of SB 472 SD 1 decriminalized up to one ounce of cannabis. It passed on the floor of the Hawaii Senate last week by a unanimous 25-0 vote. At that point, it already had been amended from the bill's original form, with higher fines (raised from $100 to $1,000) intended to make the bill "more acceptable" to the House, reports Thomas H. Clarke at The Daily Chronic.

The House version of the bill, approved by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, lowered the fine back to $100, similar to fines in other decriminalized states. But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kari Rhoads amended the measure to decrease the amount to seven-tenths of one ounce, or 20 grams.

Rhoads also added language making clear that marijuana possession by minors is still criminal, and emphasizing the supposed "negative effects" of pot on young people.

Arizona: House Panel Says Cops Can Destroy Marijuana, Even If Patients Had Right To Possess It

Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media ServicesBy Steve Elliott
Hemp News

An Arizona House panel voted on Tuesday to let police destroy marijuana they have seized, even if it was seized from legal medical marijuana patients who had a right to possess it.

The panel ignored the pleas of Arizona's former top federal prosecutor, who told members of the Judiciary Committee that SB 1441 -- supposedly meant to "tighten up" the state's medical marijuana law -- is an improer end-run around the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, approved by voters in 2010, reports Howard Fischer at Capitol Media Services.

McDonald said he is more than an idle bystander to the medical marijuana debate. He told lawmakers of the seizures endured by his stepson, Bennett Black, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 1997 accident and had to have part of his brain removed. McDonald said both the seizures and the pills which were supposed to control them made Bennett sick and nauseous.

It was only when McDonald's wife, Cindy, began to get marijuana for their son -- illegally, until the state's medical marijuana law was passed -- that he actually was able to eat and reverse the weight loss which had seen him shrink from 180 pounds to just 118.

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