Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Highlighting ways marijuana reform might help undo some drug war harms

This new MarketWatch article, headlined "Marijuana ballot initiatives could get people who’ve done time for drugs back on their feet," reports on ways that marijuana reform efforts in California and other states could help unwind the drug war. Here are excerpts:

The war on drugs has disproportionately punished minority groups and the less fortunate for decades. Now, with five states set to vote on legalizing and regulating the recreational use and sale of marijuana on Nov. 8, the cannabis industry is using newfound support to undo the harm caused by the drug war....

As the cannabis industry grows and evolves, advocates and organizations are exploring ways to help those impacted by the war on drugs. “If we want to build a successful industry, it has to be diverse,” said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of medical marijuana dispensary Harborside Health Center.

The problem is well documented. In 2015 there were 643,121 marijuana-related arrests in the U.S., according to the Drug Policy Alliance, 89% of which were for possession offenses that are often viewed as relatively minor. And while blacks use and sell drugs at a similar rate to whites, they are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

As sentiment has changed, more facts about the war on drugs have come to light. Former U.S. marshal and Drug Enforcement Administration agent Matthew Fogg, who is now running for Congress in Maryland’s fourth district, has said that during his time in law enforcement, he was directed to target black people and neighborhoods. “Race plays a very important part here,” Fogg said in a 2014 interview on CNN. “We were targeting black areas.”

On Nov. 8, five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will decide whether to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana. A recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and recent election polling shows voters in each of the five states in favor of legalizing and regulating its adult use, production and retail sale, according to a Washington Post report....

And many see legalizing the drug as an opening to give back opportunities taken from those impacted by the war on drugs. For convicted felons, re-emerging into a legal cannabis landscape could prove difficult. Using California as the example, as it stands now, legislation governing whether medical-marijuana business licenses are granted to convicted felons is a patchwork of laws and discretionary decisions sewn by local governments. They grant and deny licenses on a case-by-case basis, said Steve DeAngelo, who is white.

DeAngelo, one of the industry’s pre-eminent advocates and businessmen, runs the largest medical-marijuana dispensary in the country in Harborside Health Center, helped to start a chain of marijuana testing labs and serves as president of influential cannabis investment network The ArcView Group.

Like many others, DeAngelo, who has been in the business for more than 40 years, worked on the black market and is a convicted felon. “It’s critically important this industry make a place for people of color, especially those hurt by the war on drugs,” said DeAngelo. “The cannabis industry is really different in that we were born out of this social-justice movement. There are some things government can and should address, but it’s also incumbent upon this industry to get this right.”...

California’s Proposition 64, which would legalize and regulate cannabis if passed on Tuesday, would not only offer resentencing, potentially reducing sentences for prisoners, but would give felons who have completed their sentences the opportunity to apply to have their criminal records revised.

It echoes a process in Oregon — a state where marijuana is legal — that allows people with a felony drug conviction to get criminal records expunged. Jesce Horton, co-founder of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said that his organization has worked to educate people about the process and added that other states are looking at it as an option....   Expunging records can have a far-reaching impact, said Horton. “Even for people who don’t want to get into the industry, this can really help them in life. A rising tide will lift all boats.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/11/highlighting-ways-marijuana-reform-might-help-undo-some-drug-war-harms.html

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink

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