Biden Commutes 31 Drug Sentences, MN Senate Approves Legal MJ, More… (4/1/23)
Rerolled: May 1, 2023 | #STDW
Three Colorado Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a safe injection site bill, a Texas bill to impose harsher penalties on fentanyl dealers has passed both chambers, and more.
Minnesota Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate last Friday narrowly approved its version of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate File 73. The vote was 34-33, with all Republicans voting against the bill. The House passed a slightly different version of the bill earlier last week. Now, the two chambers will attempt to negotiate their way to a merged bill they can send to DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who has strongly signaled he will sign it.
Colorado Safe Injection Site Bill Blocked. A bill that would have allowed municipalities to approve safe injection sites in their communities, House Bill 1202, has failed in the Senate after being approved in the House. The Democrat-sponsored bill easily passed the House 43-21, but was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last Wednesday on a 6-3 vote. Three of those "no" votes came from Democrats on the committee who raised concerns about "enabling" drug use and the lack of statewide rules and regulations in the bill.
"In spite of today's vote, overdose prevention centers remain the public health gold standard for addressing the crisis of overdose deaths faced by too many Colorado families," said the Colorado Drug Policy Coalition. "We are proud of the leadership from our many members in the House and our sponsors in the Senate who were able to put good policy backed by decades of research ahead of the politics of inaction."
Pardons and Commutations
Biden Commutes Sentences of 31 Drug Offenders. The White House announced last Friday that President Biden has commuted the sentences of 31 people convicted of federal drug offenses. All 31 were serving time in home confinement and would have received shorter sentences if they were charged today with the same offense because the laws have been changed since they were sentenced.
The commutations come as the White House laid out a set of policy actions involving 20 different federal agencies aimed at improving the criminal justice system, which has disproportionate impacts on Blacks and other minority communities. Biden has commuted the sentences of 75 other people so far. He also pardoned thousands who were convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law, and others who have long since served out their sentences.
Texas House Approves Bill to Increase Penalties for Dealing Fentanyl. The House last Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill to increase criminal penalties for people who distribute fentanyl, House Bill 6. The bill would do so by classifying fentanyl overdoses as "poisonings," which would trigger murder charges for people accused of providing a fatal dose of fentanyl. The bill also includes mandatory minimum 10- or 15-year sentences for distribution of more than 200 grams or 400 grams, respectively, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The House vote came after lawmakers ignored a small group of demonstrators in the gallery chanting "no more drug war." A companion bill has already passed the Senate, so lawmakers will now go to a conference committee to hammer out differences before it goes to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who supports it. Meanwhile, a bill to decriminalize fentanyl test strips is stuck in committee in the Senate.
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