The US Supreme Court tops our list of federal headlines today with a unanimous ruling affirming our rights to cell phone privacy. The justices decided 9-0 today that police must have a warrant to search the contents of your cell phone or electronic device, even if you are arrested on suspicion of a crime. The Obama Administration had argued there was no difference between a smart phone and a briefcase that police are allowed to search upon arrest. Chief Justice John Roberts rejected that argument, writing, “That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together.” Police may still search a phone in a “ticking bomb” scenario, but otherwise they must obtain a warrant, because, as Roberts writes, “A cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house.”
The Food & Drug Administration has ordered a review of marijuana’s Schedule I status, thanks to two public citizen petitions to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA asked FDA to review the scientific evidence of marijuana’s safety and effectiveness as medicine, a key to the possible rescheduling of marijuana. Currently marijuana is Schedule I, having “no accepted medical use in the United States”, despite now 23 states having some form of medical marijuana. Placing marijuana in Schedule II (with cocaine and meth), Schedule III (with steroids), Schedule IV (with Ambien), or Schedule V (with codeine) wouldn’t automatically make marijuana federally legal, but it may ease restrictions on research, encourage banks to work with cannabis businesses, and allow those businesses to use traditional business tax deductions. FDA has conducted this review previously in 2001 and 2006 and both times decided there wasn’t enough evidence to take marijuana out of Schedule I.
The US Department of Justice has signed on to a proposal by the US Sentencing Commission for early release of non-violent drug criminals from federal prison. “Under the department’s proposal,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a prepared statement, “if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence…” The commission has already unanimously approved lowering sentencing guidelines on non-violent drug crimes by an average of 11 months. They will vote this July 18 on whether those new guidelines should be applied retroactively to those already in prison. The proposal is estimated to save US taxpayers $2.4 billion.
The one Republican Congress member from Maryland has moved to block Washington DC from implementing its marijuana decriminalization law. Rep. Andy Harris proposed an amendment to the House Appropriations Bill that would prohibit the District from spending any tax revenue to implement its law, which mandates a $25 fine for possession of an ounce. Paradoxically, the amendment may actually benefit cannabis consumers, as the law also mandates that citizens are “protected from detainment, frisking, searching, and arrest based solely on possession of an ounce or less or based on the smell of marijuana.” Police issuing tickets and collecting fines costs tax revenue, so they’d be prevented from doing that, but police not doing something like searching and arresting people costs no tax revenue. The amendment faces an uphill battle to pass the House and Senate and get the president’s signature, but imagine it did and police in Washington DC could do nothing about you smelling like weed with an ounce in your pocket… so long as you’re not on federal property.
The House has already voted to defund DEA raids in medical marijuana states, but the attempt to do the same in the Senate has ground to a halt. We reported that two strange political bedfellows, rising Republican star Senator Rand Paul and liberal Democrat Senator Cory Booker, co-sponsored the Senate’s version of the amendment to prohibit the Department of Justice from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state marijuana laws. Now the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski, has delayed the bill because she felt “caught between White House veto threats and Republican amendments,” including Senator Mitch McConnell’s amendment to protect his home state’s coal industry that President Obama has promised to veto. Still activists are hopeful that if the amendment stalls in the committee, the co-sponsors will offer it up as a stand-alone bill. How it would fare on the Senate floor is anyone’s guess; nobody really thought the House would pass it in the first place.
Pro-legalization candidates for governor lost their party’s primary elections yesterday in both Colorado and Maryland. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo finished second in a tight four-way race for the Colorado Republican nomination for Governor. Bob Beauprez [bo-PRAY] won with 30 percent of the vote to Tancredo’s 26 percent for second place. Tancredo has said “I’m all for ending the war on drugs” and was attacked for it in radio ads by a committee that backed, Mike Kopp, the 4th place finisher with 19 percent of the vote. In Maryland, Anthony Brown won the Democrat nomination for governor with 51 percent while openly-gay pro-legalization candidate Delegate Heather Mizeur [mizz-ZHURE] virtually split the remaining vote with Douglas Gansler, who received 24 percent of the vote to Mizeur’s 22 percent. On the Republican side, businessman Larry Hogan won his party’s nomination. While not pro-legalization, Hogan told WBAL-TV, “locking up someone for a very small amount of marijuana seems unjust.”