House Holds Hearing on Defense Department and State Department Drug War Activities, Senate Holds DEA Oversight Hearing
Hearings Come Amid Huge Domestic Drug Policy Reforms on Sentencing and Marijuana
This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the Drug War.
On Tuesday, April 29, at 10 a.m., there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled “Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships,” held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State.
Then on Wednesday, April 30, at 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration”. The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.
The hearings come against a backdrop of huge domestic change with respect to the Drug War. In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines.
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.
By Steve Elliott
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he is "cautiously optimistic" about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington state, but added it's tough to predict where legalization will be in 10 years. In the same interview, Holder, the nation's top law enforcement official, admitted he had tried pot in college.
"I think there might have been a burst of feeling that what happened in Washington and Colorado was going to be soon replicated across the country," Holder told Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post. "I'm not sure that is necessarily the case.
"I think a lot of states are going to be looking to see what happens in Washington, what happens in Colorado before those decisions are made in substantial parts of the country," he said.
The Department of Justice has allowed marijuana legalization to go forward in the two states where votes chose that course back in November 2012, and has issued guidance to federal prosecutors that is intended to open up banking services for cannabis businesses that are legal under state law.
President Obama, AG Holder, NY Gov. Cuomo, NYC Mayor DeBlasio and DPA’s Art Way to Speak at National Action Network (NAN) Convention April 9-14
Convention to Address Major Civil Rights Issues, Including the Failed Drug War and Mass Incarceration
President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio will all join Reverend Al Sharpton at his National Action Network’s annual national convention being held April 9-12 in New York, NY.
The conference is being billed as the largest civil rights convening of the year bringing the nation’s top activists, political strategists and leading academia together to create an action plan for a civil rights agenda. Participants will address key policy issues such as jobs, voter ID and immigration; which will be key in this midterm election year.
The conference is also focusing on the failed drug war and mass incarceration. A panel called “Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans” will address racial justice and the war on drugs.
"We are at a critical point where momentum to end the drug war and mass incarceration is gaining traction,” said Art Way, Senior Policy Manager, Colorado, of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “It's not time to let up, it's time to ramp up."
Despite Recent Pledge to Work with Congress, Refuses to Initiate Process to Reschedule Marijuana
Team Established to Review Nonviolent, Low-Level Drug Offender Candidates for Clemency
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday appeared before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing in which he stated that federal law does not always trump state law, declined to initiate the process to reschedule marijuana and reaffirmed his commitment to granting clemency to low-level nonviolent drug offenders with unduly harsh sentences.
Under questioning by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Missouri), who asked the Attorney General whether federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict, Holder said that while federal law is supreme in many matters, it is “an interesting question” whether the federal government can force a state to criminalize a particular behavior.
“I am hopeful that as public opinion continues to shift in favor of marijuana reform, the White House will one day have the courage to take a larger role in the push to legalization,” said Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Executive Director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "Until then, states remain the innovators, exercising their constitutionally protected police powers to lead the charge toward sensible change that at least the administration has the good sense to follow."
U.S.: Attorney General Holder Expected to Answer Questions About Federal Marijuana Policy at Tuesday HearingSubmitted by steveelliott on Mon, 04/07/2014 - 17:42
Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to answer questions about federal marijuana policy during a Tuesday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee regarding Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice. Holder will be providing testimony regarding various Obama administration enforcement policies.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), will be available for comment immediately following the hearing.
In an August 2013 memo, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that federal law enforcement organizations would refrain from interfering in the implementation of state laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical or adult use, as long as states adopt and enforce adequate regulations that address specific federal priorities.
WHAT: House Judiciary Committee hearing on Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice, at which Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to answer questions about marijuana policy during his testimony regarding Obama administration enforcement policies
WHEN: Tuesday, April 8, 10 a.m. ET
WHERE: Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building, 45 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.
WHO: House Judiciary Committee
Attorney General Eric Holder
Drug Policy Alliance: Rescheduling Is Small Step In Right Direction, But Wouldn’t Protect People From Being Arrested or Punished for Marijuana Possession
DPA Supports De-Scheduling Marijuana and Legally Regulating It
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday that the Obama Administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to reschedule marijuana.
Re-categorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's medical benefits and allow marijuana businesses to take tax deductions.
“Rescheduling would be a modest step in the right direction, but would do nothing to stop marijuana arrests or prohibition-related violence,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Now that the majority of the American public supports taxing and regulating marijuana, this debate about re-scheduling is a bit antiquated and not a real solution to the failures of marijuana prohibition.”
Holder’s comments come on the heels of guidance issued by the Department of Justice that indicated the Obama Administration will not undermine state marijuana legalization provided states are responsibly regulating marijuana businesses.
U.S.: Banks Now Allowed To Work With Marijuana Businesses; Justice Dept., Treasury Dept. Announce New GuidelinesSubmitted by steveelliott on Fri, 02/14/2014 - 23:20
Policy Changes Will Protect Public Safety, Honor the Will of the Voters, and Help Small Businesses
Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann: White House Appears to be Working in Good Faith with Colorado and Washington’s Efforts to Responsibly Regulate Marijuana
The Obama Administration on Friday afternoon announced new guidelines that will allow banks to legally provide financial services to state-licensed marijuana businesses. Twenty states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use; two of those states (Colorado and Washington) recently legalized marijuana like alcohol.
Medical marijuana advocates are applauding the new memorandum giving long-awaited guidance to financial institutions. A refusal to engage in these services has plagued medical marijuana businesses for years, dating back to the Bush Administration. Businesses in states like California, Colorado, Washington, Michigan and others have been forced to deal in large amounts of cash.
Many banks have been afraid to open checking or savings accounts for legalized marijuana businesses out of fear of breaking federal law. As a result these businesses are forced to deal with large amounts of cash, creating public safety risks for employees, bystanders, and police officers.
By Steve Elliott
Lawmakers across the United States are turning to relaxing the marijuana laws as a winning issue in 2014, and Democratic candidates appear to be intent on owning the cannabis issue this year.
On Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania all made statements supporting marijuana policy reform, reports Max Lockie at MSNBC. And in Florida, where incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott opposed a medical marijuana constitutional amendment but Democratic challenger Charlie Crist supports it, cannabis looms as a big factor in the race.
In Texas, Democratic candidate Wendy Davis came out in support of medical marijuana, as well as revealing openness to decriminalization in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "I personally believe that marijuana should be allowed for," Davis said, adding she would support reducing penalties for marijuana possession.
By Steve Elliott
Banking institutions say that while reassurances from Attorney General Eric Holder are nice, they are going to need more than a nod and a wink before providing banking services to marijuana businesses in states where recreational or medical cannabis is legal.
Atty. Gen. Holder made headlines last week when he said the Obama Administration plans to allow banks to make loans to or open accounts for marijuana businesses in states where they are legal, report Kate Davidson and Kevin Cirilli at Politico.com. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Financial firms face a complex maze of anti-money-laundering rules enforced by federal bank regulators, and violations can be very risky for banks which do business with companies which are breaking federal laws.
One major problem for bankers is that the Justice Department directive isn't binding; there have been past examples of federal prosecutors who disagree with DOJ guidance ignoring its directives. If the next administration is more conservative, all the banks catering to cannabis businesses could once again be subject to federal prosecution. If a U.S. Attorney files criminal charges against a bank, it could lose its charter and be forced to close.
All this means that the risks still outweigh the rewards for banks when it comes to accepting marijuana money.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions Cites Lady Gaga As Reason Not To Legalize
By Steve Elliott
Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Wednesday that recreational marijuana legalization doesn't mean that minors will be able to toke up.
"People cannot buy alcohol I guess now until you're age... age 21, but young people can find ways to get alcohol because adults can have access to it," Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, reports Maya Rhodan at Time. "I'm not sure that we will see the same thing here given what we have said with regard to our enforcement priorities."
The legalization of cannabis by voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012, and the rollout of implementation of the new laws, has resulted in discussion of federal marijuana policies. Cannabis remains illegal under federal law and is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, the most stringently controlled class of drugs which also includes heroin and LSD.
Holder defended the Obama Administration's policy of allowing states to go forward with marijuana legalization laws while making sure it doesn't become available to minors or move across state lines. "The distribution of marijuana to minors will... will entail a very vigorous federal response," Holder said.
Policy Changes Will Protect Public Safety, Honor the Will of the Voters, and Help Small Businesses
Drug Policy Alliance: White House Appears to be Working in Good Faith with Colorado and Washington’s efforts to Regulate Marijuana in a Responsible Way
While speaking on Thursday at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama Administration will soon announce policy guidance that would make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
Twenty states and Washington D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use; two of those states (Colorado and Washington) recently legalized marijuana like alcohol.
Many banks have been afraid to open checking or savings accounts for legalized marijuana businesses out of fear of breaking federal law. As a result, these businesses are forced to deal with large amounts of cash, creating public safety risks for employees, bystanders, and police officers.
"You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash—substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective."
Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats.
Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
Holder: “We Will Never Prosecute or Incarcerate Our Way to Becoming a Safer Nation”; 1 in 100 Americans Behind Bars Inadvisable and Unsustainable, Financially and Morally
DPA's Ethan Nadelmann: Historic Significance of Holder’s Critique Cannot Be Denied
Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday offered the Obama Administration’s most forceful critique to date of U.S. mass incarceration policies, at a meeting of the hemisphere's security ministers in Medellín, Colombia. He also emphasized the Obama Administration's efforts to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing policies.
“The path we are currently on is far from sustainable,” said Holder. “As we speak, roughly one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars.
"Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners," Holder said. "While few would dispute the fact that incarceration has a role to play in any comprehensive public safety strategy, it’s become evident that such widespread incarceration is both inadvisable and unsustainable.
"It requires that we routinely spend billions of dollars on prison construction – and tens of billions more, on an annual basis, to house those who are convicted of crimes," said the Attorney General. "It carries both human and moral costs that are too much to bear. And it results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons – and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason.”
By Steve Elliott
Firing up a joint in the U.S. capital may soon get you in less trouble than a parking ticket.
Mayor Vincent Gray and 10 of 13 members of the D.C. Council have endorsed a plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana; this means cannabis possession would be a civil offense, rather than a criminal offense, reports The Washington Post.
Under the plan, recreational marijuana users won't face arrest, charges or jail, as long as they aren't caught with more than an ounce of pot. Instead, they would have to pay a fine, possibly as low as $25. The mayor also wants criminal penalties to remain in place for those caught smoking weed in public.
A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that D.C. and many other places enforce anti-marijuana laws in a racially discriminatory manner, arresting a disproportionate number of African American suspects.
The Washington Post endorsed decrim, saying "Enforcing criminal penalties against those who aren’t involved in trafficking or selling the drug would be too harsh and a waste of government resources."