Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Joint Culpability: The Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article posted to SSRN authored by Yu-Wei Luke Chu and Wilbur Townsend. Here is the abstract:

Most of the U.S. states have passed medical marijuana laws. In this paper, we study the effects of these laws on violent and property crime.  We first estimate models that control for city fixed effects and flexible city-specific time trends.  To supplement this regression analysis we use the synthetic control method which can relax the parallel trend assumption and better account for heterogeneous policy effects. 

Both the regression analysis and the synthetic control method suggest no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level.  We also find no strong effects within individual states, except for in California where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.

February 15, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In praise of National District Attorney's Association creation of diverse marijuana policy working group

Download (1)I was pleased to see this local article from Colorado, headlined "Boulder DA Stan Garnett named to group that will advise Trump administration on pot," reporting on a new group assembled by the National District Attorney's Association. Here are the details:

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett has been selected to join a group of prosecutors from across the country who will help advise the Donald Trump administration on policies regarding marijuana.

The National District Attorney's Association created a policy group featuring 14 district attorneys who will issue advisements on possible law or policy changes regarding marijuana as more and more states legalize it.

Garnett said he is the only active prosecutor from Colorado in the group, but said there are also DAs from California and Oregon — other states with recreational marijuana — in the group. "It's a reflection of the NDAA's interest in having a fairly balanced committee, which will be largely advising on what our policy position should be in communications with the Trump Justice Department," Garnett said.

But while Garnett said there are a wide variety of states in different stages of marijuana legalization represented in the group, he said for the most part NDAA still is a conservative group, which is why he felt it was important to add his voice.

"I always end up on the more liberal position than anyone else, particularly on marijuana," Garnett said. "I think one of the things that happens is that many of the people in states where there is no legalization have a complete misunderstanding of states like Colorado. If nothing else, I'm able to say, 'Wait a minute, this is a huge business in Colorado, it is largely supported by the editorial boards, polls show it was being very popular, and by and large we have not seen an impact on crime rates.

"For somebody from Missouri or South Carolina to tell Colorado how to handle an issue of its own choice like legalization of marijuana is not only bad policy, but it fails to respect the importance of local control and state rights."

For instance, Garnett said that at the first meeting, some of the DAs wanted to send a letter to the governor of any state with recreational or medical marijuana telling them to shut those businesses down within 90 days. "I thought that was a particularly unrealistic and ill-advised idea, and I was not shy about saying that," Garnett said.

Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council and another member of the group, said it will be a feeling out process for the group, which was only formed about 10 days ago. "There's such a myriad of approaches depending on what stage of legalization you are in," Raynes said. "To come up with some sort of nationwide discussion on what works and what doesn't work makes a lot of sense."

Regardless of their stance on legalization, Raynes said all prosecutors have some common goals in regard to marijuana, such as keeping it out of the hands of children, cracking down on impaired driving, and curbing the black market. "Those are things that every state can agree on, and they need to start getting to the difficult issues," Raynes said.

Garnett said the group has toyed with the idea of issuing a majority and a minority opinion on different issues. If he is in fact confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions likely would be the one ultimately going over the policy recommendations. "Assuming he gets confirmed, he would definitely be the recipient of whatever we come up with," Garnett said. "At the moment nobody really knows what approach the Trump justice department will take, so that will determine how long the group meets."

Sessions has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, once saying that " good people don't smoke marijuana," and Trump has also said he plans to keep it illegal on a federal level. Garnett said he thinks that Trump trying to reverse states' decisions to legalize marijuana is possible, but would be tricky. "Legalization has been largely successful everywhere it has been tried, so it would be a highly unpopular move and difficult to accomplish successfully," Garnett said. "But I don't know what to expect on the Trump administration on this issue."

But even if the nation weren't going through a major administration change, Raynes said, an advisory group like this was needed. "I think it would have been done anyway," Raynes said. "Just as the marijuana issues evolve, states need to evolve to figure out some common ground."

I am very pleased to hear about this NDAA group and that they seemingly have a diverse group of prosecutors involved in this discussion. Indeed, I would like to see other criminal justice organizations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer and national police groups assembling an array of members to work on what seems to those groups to be sound marijuana policies.

February 1, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Terrific UC Davis Law Review Symposium papers on "Disjointed Regulation: State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two notable new pieces from two notable marijuana reform states (co-authored by two notable former students who took my OSU College of Law marijuana seminar)

One of many reasons I have been bullish on teaching marijuana reform at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is because I view the new marijuana reform universe to be a particularly exciting potential "growth industry" for junior lawyers.  For that reason (and others), I was so very pleased to see this week the publication of these two (very different) pieces discussing marijuana reform developments in two (very different) states that were both co-authored by students who took my marijuana reform class. Here are links to the pieces and their starting paragraphs:

From California here, "Reclassifying Marijuana Convictions on Your Criminal Record Under California's New Proposition 64," a piece co-authored by Cat Packer, who is now a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance based in California.

On November 8, 2016, Californians took a major step towards ending the war on drugs and repairing some of the damage inflicted on people’s lives by marijuana prohibition, by passing Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Although, the most serious marijuana-related crimes such as providing marijuana to minors, or attempting to smuggle marijuana across state lines remain felonies, under Prop. 64, most marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies have been reduced or altogether eliminated. These sweeping reductions in criminal penalties are retroactive, meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated under Prop. 64 can be reclassified on a criminal record with the courts for free.

From Pennsylvania here, "Medical Marijuana Comes to Pennsylvania: What to Expect As the Keystone State Rolls Out its New Medical Marijuana Program," a piece co-authored by Kelly M. Flanigan, an Associate at K&L Gates

A lack of consensus regarding both medical and recreational marijuana has sparked intense debate across the country. Combined with federal law prohibitions, the state-by-state mosaic creates a dynamic legal landscape. Marijuana remains illegal federally and retains its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.  However, 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted state laws legalizing marijuana in some form.  On April 17, 2016, Pennsylvania joined other states that have recognized some medical use for marijuana when Governor Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act (“Act 16”) into law.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (“DOH”) is charged with implementing Act 16, and it promptly developed the medical marijuana program.  The DOH has been rolling out temporary regulations (three sets so far) and it anticipates that medical marijuana will become available in Pennsylvania in early 2018.  The first critical date for those interested in becoming a medical marijuana organization is January 17, 2017, when the DOH releases its applications for grower/processors and dispensaries through its website.

January 19, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New survey data on police perspectives indicates strong majority oppose blanket marijuana prohibition

ImrsToday the fine folks at the Pew Research Center released the results of a huge national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform (basics here, full report here). The survey covered a lot of ground, including police views on marijuana, and Christopher Ingraham has this Wonkblog posting on this topic under the headline "Survey: Two-thirds of cops say marijuana laws should be relaxed." Here are the details there reported:

A Pew Research Center survey of nearly 8,000 police officers finds that more than two-thirds of them say that marijuana use should be legal for either personal or medical use.

The nationally representative survey of law enforcement, one of the largest of its kind, found that 32 percent of police officers said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 37 percent said it should be legal for medical use only.  An additional 30 percent said that marijuana should not be legal at all.

Police are more conservative than the general public on the issue.  Among all Americans, Pew found that 49 percent supported recreational marijuana, 35 percent supported medical marijuana only, and 15 percent said the drug should not be legal.

Pew also found a generational divide among cops on the marijuana issue, although not as large as the one that exists among the general public.  Officers under age 35 were more likely to support recreational marijuana (37 percent) than those between the ages of 50 and 60 (27 percent).  Among the general public, those numbers stand at 67 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

Law enforcement groups have often been among the staunchest opponents of marijuana legalization measures.  In 2016, such groups made small but significant contributions to oppose legalization measures in California and Arizona, citing concerns over issues such as underage use and intoxicated driving.  “You hear people say it’s not as bad as alcohol,” George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, told the Orange County Register last year.  “But if you smoke marijuana and drive, it does impair you.”

But as the Pew survey indicates, there's considerable variation in views on marijuana use among the rank-and-file. The group LEAP — Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — was founded in 2002 for active-duty and retired police officers to speak out “about the failures of our existing drug policies.”  The group has been particularly active in campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere.

Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department and LEAP board member, said she's not surprised to see that police officers have more conservative attitudes than the public on marijuana legalization.  “Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials.”  But she added that “the poll reflects a positive attitude shift when you see that it’s only 1 in 3 police officers who believe marijuana should remain illegal.”

January 11, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AG-nominee Jeff Sessions deftly avoids saying too much about aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws

170110105957-jeff-sessions-4-exlarge-169As expected, during today's confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was asked a few questions about whether and how he would enforce federal marijuana prohibitions.  These three press reports on the exchange provide slightly different spins on what Senators Sessions said and did not say:

From The Huffington Post here, "Jeff Sessions Offers No Straight Answers On How He’ll Handle Legal Marijuana"

From Reason here, "Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing"

From the Washington Post here, "Sessions on enforcing federal marijuana laws: ‘It won’t be an easy decision’"

Though I suspect some marijuana reform activists were hoping to hear Sessions say he would fully respect and order DOJ officials to always defer to state marijuana reforms, such a statement would be in some ways tantamount to saying he would not fully respect federal marijuana prohibition (which is still the law of the land). Consequently, I was not surprised and in many ways encouraged by how Senator Sessions handled these issues. These passages from the HuffPo piece spotlight what I consider the biggest highlight, along with one marijuana advocate's takeaway:

“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” said Sessions, responding to a question about whether he’d use federal resources to prosecute people using marijuana in accordance with their state laws. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”

Sessions went on to say that federal guidelines on marijuana enforcement crafted under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had been “truly valuable” in determining how to navigate inconsistencies between federal law ― under which marijuana is illegal ― and state laws that have loosened restrictions on the plant. Sessions also noted that if Congress wanted to clear up this confusion, it could pass a law adjusting the legal status of marijuana. Until then, however, he vowed to do his job “in a just and fair way” while judging how to approach marijuana going forward.

“It is not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”

Marijuana advocates met Sessions’ stance with guarded optimism, though they cautioned that he had not ruled out the possibility of more aggressive action against legal marijuana states and users. “It’s a good sign that Sen. Sessions seemed open to keeping the Obama guidelines, if maybe with a little stricter enforcement of their restrictions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a drug policy reform group. “The truth is, his answer was skillfully evasive, and I hope other senators continue to press for more clarity on how he would approach the growing numbers of states enacting new marijuana laws.”

January 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"The Growing Movement for Marijuana Amnesty"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic piece, which carries the subheadline "As legalization spreads, so do calls to ease sentences for those convicted of possessing pot." Here are excerpts:

Colorado, which legalized marijuana for recreational usage in the 2012 elections, doesn’t allow anyone with a felony marijuana conviction in the last decade to apply for a retail marijuana business license — this in a state where African-Americans are more than three times more likely and Latinos 1.5 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites.  So even though arrests are down 81 percent since 2012, there’s a whole host of black and brown people in the state who will be excluded from participation in the legalized industry for almost another decade.

Activists have, however, learned some lessons from the Colorado experience. “The devastation of communities of color by the war on drugs was always a top priority for people working on this issue,” said Shaleen Title, a marijuana activist on the board of Marijuana Majority and the founder of THC Staffing Group. “But what we started seeing in 2012, and particularly as there started to be a big business incentive for legalization, was less focus on the social justice issues.”  This is, in part, because some newer proponents of legalization either didn’t focus on it or worried that introducing the issue of racial justice would impede the effort to legalize.  “It’s very well documented that it’s black and brown people who have borne the brunt of prohibition,” she added, noting that only one of Colorado’s 500 marijuana dispensaries is owned by an African-American woman. “When we pass these laws, we have to address that. We can’t just start from scratch and expect for that to be fair.”

Title was part of a coalition of activists in Massachusetts that made sure that the state’s ballot initiative in 2016 allowed people with marijuana-only convictions to be licensed marijuana business holders. It also forced the issue of broader amnesty for marijuana convictions.  “The war on drugs has been a racially discriminatory disaster and legalization should be an opportunity to try to correct that and make amends for past wrongs,” explained Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority, which is devoted to reforming the country’s marijuana laws.  “But there’s still a lingering, outdated, and cruel attitude that people who broke the law should be punished as much as possible, even if it prevents them from fully participating in society.”...

California’s 2016 ballot initiative to legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes set up a system providing for the reclassification and/or expungement of marijuana-related offenses. For those still serving sentences, there will also be opportunities for resentencing. It’s likely to have an impact on a significant number of Californians: The ACLU says that nearly 20,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession even after the state decriminalized possession in 2011.

In Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana by ballot initiative in 2014, the law did not have an explicit expungement provision — but it did allow people with marijuana-related crimes to qualify for licensure to own a legal marijuana business.  Then, in 2015, the legislature passed a law allowing anyone with a marijuana conviction to apply for expungement if the act for which they were convicted — like possession, growing marijuana, or growing in excess of what was deemed allowable for medical use — is no longer considered a crime.

There are fees associated with expungement — as there are in most states — and the process requires legal assistance, which is why the Minority Cannabis Business Association, in partnership with the cannabis company Marley Natural, held its first-ever expungement clinic in Portland, which helped 30 clients. Jeannette Ward, the vice chair of the MCBA, noted that, because of Oregon’s law allowing people with convictions for marijuana-related offenses to participate in the legal system, the clinic wasn’t about helping potential marijuana business owners.  “We do it because the war on drugs targeted people of color,” she said, “and we want to take the profits from companies that are making money and try to rebalance the scales of the detrimental wars on drugs.”...

The impacts of a marijuana arrest, let alone a conviction, can be profound.  “Arrest is just one moment,” explained Jenny Roberts, a professor and the co-director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law.  “And then that moment is determinant of so many things down the line. One moment of racially disparate policing becomes a moment that follows people throughout their life.”  She noted that criminal records can — legally or not — affect arrestees’ employment prospects, their ability to find housing, and even their ability to travel outside the country—even if they aren’t convicted of any crime.  “We treat too many acts in this country as things that need to be processed through the criminal justice system,” she said. “Everyone knows that you can go around and arrest many, many people for marijuana, but we all know who actually gets arrested for it,” she added. “Policies that end up in racially disparate arrests are unfair and have much broader impacts than just the arrests.”

December 21, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Is anyone studying how marijuana reforms are impacting criminal justice systems in non-reform jurisdictions?

DrugArrestsThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Virginia headlined "Enforcement up in smoke? Marijuana arrests down sharply across state, region." Here are is how the article gets started:

Marijuana arrests are down significantly in Virginia over the past few years — leading some to speculate that the decline could reflect a loosening attitude in the Old Dominion about the drug.

The number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses has fallen by 14 percent statewide over a two-year stretch — from 25,981 in 2013 to 22,428 in 2015, according to Virginia State Police figures compiled from local law enforcement agencies.

That's the largest two-year drop in at least 15 years, with cannabis charges on pace to fall once again in 2016. "And it ain't because less people are smoking marijuana," said Ron Smith, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Hampton. "Virginia changes the law very gradually, and you can feel it happening. Even if they don't say, 'Hey, it's legal,' you can see that slow pull, that slow walk toward legalization." Within a few years, he said, marijuana possession laws could go the way of adultery laws: Still on the books, but not enforced.

Newport News has seen a far steeper decline than most localities, helping to drive the statewide reduction. In 2011, 1,461 people were arrested or charged on marijuana offenses in the city. But that dropped to 578 people in 2015 — a 60 percent decrease. Smith, for one, said he thinks police are being less aggressive these days on a variety of crimes, including marijuana offenses. "They're picking the apples that they can reach, but they're not standing on ladders," he said. "I'm not saying they're turning their heads, but they're not doing anything to look past what's right there in front of them."...

In one sign of the times, the top prosecutors in Hampton and Newport News decided in 2012 and 2013 to no longer prosecute adult misdemeanor pot possession cases, saying their resources were running thin for felony prosecutions. "We were wasting resources when we've got bigger fish to fry," said Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell, who said he wanted to increase focus on homicides and gun crimes.

Newport News' drop-off in marijuana arrests, in particular, appears to coincide with Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn's decision not to handle those cases. That left the prosecuting task to police officers — just as they handle their own traffic cases — before the cities filled the breach with alternatives. "Certainly locally here in Newport News, the absence of a prosecuting attorney to help the officers with marijuana charges has had a significant and adverse impact on the officers' ability to make those cases," Newport News Police Chief Richard Myers said. "And we know with certainty that that has contributed significantly with each passing year to the decrease in our marijuana cases."

When police officers find someone with marijuana on the street, Myers said, the extra burden of prosecuting the case "of course is going to factor into their decision-making" about whether to file pot charges or seek an alternative.... Myers, however, said his officers are not being told to "look the other way" on marijuana arrests. "We haven't done any stand-down kind of thing at all," he said. "Some folks on the street probably think we have because the arrests have dropped. And I have heard officers say that because of it, some folks are getting a little more brazen about it." But while the department places a priority on relationship building and "de-escalation," he said, "nowhere does that say that we're not making arrests, not writing tickets, that we're not being proactive."

After about a year of discussion with Gwynn's office, the city of Newport News about a month ago agreed to pay for two new prosecutors to handle marijuana cases, at a cost of about $60,000 per attorney annually, City Manager Jim Bourey said. Police officers began referring new pot cases to the prosecutor's office under the new system just last week. "We really think it's going to give the officers one more tool to kind of reel in any of that activity," Myers said. Perhaps in part because Hampton moved more quickly on this issue — hiring a lawyer with the city attorney's office to take over marijuana prosecutions in early 2015 — the decline of pot arrests in Hampton has been more modest. Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult said there's been no move to back off on enforcing marijuana laws.

"Absolutely not," Sult said. "As a matter of fact, our mission statement is prevention and then it's enforcement. And when we fail to prevent a crime, then we enforce the law, and I expect them to be professionally aggressive to enforce the law. ... I do believe in the broken windows theory, and in my view, marijuana is a gateway drug to harder problems. A lot of our violent crime is associated with marijuana and marijuana distribution, and I do think it's important that we enforce those laws — and we communicate that to our troops."

December 6, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Highlighting how in California marijuana legalization = sentencing reform

Nomoredrugwar2As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular.  For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64.   This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:

Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.

So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....

California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.

California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”

The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.

Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”

Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....

Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.

In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”

Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.

Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”

The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”

The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.

Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.

For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”

Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.

November 26, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Idaho mom loses custody of children after giving daughter marijuana butter to relieve seizures"

The title of this post is the headline of this new FoxNews article, which starts and ends this way (with links from the original):

In early October, 3-year-old Madyson began suffering from seizures and hallucinations after coming off of a prescription anti-psychotic medication that was being used to treat a history of seizures.   Her mother, Kelsey Osborne, made her a smoothie with marijuana butter to relieve her symptoms, and has now lost custody of her two children and is facing criminal charges.   Osborne of Gooding, Idaho, was charged with a misdemeanor count of injury to a child and is now protesting Child Protective Services to regain custody rights of Madyson and two-year-old son Ryker, from her ex-husband, Jerome, Fox 42 reported.

On Thursday, she and the Idaho Moms for Marijuana group rallied outside of the Department of Health and Welfare in Boise in favor of medical marijuana reform.  Idaho is the only state from the surrounding states in which all forms of marijuana use, medical or otherwise, are illegal.  However, the Food and Drug Administration has a program in Boise that uses cannabidiol oil (CBD) as an experimental treatment for 34 children with severe epilepsy, KTVB reported....

According to Idaho Statesman, Osborne made the marijuana butter herself and the substance did contain THC, as CBD oil is not available in the state.  Osborne told Fox 42 that she did what she thought was right as a mother.  "It's something that I'm going to fight for and I'm not going to give up until I have them back home where they have been begging me to be," Osborne told the news channel. "I'm not going to stop. I won't stop. If it takes me two years, then it's going to take me two years."

November 7, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.”

November 5, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"It's Black And White: The Social Justice Case For Legalizing Marijuana"

Shutterstock_273028715-702x336The title of this post is the headline of this notable new local commentary authored by Carol Rose, who executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Here are excerpts:

When thinking about how to cast your ballot on Question 4, to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, consider the social justice implications of your vote.

Don’t buy the argument that "no one gets arrested for possession of marijuana” anymore. That’s simply not true. More than 600 people are still arrested for marijuana possession annually in Massachusetts. It matters a lot to them and their families that using pot is still not legal. Arrests generate criminal records, which create barriers to housing, employment, education, adoption and more.

Moreover, criminalizing marijuana disproportionately hurts poor people and folks of color. Black people are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though rates of marijuana use are the same across race. Recent data from the Boston Police Department show that hundreds of people in Boston’s neighborhoods of color are disproportionately stopped by the police for marijuana, while their white suburban neighbors who consume at the same rate do so without concern. Indeed, since voters approved decriminalization of an ounce or less in 2008, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have increased in Massachusetts. Legalization will reduce those disparities.

Unnecessary drug raids are another part of the problem. Last month, after spotting one marijuana plant from a helicopter, state police stormed the property of an 81-year-old grandmother and medical marijuana patient in Amherst in order to tear up the single plant. Last July, Massachusetts National Guard personnel and state police stormed the property of Martha’s Vineyard resident Paul Jackson, an 81-year-old former cancer patient who grows the plant for medicinal tea. They confiscated four plants. Question 4 would put an end to such outrageous waste of criminal justice resources....

The marijuana business already exists, it’s just in the shadows where exploitation takes place. It is time to bring the underground economy into the light, where we can regulate it and address it as a public health matter, with education and controls. Remember the "Let's make smoking history" education campaign? That did far more than prohibition to make once-ubiquitous cigarettes uncool.

We can’t wait for the Legislature to fix the law. They have had multiple opportunities to do so and failed to act. Despite widespread calls for public health approaches to substance abuse, most politicians still fear being labeled “soft on crime” at reelection time. Criminalizing marijuana has failed, because criminal law is too blunt a cudgel for an issue that calls for a public health education approach. A yes vote on Question 4 is a vote for public health and social justice.

November 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Drug Policy Alliance reports on "what we know" about marijuana legalization "so far"

The folks at the Drug Policy Alliance have released this notable new report titled "So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C." The website provides this summary of the short report's contents:

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).

The report’s key findings include:

  • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.

  • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.

  • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.

  • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

October 14, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New report highlights that 2105 had more US marijuana possession arrests than for all violent crimes combined

6a00d83451574769e201bb09428021970d-320wiAs noted in this new Mic piece, a "Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday revealed [that] in 2015, there were more arrests in the United States for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together." Here is more:

The report found that, in 2015, there were more than 574,000 arrests for marijuana possession — at least 68,319 more than there were for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined.

Presently, at least 137,000 men and women are incarcerated for drug possession — a number that ebbs and flows as thousands more people are arrested daily, literally at a rate of one drug arrest every 25 seconds. "It's been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared and it hasn't been a success," Tess Borden, lead study author, told the Washington Post. "Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds we're arresting someone for drug use."...

What's more troubling is the disparity between drug arrests of black versus white Americans. Data in the past year suggests that both groups "use illicit drugs other than marijuana at the same rates and that they use marijuana at similar rates," the report said. "Yet around the country, black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession."

In 2014, though black adults only accounted for 14% of actual drug users, they made up roughly a third of those arrested. "We can't talk about race and policing in this country without talking about the No. 1 arrest offense," Borden told the Post. The study found that in some states like Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors working on drug possession cases often sought the highest charges possible against the defendant. Last year, more than 78% of people thrown in jail for felony drug possession had less than a gram of a controlled substance....

In Louisiana, Corey Ladd was given a 17-year sentence for possessing a half ounce of marijuana, a sentence exacerbated by his two previous drug charges. "Corey's story is about the real waste of human lives, let alone taxpayer money, of arrest and incarceration for personal drug use," Borden told the Post. "He could be making money and providing for his family."

Currently, there are 116 people in Texas prisons serving life sentences for drug possession — and at least seven of those sentences are for possession of less than four grams.

During a series of interviews HRW conducted with incarcerated men and women around the country, the group spoke with Jerry Bennett of New Orleans, who took a plea deal of two and a half years in jail, down from what could have been a couple decades. His crime: possession of half a gram of marijuana. "They spooked me out by saying, 'You gotta take this or you'll get that'," he HRW team. "I'm just worried about the time. Imagine me in here for 20 years. They got people that kill people. And they put you up here for half a gram of weed."

The full title of this lengthy new report from Human Rights Watch, which serves as the foundation for this Mic article, is "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States."  The full HRW report is about a lot more than marijuana criminalization, but it is still a must-read for those working in any way in the marijuana reform space.

October 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Recreational Cannabis Reduces Rapes and Thefts: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment"

The title of this post is the title of this fascinating new study available via SSRN from a group of economists.  Here is the abstract:

An argument against the legalization of the cannabis market is that such a policy would increase crime.  Exploiting the recent staggered legalization enacted by the states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014) we show, combining difference-in-differences and spatial regression discontinuity designs, that recreational cannabis caused a significant reduction of rapes and thefts on the Washington side of the border in 2013-2014 relative to the Oregon side and relative to the pre-legalization years 2010-2012.

October 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Racial Disparity in Marijuana Policing in New Orleans"

The title of this post is the title of this recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice.  (The report was released a couple months ago, but I just saw it today.)  Here is an overview of the report from this Vera website

In national research, self-reported marijuana use is similar across races, but in New Orleans, black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses, including simple possession.  In recent years, some states have legalized marijuana, while the consequences for marijuana possession in Louisiana remain severe — under state law, repeated convictions for simple possession are punishable by multi-year prison sentences. 

This report illuminates through quantitative analysis the persistent racial disparities in marijuana policing from 2010 – 2015 and discusses the impacts of statutory and policy reforms the city has implemented to date.  We are hopeful that these findings will guide state and local policymakers toward further improvements to lessen the harm even seemingly minor police encounters inflict on black communities, and inspire other jurisdictions to examine their own practices.

September 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Legalizing Marijuana: It Changes Policing, But May Leave Racial Disparities"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR story, which includes these excerpts:

California is one of five states this year where marijuana legalization is on the ballot. Washington and Colorado paved the way for making recreational pot legal back in 2012. Since then marijuana arrests have plunged in Washington. They've also gone down in Colorado, but not by as much. This raises the question, what is the effect of legalizing marijuana on policing?...

Defense Attorney James Clark's office window looks down on the lake. He says [California police's] "stop and smell" practice happens across the state. In California, the smell of marijuana gives police probable cause to search someone's entire vehicle. If cops find something bigger - guns, stolen property - Clark says that can turn a traffic stop into a felony. "You can imagine that if you're trying to advance your career by searching cars along the freeway, that this is a tool that would be difficult to resist passing up," Clark says. [So now people] are wondering, if recreational pot gets legalized in California, could that be the end of this "stop and smell" practice?

Meanwhile, in Washington state, there have been some changes in policing since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Patrol sergeant Nate Hovinghoff has been with the Washington State Patrol for 11 years and works along the scenic Columbia River Gorge dividing Washington and Oregon, another state that recently legalized pot. "Prior to legalization in Washington state, odor alone was enough to arrest," Hovinghoff says.

If Hovinghoff pulled over a vehicle, say, for speeding and smelled marijuana, that gave him license to investigate further. "In my experience as a trooper, probably 90 percent of my felony arrests, they started with the odor of marijuana," he says.

But once pot was legalized in Washington state, the rules of engagement changed. "Now when I stop a vehicle and I go up and I smell marijuana, if they're 21 years or over it doesn't mean automatically a crime's occurred," Hovinghoff explains. He says as long as the driver of the car is compliant with the law and not impaired, and that's key, it's basically, "Have a nice day."

But folks ... aren't convinced that it will go down like that in California.... In fact, recent data from police stops in Oakland show that African-Americans are more likely than whites to be searched, handcuffed, and arrested.

That question of disparity is very much on the minds of researchers who are tracking the effects of marijuana legalization. Mike Males is with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He released a study earlier this year that's been widely cited. It shows that while marijuana arrests dropped dramatically in Washington state, African-Americans are still two times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses.

"So there's still a large racial discrepancy. It doesn't solve that. It does reduce the overall impact of marijuana arrests, but it doesn't change the racial discrepancy as much," Males says. The bottom line, says Males: "If one of the goals is to reduce marijuana-related arrests then legalization appears to accomplish that." But it may not resolve disparities in how the law is enforced or applied.

A few of many prior related posts:

September 25, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Crimmigration and cannabis: "Marijuana Is Legal in Colorado — But Only If You're a U.S. Citizen"

ThThe title of this post is an expansion of the headline of this lengthy Westword article by Joel Warner.   Among many virtues in this long-form article is that it includes quotes from one of my former students who examined in my marijuana seminar the connections between marijuana reform and immigration issues.  Here is how the article gets started and some excerpt from its legal discussion:

Claudia didn’t think anything was wrong when United States Customs and Border Protection agents flagged her for an in-depth security screening after the early-morning flight from her native Chile landed at Los Angeles International Airport early on October 8, 2015. “It’s normal,” she says. “Sometimes the officers review people.” Besides, Claudia had never been in trouble in her life....

[Agent] Torres asked Claudia about past trips to the States; in her accented but largely fluent English, she told the agent that she’d previously visited Tennessee, Louisiana, New York and Colorado. At the mention of Colorado, he asked to see her phone. Since the device wasn’t password-protected, he quickly clicked to her photo gallery and began scrolling back several months to her visit from April through June of that year... The agent [eventually] arrived at three photos she’d taken inside Native Roots, a marijuana dispensary on Boulder’s Pearl Street. Looking at the images of glass display cases filled with edibles and jars of marijuana, he asked if she’d tried any. “Yes, I tried marijuana in Colorado,” she replied. “It’s legal there.”

With those words, Claudia immediately placed herself in the middle of a growing clash between state cannabis reforms and U.S. immigration law’s unyieldingly austere approach to marijuana. While cannabis may be legal in a growing number of states, it’s still very much against the law for all non-U.S. citizens to use it — even if few people know that. In fact, over the past decade, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has penalized and deported more people convicted of marijuana-related crimes than ever before. As a result of the inconsistencies between state marijuana laws and immigration law, immigration lawyers are finding themselves stymied by legal predicaments that don’t make any sense — and their clients are suffering. Husbands are being separated from wives, parents from children, because of activities that in many states are no longer crimes. And foreigners like Claudia are finding their lives changed forever when they simply admit that they tried something they assumed was completely legal.

But Claudia didn’t know that when she admitted to trying marijuana; she still thought everything was fine. After Torres had finished going through her luggage, two female agents gave her a pat-down and confiscated her belongings, then led her to a locked, windowless cell with security cameras on the ceiling and miserable-looking people of various nationalities lying on bare metal cots. Only then did she realize that something was very, very wrong....

The most famous example of a marijuana-based deportation might be the U.S.’s failed attempt to bar John Lennon from the country in 1973 because of a past cannabis conviction in England. But it was only later, as the War on Drugs heated up, that U.S. immigration policy became increasingly unforgiving regarding marijuana and other narcotics. These days, any drug offense, save for the possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana, is a deportable crime for non-U.S. citizens, including those with green cards. And any offense involving the sale of marijuana — even just peddling $5 worth of the drug — is considered an “aggravated felony” that triggers mandatory deportation.

It doesn’t matter if the conviction doesn’t come with a prison sentence or is expunged through a drug-court program. It doesn’t matter if the convicted individual can prove that his or her expulsion would cause extreme hardship on U.S. family members, a situation that can be used to stop deportation for other crimes such as assault or fraud. If an immigrant is busted for marijuana or other drugs, they’re likely to be taken into immigration custody and deported without any chance of coming back.

While President Barack Obama has long promised to ease the drastic consequences of the drug war, immigrants convicted of drug crimes have faced increased penalties during his time in office. That’s because of the Secure Communities initiative, a program launched under George W. Bush but expanded by the Obama administration that allows immigration agents access to local fingerprint data banks.

The result is more drug-related deportations than ever before. According to a Human Rights Watch investigation of U.S. government data, between 2007 and 2012, drug-possession-related deportations increased 43 percent, and drug-sale-related deportations increased 23 percent. In all during that period, nearly 266,000 people were forced out of the country after being convicted of a nonviolent drug offense, which accounted for roughly one out of every four criminal-conviction-related deportations. More than 50,000 of those deportations were related to a marijuana conviction....

“We are at a really interesting time politically,” says Grace Meng, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the organization’s report on drug-related deportations. “The country is willing to reconsider drug policy and laws, but those same laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s have had really severe immigration impacts — and they aren’t being considered at all.”

According to Alexander Holtzman, a fellow with the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York City who studied marijuana-related immigration sanctions while at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, it’s hard to know exactly how many people are currently being deported because of minor marijuana offenses; most deportation statistics don’t indicate whether a cannabis crime was the cause of someone’s expulsion. (ICE didn’t respond to multiple interview requests from Westword.)

There is some indication that the agency’s stance on marijuana could be shifting, though. In 2014, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrants convicted of minor cannabis crimes should be given a chance to contest their deportation, ICE released a policy noting that marijuana-possession convictions would no longer be an enforcement priority. But it’s clear that at least until recently, cannabis-related crimes were a main priority for immigration authorities. According to ICE deportation records stored and analyzed by Syracuse University, in 2013 marijuana possession was the fourth-most-common offense associated with deportation — above assault, illegal re-entry or any other drug charge. The sale of marijuana was the twelfth-most-common deportation-related crime. Holtzman estimates that slightly more than 6,000 people were deported that year after being convicted of minor marijuana-possession charges.

“If these individuals are deported because of these offenses, then the sanction of deportation strikes me as severe, disproportionate and unjust,” says Holtzman. “Citizens are not similarly punished for identical conduct.”

September 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Forced out of a home over a marijuana joint"

Many opponents of significant marijuana reforms are often quick to assert that nobody really ever gets in any trouble simply for smoking a joint and that we need not and should not support marijuana legalization because practically speaking marijuana use is functionally decriminalized.  Not surprisingly, these kinds of statements typically come from privileged, upper-middle class persons who personally do not know anyone who has experienced any troubles for minor marijuana activities.  But, as this new lengthy Washington Post article highlights (running under the headline that I used as the title for this post), even in a jurisdiction like the District of Columbia with reformed marijuana laws, a single joint can sometimes lead to a lot of trouble for some individuals.  Here are the basic details:

For eight years, Rajuawn Middleton, an assistant at a major downtown law firm, lived in a four-bedroom, red-brick home she rented on a quiet, tree-lined street in Northeast Washington — until she was forced out over a few cigarettes containing a “green leafy substance.”

In March 2014 police arrested her adult son on charges of possessing a handgun outside a nightclub. He had not lived with Middleton for years, but two weeks later D.C. police looking for more guns raided her home. The routine search placed Middleton in the grip of an indiscriminate bureaucratic mechanism known as nuisance abatement, a mild-sounding term for a process that has had harsh and disproportionate consequences for Middleton and other District residents.

Middleton said a dozen officers stormed in as she and her husband were helping their 8-year-old son with his homework. Police handcuffed the couple, cut open a mattress and dumped food on the floor, she said. The search turned up three cigarettes; Middleton said only one of them was a joint of marijuana. No firearms were found. No one was charged.

A week later, the D.C. attorney general’s office deemed the house a “drug-related nuisance” in a form letter sent to Middleton’s landlord. “The fear and intimidation that results from these activities inhibit normal interactions among neighbors and interfere with their right to use and enjoy their property,” said the letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Rashee Raj Kumar. The letter cited a 1999 law that gives broad power to city officials to sue property owners who fail to stop illegal activity at their properties. The landlord moved to evict. Middleton moved out.

During the past three years, city officials sent out about 450 nuisance-abatement letters to landlords and property owners, the vast majority aimed at ousting tenants accused of felony gun or drug crimes, including many bona fide drug dealers. But in doing so the District has also ensnared about three dozen people who were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession or faced no charges at all, a Washington Post review of the letters has found.

The attorney general’s office in January sent a nuisance letter to one property over one gram of marijuana, a legal amount of the drug in the District. As a result, the property company forced a grandmother out of her Southwest Washington apartment, records show. The Post found that some cases were driven by an assembly line of government agencies that merely processed paperwork and failed to differentiate between dangerous felons and people such as Middleton and the grandmother in Southwest....

The D.C. Council passed the Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act in the late 1990s, when officials were grappling with the aftermath of the crack-cocaine epidemic. For years, drug dealers had used neglected properties across the city to store and sell narcotics and weapons, making them havens for drugs, violent crime or prostitution. Modeling the law after zero-tolerance policing policies in New York, council members gave city attorneys and community groups power to sue landlords who failed to combat illegal activity at their properties. The broadly worded law can cover any property where police have served a search warrant for drugs, weapons or prostitution, or that has prompted repeated complaints from neighbors.

Police search thousands of properties each year, identifying between 100 and 200 per year as potential nuisances, records show. Police did not provide The Post with any written guidelines or policy for how they flag properties as nuisances. A police spokesman said supervisors select the ones where people “have engaged in drug trafficking, the sale of weapons, or prostitution.”...

In the majority of cases reviewed by The Post, city officials targeted serious offenders. In one case from 2013, police raided an apartment in Washington’s Dupont Park neighborhood and uncovered 548 grams of crack, 22 grams of heroin and five guns. The attorney general deemed the property a drug and firearm nuisance and told the landlord to take action. The landlord sued the tenants, and they moved out.

August 26, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

"It’s Not Legal Yet: Nearly 500,000 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade"

The title of this post is the title of this new short report from the Drug Policy Alliance, which gets started this way:

Short of legalization, California has some of the most permissive marijuana possession laws in the United States, yet law enforcement continues to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate thousands of people annually for marijuana offenses. Between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California. During this period, there were on average 14,000 marijuana felony arrests in the state each year. California voters will have the chance to greatly reduce marijuana arrests this November when they vote on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

August 19, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)