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Leading U.S. Prosecutors Visit Portugal To Learn About Drug Decriminalization

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Twenty prosecutors from major cities across the U.S. are touring Portugal this month to learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law. They will also spend time in Germany observing how criminal justice reform in general can combat mass incarceration.

In Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalized in 2001, the prosecutors will observe the impacts of that nationwide policy, which according to research has reduced incarceration rates and improved public health by treating drug possession as a public health issue.

The European visit will involve tours of courts, prisons, treatment facilities and health and community service providers. The officials will also meet law enforcement officials, public health experts and international criminal justice experts. The hope is that the two-week educational trip will enable prosecutors to bring fresh ideas to the U.S. criminal justice system, which has historically taken a harsh and punitive approach to nonviolent drug offenses.

“Elected prosecutors around the country are grappling with how to redefine justice and shrink the footprint of the justice system, while making communities safer and healthier,” Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the advocacy group Fair and Justice Prosecution, which is organizing and funding the trip, said in a press release. “They are shifting away from punitive criminal justice responses to substance use and mental illness and embracing smart and proven public health solutions.”

Even before the visit, several prosecutors who will be attending have taken steps on their own to reform the criminal justice process in their respective jurisdictions.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, for example, said in a yet-to-be-released HBO documentary that he is seriously considering enacting a policy wherein people facing drug possession charges would be diverted to treatment instead of facing jail time and criminal records.

“We are talking about people who are using drugs,” he said. “The vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that.” Krassner has already instituted a policy of declining to prosecute marijuana possession cases.

Following a policy change that discouraged prosecution of low-level cannabis cases, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced last year that there were 91 percent fewer prosecutions for such offenses over the prior year.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, who is also going on the trip, enacted a decriminalization policy for possession of cannabis under 100 grams in January.

In January, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, another attendee, said her office would not pursue marijuana possession cases, citing historic racial disparities in the criminalization of drugs.

The focus of the meetings in Germany and Portugal will go beyond examining the benefits of simple cannabis decriminalization, however. The prosecutors will learn about diversion programs and court proceedings, talk to officials about Germany’s rates and lengths of incarceration for various crimes, visit open and closed prisons that are known to treat inmates humanely and hold talks with drug policy leaders in Portugal to discuss the impact of the country’s decriminalization policy.

Also in Portugal, the prosecutors will observe harm reduction programs meant to curb overdose deaths and get people suffering from addiction into treatment. That will involve tours of integrated treatment centers, methadone vans and mobile safe consumption sites.

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who is on the trip and also recently signed on to a letter with 37 other state and territory attorneys general endorsing federal cannabis banking legislation, said in a press release that “prosecutors are uniquely positioned to be able to take lessons learned from other countries’ approaches to incarceration and criminalization back to their communities.”

“The enormous power of prosecutors to exercise their discretion in ways that ensure outcomes that enhance public safety and reduce recidivism is unparalleled in the criminal justice system,” he said. “My colleagues and I look forward to learning from countries that have successfully reduced mass incarceration, reintegrated previously incarcerated individuals back into society, and treated drug users and individuals struggling with mental illness with health services and supports that have a high degree of success.”

Top Congressional Democrats Announce Bill To Federally Deschedule Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

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Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party

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In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.

But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.

That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”

Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.

That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.

Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.

A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.

Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.

Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:

AMASH_038_xml by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Former GOP Congressman Explains Why Broad Marijuana Reform Is Achievable In 2020

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Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.

Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.

In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”

However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”

The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.

The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.

“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.

While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.

Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.

On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.

Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

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