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U.S.: President Obama Commutes Sentences of 42 More Individuals For Drugs

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Drug Policy Alliance: President Must Do More Before His Term Ends and Congress Needs to Act Now

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 42 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 58 people in May 2016 and 61 individuals on March 30, 2016. To date, Obama has granted clemency to 348 individuals.

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.

"It’s great to see the President step up the number of commutations he grants, but he should do so many more before his term ends," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The greatest relief for people behind bars will happen when Congress passes legislation.

"Right now there is legislation in the House and Senate to reduce mandatory minimums that would a significant impact on the prison population," Collins said. "Senator Mitch McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote now."

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.: Town Hall With Dr. Angela Davis Will Look At Ending America's Obsession With Prisons

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Live Interview with Drug Policy Alliance’s asha bandele

Opportunity for Public to Listen In & Ask Questions: RSVP Required

Dr. Angela Davis, political activist and Distinguished Professor Emerita from the University of California, Santa Cruz, will join the Drug Policy Alliance’s asha bandele on Monday, April 11 from 4–5pm EST, for a discussion about America’s obsession with punishment and prisons and how to heal from the policies that have destroyed families and communities after nearly 50 years of the Drug War.

As Democracy Now describes Angela Davis: "For more than four decades, the world-renowned author, activist and scholar has been one of most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States. An icon of the 1970s black liberation movement, Davis’ work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements across several generations. She is a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a fugitive on the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted list more than 40 years ago."

Angela Davis’s talk is the seventh in a series of quarterly telephone town halls sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance. The conversations seek to bring some of the most learned and influential people working in the field of drug policy before the general public so that together we can create an ever-more informed and shared understanding about drugs and society.

New York: Victims of Drug War Protest Wells Fargo For Profiteering Off Racist Policies

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Ahead of major United Nations meeting on global drug policy, weekly protests call for drug war policies to be replaced by a public health and human rights approach to drug use

WHAT: Protest Wells Fargo Bank for being a major investor in Private Prisons Behemoth Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
WHEN: This Friday, April 1st at 11 a.m.
WHERE: Wells Fargo at 150 E 42nd St.

Details: People with a history of drug use, the formerly incarcerated and people living with AIDS, all identifying as “victims of the Drug War,” will protest Wells Fargo for investing in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States. CCA has been criticized for its poor treatment of prisoners, lobbying efforts to limit oversight and regulation of private prisons, cooperation with law enforcement in school drug sweeps and more.

Protestors will attempt to block traffic with a banner reading "Wells Fargo: Just Say No to Private Prisons"

The Wells Fargo protest is the third in a series of actions leading up to the April 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), the biggest global drug policy meeting in over a decade and a crucial moment for confronting the disastrous global war on drugs. For more on UNGASS and international movement for reform, visit www.StopTheHarm.org.

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.: Officials Ask Court To Reconsider Life Sentence of Silk Road Website Operator

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Retired Federal Judge, Law Enforcement, and Leading Drug Reform Organization Ask Court to Reconsider Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht’s Harsh Prison Sentence

Ulbricht Given Life Without Parole Sentence but Silk Road Copycat Sites Keep Emerging

The Drug Policy Alliance on Wednesday filed an amicus brief urging the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to reduce the harsh life without parole sentence imposed on Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the Silk Road website.

“We have learned from 40 plus years of the failed war on drugs that incarceration does not prevent drug use or sales,” said Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge and senior lecturer at Harvard Law. “Even if it did, there is absolutely no evidence that a life sentence, including life without parole, is any more effective at deterring crime than a shorter sentence would be.”

The brief was filed on behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), JustLeadershipUSA, and Judge Gertner (Ret.). It highlights the growing bipartisan consensus that life sentences do not make sense for drug convictions; that such sentences are disproportionate to what most people receive for drug trafficking offenses; and, given the failure of the War On Drugs, harsh sentences do nothing to deter others from committing similar crimes or to reduce drug sales or use.

Georgia: 46 Correctional Officers Charged For Drug Trafficking

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The FBI arrested 46 current and former corrections officers in an early Thursday sting at nine prisons around Georgia as a result of a two-year undercover operation.

The indictments showed "staggering corruption within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions," said John Horn, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, report Pamela Brown and MaryLynn Ryan at CNN.

Among the arrestees were five members of a super-elite squad intended to bust up drug dealing in prison -- who were, you guessed it, dealing drugs in prison -- called the Cobra unit. Two civilians and one inmate were also rounded up in the bust.

Officers were charged with using their badges to facilitate drug deals both inside and outside the prison walls. The trafficking included multiple kilos of cocaine and methamphetamine in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribe money.

Prison guards and staff were smuggling contraband including liquor, tobacco and cell phones into the cell blocks for money. Inmates used the illegal cell phones they acquired to commit wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

"It makes a huge challenge for law enforcement," said Britt Johnson, special agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI office. "After you chase down, arrest and prosecute criminals and put them away for life, and they continue to direct crime on the streets from their jail cells."

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.

Texas: Former Corrections Officer To Join Marijuana Policy Reformers For Advocacy Training Event

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Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy is mobilizing activists throughout Texas in an effort to inject marijuana policy debate into 2016 state legislative races

Local marijuana policy reform activists, including a former Texas corrections officer, will gather Saturday for an advocacy training event at the Janet F. Harte Library in Corpus Christi.

The event, hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, is the third in a series of events being held around the state as part of an effort to inject the marijuana policy debate into 2016 state legislative races. Regional events are also scheduled for East Texas on December 5 and Houston on December 12. Last month, activists held trainings in Dallas and San Antonio.

The featured speaker at Saturday’s event will be Michael Gilbert, Ph.D., a University of Texas San Antonio criminal justice professor and former Texas corrections officer. He will join representatives of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy for media availability at 12:00 p.m. CT, and members of the media are invited to listen to his presentation at 1:15 p.m. CT.

“During nearly 16 years working as a corrections professional with military and state corrections, it became clear to me that marijuana prohibition is causing more harm than good," Dr. Gilbert said. "These laws have been counterproductive and fail to meet any of their policy objectives.

U.S.: Criminal Justice Bill Reducing Mandatory Minimums Clears Senate Judiciary Committee

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Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Increases Early Release and Returns Some Discretion to Judges

Legislation Heads for the Senate Floor Amid Public Demands to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15 to 5 to advance the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and sponsored by 10 other Senators, 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), expand reentry programming and early release, and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.

“This vote today is a huge step toward ending the failed policies of the war on drugs,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “To see Republicans and Democrats join hands to pass this bill gives me great hope we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk very soon.”

The vote comes the day after an esteemed group of 130 law enforcement leaders called on Congress to reduce incarceration. The group will meet with President Obama on Thursday at the White House. The President also began a criminal justice tour on Wednesday, visiting West Virginia and highlighting alternatives to arrest and incarceration.

U.S.: New Drug Sentencing Guidelines Mean 6,000 Will Be Released From Prison Next Month

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Move Will Right Some Wrongs of Extreme Drug Sentencing Laws

Starting November 1, 6,000 federal prisoners are set to be released from federal prison, a move that is the result of changes made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year that lowered federal sentencing guidelines for people convicted under draconian Drug War-era laws.

“It warms my heart to hear that 6,000 people will be coming home,” said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), who spent 12 years behind bars on a mandatory minimum drug sentence. “The drug war has devastated families and communities and it is time for the healing to begin.”

This development reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama Aadministration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws. More prisoners are expected to be released under the Sentencing Commission guidelines.

The Commission estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for a slightly earlier release.

Over the past year, federal judges have been reviewing cases with prosecutors. Prisoners who were deemed a threat to public safety were denied re-sentencing.

U.S.: FBI Reports Marijuana Arrests Increased In 2014; First Increase Since 2009

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The annual number of arrests for marijuana offenses in the U.S. increased last year for the first time since 2009, according to the Uniform Crime Report released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

There were 700,993 marijuana arrests in the U.S. in 2014, according to a new report from the FBI. That's one every 45 seconds.

Marijuana arrests comprised 44.9 percent of all drug arrests, and drug crimes are the largest category of offenses people were arrested for, according to the FBI. Fully 88.4 percent of marijuana arrests were for possession alone.

In comparison, there were 693,482 marijuana arrests in the U.S. in 2013. Data on marijuana arrests for years prior to 2013 is at http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Marijuana#Total.

"It's unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon.

"There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved," Angell said.

Massachusetts: State Legislators Among The First To Sign Marijuana Legalization Petition

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Masssachusetts state Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), along with Reps. Jay Livingstone (D-Boston) and David Rogers (D-Cambridge), and Regina Hufnagel, a former federal corrections officer, on Tuesday morning signed a petition to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts.

The signatures were added at a news conference held by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts in front of the State House to kick off the signature drive in support of a ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

The campaign must collect the signatures of 64,750 registered Massachusetts voters to place the measure in front of the Massachusetts Legislature. If the Legislature does not adopt the measure, initiative backers must collect 10,792 signatures in June 2016 to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is supporting a 2016 statewide ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts. For more information, visit http://www.RegulateMassachusetts.com.

U.S.: Controlled By Prison Lobby? Hillary Clinton Unlikely To End War On Drugs

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More and more Americans have come to realize that the War On Drugs is a colossal failure -- but presidential contender Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to be one of those. Hillary seems unlikely to end that futile war and the mass incarceration which results from it, due to her ties to the prison lobby.

The pattern of mass incarceration triggered by the Drug War has resulted in the arrests of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, and has unfairly targeted the economically disadvantaged and people of color, reports Romain Bonilla at Marijuana Politics.

Clinton has stayed mostly silent on the failures of current drug policies during her presidential campaign. She has historically been opposed to marijuana decrim, and despite voters confronting her on multiple occasions, has failed to clarify her current stance on cannabis policy.

The the 1990s, Hillary favored harshly punitive sentences to deter people from violating drug laws, including "Three Strikes" measures which proved both disastrous and unconstitutional.

U.S.: At Least 67 People Are Serving Life Sentences For Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

At least 67 people are serving life sentences in prison right now for marijuana in the United States.

The plight of marijuana lifers has received new attention since the release last week of Jeff Mizanskey, who had been one of them, reports Tony Dokoupil at MSNBC.

"Man, I feel great," Mizanskey, now a great-grandfather after serving more than 20 years in prison, said as he looked at his first weekend as a free man in two decades. His sentence was commuted in May from life without parole to simple life, and last week he walked out of a maximum security prison in Missouri.

Mizanskey was sentenced in 1996 for trying to distribute six pounds of Mexican weed. There was no violence involved, but he had two previous convictions for the possession and sale of marijuana totaling 10 ounces.

That meant, under Missouri law at the time, that he was a "persistent" drug offender, subject to any punishment short of the death penalty. That law is no longer in effect, but similar policies continue to fill American prisons.

More than 20 states have now legalized cannabis for one purpose or another, and with $22 billion in legal sales expected by 2020, marijuana is becoming another consumer product. But these new laws don't help people with past marijuana convictions, including some with sentences harsher than those for rape or murder.

Louisiana: Governor Denies Clemency To Man Serving 13 Years For 2 Joints

BeNobleFreeNoble[StopTheDrugWar.org]

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently denied a clemency request from Bernard Noble, a man serving 13 years for possessing two joints.

The reason behind the denial was the Noble had not yet served 10 years in prison, reports Phillip Smith at AlterNet.

Noble's sentence is a prime example of the harsh nature of the marijuana laws in many parts of the country, according to Tony Papa at AlterNet.

"As someone who was sentenced to life in prison for a first time non-violent drug crime I know how important second chances are," Papa said. "In 1997 after serving 12 years I was granted executive clemency by New York Governor George Pataki."

"But in the case of Bernard Noble it seems that Louisiana's Governor Jindal has chosen not to show the compassion that our President has shown and instead ignores the injustice of Noble's case while he rots away in prison for 13 years for the possession of two joints," Papa said.

Under Louisiana law, possession of up to 60 pounds of marijuana is punishable by six months in jail on a first offense, up to five years in prison for a second offense, and up to 20 years in prison for a third offense. Third-time offenders are not eligible for probation.

U.S.: Slammerbooks Creates Opportunity For Prisoners, Promotes Drug War Reform

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What do you get when you mix a medical marijuana activist, now a federal prisoner of the War On Marijuana, together with a federal white collar prisoner who was once a narcotics officer and a medical marijuana activist outside of prison together into a creative stew and simmer for 18 months? How about slammerbooks.com, an enterprise that creates genuine opportunity for thousands of current and former prisoners, and promotes justice, drug war and prison reform!

"Slammerbooks.com was created to show that prisoners can be a force for positive change in the law, justice and in the way offenders are rehabilitated," reads a Thursday press release. "Slammerbooks.com achieves this goal through showcasing the literary talent of prisoners."

Slammerbooks.com is the brainchild of Dustin Costa, a former Marine, union organizer and president, and medical marijuana/cannabis reform activist and Jack Straw, a white collar prisoner and former head of a major drug task force in the Midwest. They took their vision to Joe Grumbine, creator of the The Human Solution, a medical marijuana court support non-profit. Grumbine has now turned their vision into a reality with the creation of slammerbooks.com

Slammerbooks.com launched on April 18 with a half-dozen books by prisoners now being developed for publishing. Since launching, Slammerbooks.com has already received nearly a hundred inquiries from prisoners seeking to have their books published. "As more prisoners learn about us, that number will grow into the thousands," the company's press release predicts.

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