Sunday, September 10, 2017
Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill
As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors. But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months. The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:
Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8. The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.
The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8. The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.
“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday. That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.
September 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, August 20, 2017
"Probable Cause to Believe What? Partial Marijuana Legalization and the Role of State Law in Federal Constitutional Doctrine"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Kevin Cole now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
When simple possession of marijuana was invariably illegal under state law, a dog alert or a police officer’s own perception of the scent of raw or burnt marijuana sufficed to permit a search for the source of the scent. As states went beyond decriminalization to legalize possession, for medical or recreational use, the smell of marijuana became less probative on the question of whether the state’s laws were being violated.
But even in legalization states, courts have upheld an officer’s right to search a car upon detecting the scent of marijuana. The courts’ explanations have been analytically troubling. Analyzing the problem is complicated by more general phenomena: the Supreme Court’s reluctance to specify in greater detail the nature of the probable cause requirement, and the Court’s differing approaches to the significance of state law in federal constitutional doctrine.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this recent Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Jason Riley in response to Senator Cory Booker's new federal marijuana reform bill. Here are excerpts:
Cory Booker, New Jersey’s ambitious junior senator, has gone to pot. Last week the Democrat introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level while withholding funds from states that don’t legalize it and that disproportionately incarcerate “low-income individuals and people of color for marijuana-related offenses.”
The legislation may help Mr. Booker burnish his image with progressives if he runs for president in 2020, but it almost certainly is going nowhere. Republicans control Congress, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a drug warrior, which is one reason President Trump put him in charge of the Justice Department. Nevertheless, Mr. Booker’s arguments for drug legalization are worth considering because they represent a large and growing consensus. Support for marijuana legalization has nearly doubled to 60% since 2000, according to a 2016 Gallup survey. Even 42% of Republicans support legalization.
In his Facebook posts promoting the bill, Mr. Booker cites some of the more common rationales put forward by proponents of pot legalization, including racial disparities in drug arrests and prisons teeming with “nonviolent” offenders that drain state budgets. “In the United States today, black people are almost four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana use or possession,” writes the senator. “This is the right thing to do for public safety, and will help reduce our overflowing prison population.”
Mr. Booker believes drug legalization would address these racial disparities, but don’t bet on it. Violent offenses, not drug offenses, drive incarceration rates, and blacks commit violent crimes at seven to 10 times the rate whites do. Data from 2015, the most recent available, show that about 53% of people in state prisons (which house nearly 90% of the nation’s inmates) were imprisoned for violent crimes, 19% for property crimes and just 16% for drug crimes. Given that blacks are also overrepresented among those arrested for property and other nonviolent offenses, merely altering U.S. drug laws would effect little change in the racial makeup of people behind bars.
Much is made of studies that show blacks and whites use drugs at similar rates. But a large majority of drug arrests are for trafficking, not possession, so we shouldn’t expect usage rates and arrest rates to be identical. Anyway, marijuana offenders of any race occupy relatively few jail and prison cells, and the ones who do tend to be dealers. “As a percentage of our nation’s incarcerated population, those possessing small amounts of marijuana barely register,” writes James Forman, a former District of Columbia public defender, in his new book, “Locking Up Our Own.” He continues: “For every ten thousand people behind bars in America, only six are there because of marijuana possession.”...
But if the goal is more racial parity in our penal system, drug legalization seems like an odd place to start. Citizens of Washington state and Colorado voted to make recreational pot legal in 2012. A 2016 study from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice found that while pot arrests overall were down in Washington, large racial discrepancies remained. In fact, blacks were still twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses. And Jeff Hunt of Colorado Christian University reports that the illegal market for weed in the Rocky Mountain State is still thriving and seems to have exacerbated racial inequities. “According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests in Colorado of black and Latino youth for [underage] marijuana possession have increased 58% and 29% respectively after legalization,” Mr. Hunt wrote in USA Today recently. “This means that Black and Latino youth are being arrested more for marijuana possession after it became legal.”
Astute observers of US criminal justice systems might well predict that we could see worsening racial disparities if and when there are fewer arrests and prosecutions for marijuana activity. Data on incarceration in US states generally show that the states with smaller prison populations actually have greater disparities within these smaller numbers. And it does create an interesting and important normative question for those especially concerned with racial equality whether they should celebrate a big decrease in marijuana arrests and prosecutions if only certain favored groups get a disproportionate benefit from such a change.
Friday, August 4, 2017
As reported in a new AP article, which the Washington Times gives the headline "Sessions task force on marijuana not producing ammo to bolster federal war on weed," it appears that the DOJ task force looking at federal marijuana policies is not advocating any major changes for now. Here are the basic details:
The betting was that law-and-order Attorney General Jeff Sessions would come out against the legalized marijuana industry with guns blazing. But the task force Sessions assembled to find the best legal strategy is giving him no ammunition, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials, has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Justice Department policy on marijuana.
It encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to enforcement — a stance that has allowed the nation’s experiment with legal pot to flourish. The report was not slated to be released publicly, but portions were obtained by the AP.
Sessions has been promising to reconsider that policy since he took office six months ago. He has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and blamed it for spikes in violence. His statements have sparked support and worry across the political spectrum as a growing number of states have worked to legalize the drug....
[T]he tepid nature of the recommendations signals just how difficult it would be to change course on pot. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress are seeking ways to protect and promote pot businesses.
The vague recommendations may be intentional, reflecting an understanding that shutting down the entire industry is neither palatable nor possible, said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies marijuana law and was interviewed by members of the task force....
The task force suggestions are not final, and Sessions is in no way bound by them. The government still has plenty of ways it can punish weed-tolerant states, including raiding pot businesses and suing states where the drug is legal, a rare but quick path to compliance. The only one who could override a drastic move by Sessions is President Donald Trump, whose personal views on marijuana remain mostly unknown.
Rather than urging federal agents to shut down dispensaries and make mass arrests, the task force puts forth a more familiar approach. Its report says officials should continue to oppose rules that block the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed. Sessions wrote to members of Congress in May asking them — successfully so far — to undo those protections. The Obama administration also unsuccessfully opposed those rules.
The report suggests teaming the Justice Department with Treasury officials to offer guidance to financial institutions, telling them to implement robust anti-money laundering programs and report suspicious transactions involving businesses in states where pot is legal. That is already required by federal law.
And it tells officials to develop “centralized guidance, tools and data related to marijuana enforcement,” two years after the Government Accountability Office told the Justice Department it needs to better document how it’s tracking the effect of marijuana legalization in the states.
Most critically, and without offering direction, it says officials “should evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind” a set of Obama-era memos that allowed states to legalize marijuana on the condition that officials act to keep marijuana from migrating to places where it is still outlawed and out of the hands of criminal cartels and children, among other stipulations. Any changes to the policy could impact the way pot-legal states operate, but the task force offers no further guidance on how to do that.
It remains unclear how much weight Sessions might give the recommendations. He said he has been relying on them to enact policy in other areas. Apart from pot, the task force is studying a list of criminal justice issues and the overall report’s executive summary says its work continues and its recommendations “do not comprehensively address every effort that the Department is planning or currently undertaking to reduce violent crime.”
Senator Cory Booker (D NJ) has introduced a proposal to repeal the federal marijuana ban. In a nutshell, Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act (MJA) would exempt marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
I believe Booker’s proposal is incomplete (and therefore, both unwise and politically unpalatable) because it fails to offer any replacement for prohibition. I develop this argument in a new op-ed at Fortune: http://fortune.com/2017/08/04/senator-cory-booker-marijuana-bill-justice-act-legalization/. Check it out.
The MJA does one additional thing that is worth noting but which I did not have space to address in Fortune: It pressures states to repeal their own marijuana bans. It does so by withholding a portion of federal law enforcement grants from prohibition states (and only prohibition states) if “the percentage of minority individuals arrested [or incarcerated] for a marijuana related offense in a [prohibition] State is higher than the percentage of the non-minority individual population of the State.” (The measure has similar language regarding treatment of low-income populations, but to simplify I’ll focus on racial minorities.)
The wording of the condition is somewhat opaque (raising its own set of problems), but let me illustrate how I think the condition would work in a hypothetical state with a 30% minority population. If minorities comprised more than 70% of those persons arrested or incarcerated on marijuana charges in that state, the state would lose some federal grant money going forward. If minorities comprised 70% or less of those arrested or incarcerated, the state would retain full eligibility for federal grants. The fact that this provision is aimed only at prohibition states (what the MJA calls “Covered States”) is why I say it pressures states to legalize marijuana: if a state does so, its federal grants are safe, even if it enforces any remaining prohibitions--say, on possession by minors--disproportionately against minorities. (This has happened in some legalization states, as in discuss in my book on pages 249 and 521).
I think this is an interesting and novel proposal to address race (and class) disparities in the enforcement of criminal law, and it deserves further consideration. But I think it also raises a handful of serious constitutional concerns (not to mention practical and political ones). Let me briefly flag just two of those legal concerns here.
One problem is that the MJA arguably fails to give states adequate notice of the new conditions it imposes on the receipt of federal grants. The problem arises from tying federal grant funds to the composition of the presently incarcerated population. The problem is that disparities in the racial composition of the incarcerated population undoubtedly stem from actions taken by the states in the past– i.e., before they were aware of the new condition. After all, many of those who are now serving time in state prison on marijuana charges would have been arrested and prosecuted years ago. Even though Congress can condition federal funds on states doing (or not doing) X, Y, and Z, it has to give them clear notice of those conditions in advance. E.g., Arlington v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291 (2006). I’m not sure whether a condition that seemingly requires states to remedy past discrimination (e.g., by releasing inmates) would pass muster under this test.
A second concern is that the measure arguably amounts to reverse discrimination (or pressures states to engage in the same) in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Return to my hypothetical state above, with a minority population of 30%. Suppose, fancifully, that this state arrested and incarcerated on marijuana charges only whites. Under the MJA, there would be no consequences for this state. In other words, the MJA only punishes a state if it discriminates against minorities. And the MJA would appear to pressure states to engage in reverse discrimination – for example, to keep its federal grant dollars, a state might have to release only minorities currently serving prison time on marijuana charges, or selectively target whites for marijuana arrests (so as to balance the ledger). Again, this approach might survive constitutional scrutiny, but it raises some doubts.
The simpler solution might be to preempt state marijuana bans. As I’ve argued elsewhere, that’s a permissible approach for Congress to take and would avoid the clear notice and Equal Protection concerns raised by the MJA.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Senate committee preserves spending limit precluding DOJ interference with medical marijuana regimes
As this new piece from The Hill reports, the "Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to a budget bill on Thursday to protect medical marijuana programs from federal interference in states that have legalized the drug for medical use." Here is more:
The amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill passed by a voice vote and prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states from "implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."
"The federal government can't investigate everything and shouldn't, and I don't want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who offered the amendment. Leahy argued that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should be focusing its limited resources on more legitimate threats.
"We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state," he said. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), however, argued that while civil liberties and states' rights are important, telling DOJ not to enforce federal laws goes against legal principles. "If Congress wants to tell the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the medical marijuana laws, then it should change the authorization within the Judiciary Committee, not through an appropriations provision," he said.
The amendment passed despite a letter Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent in May asking House and Senate leadership not to block DOJ from using funds to enforce federal marijuana laws. "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Session wrote in the letter first obtained by Massroots.com and later confirmed by The Washington Post. "The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to once again offer the amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which passed the appropriations committee earlier this month. When asked if he's expecting a fight on the floor, where he'll be forced to offer the amendment, Rohrabacher said he hopes there isn't one "but if there is, clearly we will win."
July 27, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Latest effort to take down federal marijuana prohibition via constitutional litigation filed in SDNY
As reported in this Newsweek article, former New York Jets defensive end Marvin Washington "is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Sessions, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency" that attacks federal marijuana prohibition on various grounds. Here is a bit more about the lawsuit via the press report:
The Manhattan lawsuit targets the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which established federal drug policy and delineated narcotics into different schedules. Under the legislation, marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance—along with other drugs such as heroin and ecstasy—and is subjected to the tightest restrictions.... “Classifying cannabis as a ‘Schedule I drug’ is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.
Washington has joined the lawsuit because the current legislation prevents him from obtaining federal grants to start a business aimed at professional football players who want to use medical marijuana to manage pain.... Other plaintiffs include an 11-year-old boy, Alexis Bortell, who requires medical marijuana to control his epilepsy, and a disabled military veteran, Jose Belen, who uses it to control post traumatic stress syndrome....
Washington, whose playing career ended in 1999, has been a vocal advocate for the use of medical marijuana in football. He has lobbied the NFL to promote medical marijuana as an effective means of pain relief. Washington played eight seasons with the Jets, while also playing for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos in a 11-year career. He won the Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999 with the Broncos.
Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the advocacy group NORML, has a lot more of the legal particulars in this new posting which also includes a link to the 89-page complaint in this case. Here are parts of his post:
Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, was recently filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York by lead attorney Michael Hiller, with NORML Legal Committee (NLC) attorneys David Holland and Joseph Bondy serving as co-counsel. The full complaint can be found here.
Individual plaintiffs in the suit were two young children, an American military veteran, and a retired professional football player, all of whom are medical marijuana patients; and a membership organization alleging their minority members have been discriminated against by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Seeking to overturn the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, plaintiffs request a declaration that the CSA, as it pertains to the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is unconstitutional, because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, an assortment of protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental Right to Travel. Further, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Congress, in enacting the CSA as it pertains to marijuana, violated the Commerce Clause, extending the breadth of legislative power well beyond the scope contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.
Named as defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Acting Administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg, the Justice Department, the DEA and the Federal Government.
In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that the federal government does not, and could not possibly, believe that Cannabis meets the definition of a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin, LSD, and mescaline; and that classifying Cannabis as a “Schedule I drug,” is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
Among the other claims in the lawsuit are that the CSA: (i) was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights; and (ii) violates plaintiffs’ constitutional Right to Travel.
July 25, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this notable new CNBC commentary authored by Gina Belafonte, Chris Leavy and Lindy Snider. Here are excerpts:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana related arrests in the county, nearly 90 percent of them were for possession. African Americans were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites.
Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago, 28 others and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Eight states have also legalized adult use. We now have a track record of legal, regulated marijuana in more than half of the country, and clear evidence that it is a better approach than a blanket prohibition and harsh prison sentences for those who use it or participate in its commerce.
A 2014 study from the University of Texas, Dallas using FBI's crime data showed no rise in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, and even some evidence of decreasing rates of homicide and assault. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period while Washington, which legalized recreational use in 2012, saw violent crime rates drop by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.
The history of the War on Drugs is also a history of the economic and social disparities in our country. Black and brown men are disproportionally incarcerated under our current drug laws, and because mass incarceration breaks up families and severely limits ex-convicts' employment and business opportunities, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the poverty rate in minority communities....
To be sure, the War on Drugs is a much bigger and more complex issue than marijuana legalization alone, but it is a good place to start. State legal cannabis is now a $6 billion industry that employs 150,000 people and is on track to create more jobs than the manufacturing sector by 2020.
It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; California alone is forecasting $1 billion annually. Two decades of state legal marijuana also has shaped public opinion, with record numbers of Americans now supporting legalization. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows 94 percent of U.S. voters support medical marijuana programs, and 60 percent favor full legalization.
In today's divided politics, few issues command such unanimous support. Medical marijuana is legal both in red and blue states. The first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus, announced earlier this year, is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. And in the cannabis industry social justice and business interests are often aligned, with advocates and entrepreneurs standing shoulder to shoulder against reactionary policies such as the ones proposed by Mr. Sessions.
If he has his way on marijuana, Mr. Sessions threatens to turn back the clock on two decades of painstakingly gained progress, bringing us back to the days of overflowing prisons, disenfranchised communities and a $50 billion black market for cannabis run by drug cartels. We must not allow that to happen.
July 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Earlier this week, as reported in this press release, a new report focused on New York City was released "by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, [which] shows that marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio continue to be marked by extremely high racial disparities, as was the case under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations." Here is more about the report from the press release:
The report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues to make large numbers of unjust and racially-targeted marijuana arrests. The report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Despite Mayor de Blasio’s campaign promise to end racially-biased policing, in 2016 marijuana possession was New York City’s fourth most commonly charged criminal offense. Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 85 percent of the more than 60,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch. Most people arrested are young Blacks and Latinos – even though studies consistently show young whites use marijuana at higher rates....
Key findings include the following:
In the first three years of the de Blasio administration, the NYPD made over 60,000 criminal arrests for the lowest-level marijuana possession offense, an average of 20,000 marijuana arrests a year.
The NYPD’s marijuana arrests under de Blasio suffer from the same overwhelming racial disparities as under Bloomberg – about 86% of the arrests for marijuana possession are of Blacks and Latinos.
As in previous years, in 2016 and in the first four months of 2017, 81% of the people arrested for marijuana were age 16 to 34, 58% were 16 to 25 and 27% were age 16 to 20.
Residents of New York City’s public housing developments constitute the single largest group of people arrested. In 2016, NYPD housing police made 21% of the city’s total of 18,121 arrests for marijuana possession and 92% of those arrested were Blacks and Latinos.
Of New York City’s 76 neighborhood police precincts, 37 neighborhoods have a majority of Black and Latino residents. They have about half the city’s population but provide 66% of the marijuana possession arrests and 92% of the people arrested are Blacks and Latinos.
Police in New York also target neighborhoods in midtown and lower Manhattan with active nightlife. Although pedestrians in those areas are predominately white, police arrest Blacks and Latinos at very high rates.
In 2016, in Greenwich Village, 69% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos. In Chelsea, 77% were Blacks and Latinos. In Soho-Tribeca-Wall St. 73% were Blacks and Latinos. In tourist-heavy Little Italy and Chinatown, 66% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos.
In 2016, police enforcement targeted people of color, especially Blacks, everywhere in New York City. In Manhattan, Blacks are 13% of the residents but 45% of the people arrested for marijuana possession. In Queens, Blacks are 18% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana. And in Staten Island, Blacks are 10% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana possession.
The rates of NYPD arrests for marijuana possession per 100,000 of the population are extremely skewed. In Queens, police arrest Blacks at seven times the rate of whites. In Manhattan they arrest Blacks at 10 times the rate of whites. And in Staten Island the NYPD arrests Blacks at 15 times the rate of whites.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Another accounting of the big drop in traffic stops after marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington
In this recent post I noted The Marshall Project article discussing data showing many fewer traffic stops after marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. This new NBC News article, headlined "Police Searches Drop Dramatically in States that Legalized Marijuana," covers similar ground. Here are excerpts of this reporting of fascinating data:
Traffic searches by highway patrols in Colorado and Washington dropped by nearly half after the two states legalized marijuana in 2012. That also reduced the racial disparities in the stops, according to a new analysis of police data, but not by much. Blacks and Hispanics are still searched at higher rates than whites. Highway stops have long been a tool in the war on drugs, and remain a charged issue amid a furious national debate about police treatment of minorities....
The overuse of traffic stops can damage the public trust in police, particularly when searches disproportionately involve black and Hispanic drivers. “Searches where you don’t find something are really negative towards a community," said Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice in Boston. "Have a police officer search your car is really like, 'Why are they doing this to me?' And you get more pissed off. If you’re trying to do relationship building, it’s not a good thing to do a lot of searches.”
The analysis comes from data crunched by the Stanford Open Policing Project.... The data compiled by the Stanford group is limited in that it is not uniform across states. Each of the country's law enforcement agencies track traffic stops differently, and some don't release the data publicly. In the end, the group compiled data from 20 states that was deep enough to allow a rigorous analysis. Colorado and Washington were compared against 12 of these states to arrive at the conclusion that marijuana legalization likely had an effect on search rates.
In both states, marijuana legalization eliminated one of the major justifications used by police officers to stop motorists, cutting searches by more than 40 percent after legalization. In Colorado, the change occurred gradually, with searches dropping initially by 30 percent, and then flatting out to a more than 50-percent drop within a year. In Washington, there was a drop of more than 50 percent in searches within three months of legalization. The search rate remained low thereafter. The 12 states in the Stanford study that did not pass marijuana decriminalization legislation during the period did not experience significant drops.
The biggest finding ─ and one that mirrors the results of investigations in individual states and jurisdictions ─ is that minorities are still stopped and searched at higher rates than white drivers. The threshold before a search is performed is also lower for minority drivers than it is for whites, according to the researchers at Stanford behind the Open Policing Project. Those differences remained in Colorado and Washington even after searchers dropped following pot legalization.
Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said that although the disparities persisted, the overall drop in searches means that fewer minorities would be unfairly targeted. "As long as police officers (like the rest of us) hold implicit or explicit stereotypes associating minorities with crime, they will perceive minorities as more suspicious," Glaser wrote in an email.
Prior related post:
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Marshall Project piece that carried the subheadline "New data shows legalization leads to fewer encounters between cops and drivers, but racial disparities remain." Here are excerpts:
The legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado had at least one unanticipated effect on the streets: a sharp decline in the number of traffic stops and searches by state police, a new analysis shows. The drop means fewer interactions between police and drivers, potentially limiting dangerous clashes. But even though the number of traffic stops fell significantly for all racial groups, black and Hispanic drivers are still searched at higher rates than white motorists, the analysis found.
[This review of] stop and searches conducted by Washington and Colorado state patrols before and after marijuana became legal in both states in late 2012 ... was based on data obtained by researchers at Stanford University who released a report this week studying 60 million state patrol stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, the most comprehensive look at national traffic stops to date. The data does not offer a complete picture because it includes only stops by state patrol agencies and not local law enforcement....
It is possible that pot legalization has not had the same effect on urban traffic stops as it has on those made by highway patrols because policing strategies differ, said Charles Epp, a University of Kansas professor who co-authored the 2014 book “Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship.” State police tend to focus on accidents, impaired and reckless driving, and the transport of illegal drugs. City police concentrate on crime deterrence and response....
The Stanford study suggests that removing marijuana possession from the potential list of crimes lowers the chance that a car will be stopped and searched. And the numbers are striking. In Washington, the search rate of black drivers age 21 and over decreased by about 34 percent after legalization, according to the analysis by Reveal and The Marshall Project. Search rates of white and Hispanic drivers in the same age group declined by about 25 percent.
Still, racial disparities remained: Both before and after legalization, black motorists age 21 and over – the legal age for buying pot – were searched at a rate roughly twice that of white drivers. The search rate for Hispanics was about 1.7 times that of whites.
In Colorado, the search rate of African American drivers 21 and over dropped by nearly half, while the search rate of Hispanic drivers fell by 58 percent. White drivers faced almost two-thirds fewer searches after recreational marijuana was legalized. Racial disparities, however, also persisted in Colorado even as overall numbers of searches went down. After legalization in Colorado, the search rate for African American drivers was 3.3 times that of white drivers, and the rate for Hispanics was more than 2.7 times that of whites.
The findings on stop and searches are similar to those showing a decrease in the number of marijuana arrests in Colorado after legalization, according to a 2016 Colorado Department of Public Safety report that reviewed legalization’s wide-ranging impacts. The study showed that the total number of marijuana arrests dropped by nearly half after legalization, but the marijuana arrest rate for African Americans was almost three times that of whites.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
I highlighting in this post a few weeks ago that New Jersey may well be on a political path to become the first state to fully legalize marijuana via the traditional legislative process. That political path may have been started in earnest this week with a state legislative hearing on the topic, and this local article report on a notable advocate at that hearing. The article is headlined "Prosecutor says 'too many lives ruined' because marijuana is illegal in N.J.," and here are excerpts:
As a municipal prosecutor in Clark, Jon-Henry Barr said he must try a number of cases against people who get arrested for marijuana possession. Barr also said he knows these cases can wreck good people's lives, and doesn't want to keep quiet about it anymore. One case he won recently against a young black woman with no prior record "turned my stomach."
The former president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors Association, Barr urged the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday to pass a law legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana because it is morally the right thing to do. "Legalize and regulate it like we do with tobacco and alcohol," Barr said. "I have seen too many lives ruined or damaged. I'll continue to enforce the law -- that is my sworn duty. But I will not endorse the law."...
The supporters for Sen. Nicholas Scutari's bill (3195) far outweighed opponents. The handful of detractors were called up to testify at the tail end of the five-hour Statehouse hearing.
Cathleen Lewis, the chairwoman for the coordinating council AAA Clubs in New Jersey, warned that legalizing marijuana will result in more people driving under the influence of the drug. A year after Washington legalized cannabis sales, the number of fatal crashes involving drivers who has used marijuana climbed from 8 percent to 17 percent, she said....
Philip Kirschner of Morristown, who described himself as a concerned parent pleaded with the committee to reconsider pursuing the bill at all. "I know you want the tax money but let's be straight here: pass decriminalization first. That is what most people came here and spoke about," Kirschner said. "I plead with you, despite your rush for more taxes, to abandon this bill. The cost in human lives and misery is simply not worth it."
Following the hearing, Scutari, the bill's sponsor and committee chairman, said the there were plenty of suggestions how lawmakers can shape the bill, including speeding-up the expungement process. He said he didn't know whether he would call another hearing soon or wait for the new governor to take the place of Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent.
Friday, June 16, 2017
As noted in this recent post, a coming election for Governor in New Jersey suggests the possibility of coming major marijuana reform in the Garden State. With that possibility clearly in mind, the ACLU of New Jersey has released this new report on marijuana enforcement in the state titled "Unequal & Unfair: New Jersey’s War on Marijuana Users." This press release and this webpage provides highlights from the 70-page report, and here is an excerpt from the executive summary:
New Jersey’s arrest practices for marijuana possession illustrate the failure of marijuana enforcement. They have a devastating impact of aggressive, costly, racially disparate punishment for use of a drug that for adults is less dangerous than alcohol. For the first time ever, the analysis in this report takes a deep dive into New Jersey’s marijuana possession arrest practices. What it finds is deeply troubling: New Jersey is making more arrests for marijuana possession than ever in a manner that is more racially disparate than ever.
Indeed, our marijuana arrest problem is getting worse, not better.
Key findings of the report include:
• New Jersey is making more arrests for marijuana possession than ever before. In 2013, New Jersey law enforcement made 24,067 marijuana possession arrests, 26 percent more than in 2000, when police made 19,607 arrests. Between 2000 and 2013, New Jersey police made nearly 280,000 total marijuana possession arrests.
• Police make a marijuana possession arrest in New Jersey on average every 22 minutes. This plays out with varying frequency around the state. Cape May was the county with the highest per capita arrest rate in 2013, and the 28th Legislative District, represented by Senator Ron Rice and Assembly members Ralph Caputo and Cleopatra Tucker, was the district with the highest per capita arrest rate that year. Seaside Park in Ocean County had the highest per capita arrest rate of any community in the state.
• Racial disparities in New Jersey marijuana arrests are at an all-time high. The racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests reached an all-time high in 2013. That year, Black New Jerseyans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite similar usage rates. In 2000, Blacks were 2.2 times more likely to be arrested than Whites, an increase of 34 percent. In 2013, Blacks were 11.3 times more likely to be arrested than whites in the 21st Legislative District. And in Point Pleasant Beach, Blacks were 31.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2013 — the highest racial disparity of any municipality included in the study.
• New Jersey wastes more than $143 million per year to enforce our marijuana possession laws. Adding up the cost of police, courts, and corrections, New Jersey expends tremendous resources to implement and enforce marijuana prohibition. Indeed, throughout the past decade, New Jersey has spent more than $1 billion to enforce these laws. These are resources that could be invested in treatment, education, prevention, or other community needs.
• Nine out of ten marijuana arrests are of users, not dealers. In 2013, marijuana possession arrests made up 88 percent of total marijuana arrests statewide. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 arrests made for marijuana were not of dealers or kingpins, but rather New Jerseyans who possessed the lowest amount counted by New Jersey law. In Monmouth County, this number reached 95 percent. It was 97 percent in the 8th Legislative District. In 14 New Jersey communities included in the study, 100 percent of arrests were for low-level possession in 2013.
These findings are particularly troubling when one understands the potential collateral: jail, loss of one’s job, a criminal record for at least three years, driver’s license suspension, up to $1,255 in fines and fees, and potential consequences for one’s immigration status, financial aid eligibility, access to public housing, and the ability to adopt children.
Monday, May 1, 2017
The Colorado Springs Gazette, which has tended to take a skeptical/critical perspective on marijuana reform in Colorado, has this big new series of big new articles under the banner "State of Marijuana." Here are the headlines and links:
May 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 27, 2017
"From Medical to Recreational Marijuana Sales: Marijuana Outlets and Crime in an Era of Changing Marijuana Legislation"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new research published today in the Journal of Primary Prevention and authored by Bridget Freisthler, Andrew Gaidus, Christina Tam, William Ponicki and Paul Gruenewald. Here is the abstract:
A movement from medical to recreational marijuana use allows for a larger base of potential users who have easier access to marijuana, because they do not have to visit a physician before using marijuana. This study examines whether changes in the density of marijuana outlets were related to violent, property, and marijuana-specific crimes in Denver, CO during a time in which marijuana outlets began selling marijuana for recreational, and not just medical, use.
We collected data on locations of crimes, marijuana outlets and covariates for 481 Census block groups over 34 months (N = 16,354 space–time units). A Bayesian Poisson space–time model assessed statistical relationships between independent measures and crime counts within “local” Census block groups. We examined spatial “lag” effects to assess whether crimes in Census block groups adjacent to locations of outlets were also affected. Independent of the effects of covariates, densities of marijuana outlets were unrelated to property and violent crimes in local areas.
However, the density of marijuana outlets in spatially adjacent areas was positively related to property crime in spatially adjacent areas over time. Further, the density of marijuana outlets in local and spatially adjacent blocks groups was related to higher rates of marijuana-specific crime. This study suggests that the effects of the availability of marijuana outlets on crime do not necessarily occur within the specific areas within which these outlets are located, but may occur in adjacent areas. Thus studies assessing the effects of these outlets in local areas alone may risk underestimating their true effects.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
National District Attorneys Association releases report on "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective"
In this post a few months ago, I praised the National District Attorneys Association for forming a diverse working group to address modern marijuana laws and polices. As detailed in this local article, though, it does not seem all the diverse perspectives reflected in the working group resulted in a nuanced position paper from the group:
District attorneys from across the nation recently backed a position statement that declares that marijuana legalization has increased access by children and that supports federal enforcement. The perspective – ironically released by the National District Attorneys Association on April 20, the 420 day of marijuana celebration – could help guide policy direction by the Trump administration, which has signaled a possible crackdown.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less,” the perspective states. It suggests that “marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.” The opinion goes on to say that alcohol is different because “alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does.”
The perspective cites “scientific studies” that show cannabis can be addictive, especially for children, and initial evidence of child hospitalizations due to “unintended exposure to marijuana.” The perspective in many instances draws upon information provided by the anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM.
On federal enforcement, the NDAA white paper states that there should be a consistent application of federal law across the nation “to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
The statement has split Colorado district attorneys, especially on the issue of impacts to children. In Colorado, the experience has been the opposite. The latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 found that teen cannabis use has not increased since legalization. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in February on national television reiterated those statistics. “We didn’t see a spike in teenage use, if anything it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said on “Meet the Press.”
It’s a thorny subject for Colorado prosecutors, where legalization has often left district attorneys in an uncomfortable situation. While cannabis is legal in Colorado, it remains illegal on the federal level and in many states.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, was one of four people from Colorado on a policy group along with prosecutors from other states with “positions all over the spectrum,” he said. “Nowhere does that document say an individual office or any state organization takes a specific position,” Raynes said. Raynes said he finds the NDAA statements to be “innocuous and general in nature.”
“The only other statement one could make is that federal drug policy should be applied inconsistently across the nation,” Raynes said. “That would be absurd.”
But Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who leans to the left on criminal justice reform and who sat on the NDAA panel, took issue with the perspective of the association. He said the association is “dominated” by conservative prosecutors from the rural South. “They don’t tend to be people on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform,” Garnett said. He added that his participation on the working group was “pretty painful.” Prosecutors wanted to send a letter to Hickenlooper demanding that he close down all legal marijuana businesses in Colorado. The governor would not have even had the authority to make such a move.
“If anything, use is going down by children,” Garnett said, adding that NDAA is a conservative group without a lot of experience in the regulated legalized marijuana industry. There’s a lot of urban myths out there about what’s going on in Colorado from people who don’t really know, and some of that is promulgated by the DEA and the prohibition groups who are funded pretty heavily to continue marijuana prohibition, They tend, on occasion, to distort the reality of what’s going on in Colorado.”
The relatively short report from NDAA is titled "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective," and it can be accessed in full at this link.
April 26, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Delaware court examines whether, after marijuana possession decriminalized, felony charges are proper for possessing gun with marijuana
This local article from the First State, headlined "Marijuana decriminalized but still triggers gun felony," spotlights an interesting case and this lower court ruling concerning the intersection of marijuana reform and guns laws. Here are the details:
Delaware judge is putting lawmakers on notice that they may want to take another look at a law that still makes it illegal for someone to have a handgun while carrying a decriminalized amount of marijuana.
In a recent ruling, Superior Court Judge Paul R. Wallace pointed out that the legislature may not have realized it left on the books a law that bars Delawareans from simultaneously possessing a handgun and any amount of marijuana, even though less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in Delaware in 2015....
The legal conundrum arose in February 2016 when the Wilmington police's drug unit went to an apartment in the unit block of 31st Street to arrest 21-year-old Imeir Murray's mother who was wanted on a probation violation.... Police smelled burnt marijuana and saw a marijuana grinder, an ashtray and a blunt in plain sight in Murray's bedroom, the warrant said. Officers also found a loaded Walther PK380 handgun on an upper shelf of the closet....
Authorities initially believed the marijuana was slightly more than an ounce, but later learned through laboratory testing that it was only 0.798 ounces, or 22.63 grams, which is a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine that can be paid like a traffic ticket, according to Wallace's opinion. At the police station, Murray and the woman in the bedroom admitted to possessing marijuana, but said the handgun was not theirs. Murray told police he had found the gun in his closet a few days earlier and had asked everyone in the apartment if it belonged to them, but no one took ownership, the warrant said.
Murray was arrested and charged in a grand jury indictment with possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, and possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, a felony. He was legally allowed to own a firearm, except for a state law enacted in 2011 that says one cannot have a semi-automatic firearm or handgun while possessing a controlled substance.
"It is undisputed that the amount of marijuana found in Murray's room exposes him to, at most, a civil marijuana possession violation," Wallace wrote in his April 13 opinion. "It is disputed what legal effect that fact has on the two charges for which Murray was indicted and faces trial in this Court."
Murray's attorney, Matthew Buckworth, argued that the firearm charge should be dismissed because the firearm statute wasn't intended to apply to someone possessing under an ounce of marijuana for personal use. "It is not fair for someone to have the potential to be felonized for an offense that would otherwise be OK," Buckworth said. "It was never the intent of the legislature to criminalize that behavior."
Wallace disagreed with Buckworth, saying he must apply the law as it currently reads. "Sure, it's conceivable that if it ever did, the legislature might choose to eliminate non-criminal marijuana possession as an element of that compound weapons crime," Wallace wrote. "But, the legislature has not done so. And, this court cannot do so in its stead."...
Murray's case went to trial in January, and he was found not guilty of the firearm charge, after his attorney argued the firearm in the closet did not belong to Murray. The judge found him liable for a $100 civil violation for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Even though he was found not guilty of the firearm charge, Wallace decided to still write a court opinion after the fact in April. That signaled to lawmakers a need to take a second look....
Buckworth said he is hopeful the legislature will make changes to the firearm charge since they likely never imagined a scenario would arise like it did for Murray. "I think changing the law is so important because he's a very good kid," Buckworth said. "He has a full-time job, and this could have really messed him up. That doesn't seem like the intent of the legislation."
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
"Too Stoned to Drive? The question is trickier than you’d think for police and the courts to answer."
The title of this post is the headline of this ABA Journal article appearing in the April 2017 issue. Here are excerpts:
Massachusetts is one of eight states, plus the District of Columbia, where recreational marijuana use is now legal. Twenty more states have legalized medical marijuana. But science and the law have not kept pace with this rapid political change.
We take for granted that not being able to walk a straight line or stand on one leg means you’re drunk, and that being drunk means it’s unacceptably dangerous to drive. But there is no clear scientific consensus when it comes to smoking pot and driving. And few of the tools police officers have long relied on to determine whether a driver is too drunk to drive, such as the Breathalyzer, exist for marijuana....
Most (but not all) studies find that using pot impairs one’s ability to drive. However, overall, the impairment appears to be modest — akin to driving with a blood-alcohol level between 0.01 and 0.05, which is legal in all states. (The much greater risk is in combining pot with alcohol.)
The increased crash risk with pot alone “is so small you can compare it to driving in darkness compared to driving in daylight,” says Rune Elvik, a senior research officer at the Institute of Transport Economics in Oslo, Norway, who conducted several major meta-analyses evaluating the risks of drugged driving. “Nobody would consider banning people from driving in the dark. If you tried to impose some kind of consistency standard, then there is no strong case, really, for banning it.”
When it comes to alcohol, science and the courts have long established a direct line between number of drinks, blood-alcohol level and crash risk. As one goes up, so do the others. Not so for pot. Scientists can’t say with confidence how much marijuana, in what concentration, used in what period of time, will reliably make someone “high.” (This is especially difficult to gauge because most of the existing studies used pot provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which tends to be a lot less potent than what smokers can buy on the street or in shops.)
Blood levels of THC — the chemical component of pot that makes you high — spike quickly after smoking and decline rapidly in the hours afterward, during the window when a smoker would feel most high. What’s more, regular smokers could have THC in their blood for days or weeks after smoking, when they are clearly no longer high.
Still, laws in 18 states tie drugged driving charges to whether drivers have THC or related compounds in their blood. Some states prohibit driving with any amount, and some specify a threshold modeled after the 0.08 limit states use for blood alcohol. But the lag time between being pulled over and being transported to a hospital for a blood draw — on average, more than two hours — can lead to false negatives, while the tolerance developed by regular users (and the tendency for THC to stick around in their bloodstreams) can lead to false positives. This is why, researchers say, blood THC laws make little sense....
The more sensible strategy appears to be prohibiting driving while high, and 31 states take this approach. But proving that a driver is high turns out to be tricky terrain, too....
Research shows that failing a standard field sobriety test correlates closely with having a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit—and officers have the Breathalyzer to confirm their findings. But “the gap between assessment, cannabis use and driving is really not completely closed,” says Thomas Marcotte, co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California at San Diego....
Some police departments use drug recognition experts — specially trained officers dispatched to evaluate suspected drugged drivers. These officers, commonly referred to as DREs, use an hourlong, 12-step process that includes taking the suspect’s blood pressure and pulse and conducting eye exams and balance tests. They use this information to generate an opinion about whether the driver is intoxicated — and, if so, by what. Preliminary research seems to indicate their opinions are of mixed quality, and not all judges allow DREs to testify to their findings.
“They’re not EMTs. They’re not medically trained,” says [Nicholas] Lovrich, the Washington State professor who, in a recent study of five years of DRE data in Washington and New Mexico, found a false-positive rate for pot intoxication ranging from 38 percent to 68 percent. “Everyone in the DRE business knows it’s really hard to do this.”
The gold standard would be a Breathalyzer-like device that can objectively measure whether someone has recently smoked, as well as how much. Lovrich is working on developing such a tool, using the same type of technology that security screeners use at airports to check for explosives. He says it will be at least two years before the technology is perfected, miniaturized and engineered to be durable enough to toss in the back seat of a squad car.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Though a number of folks in a number of ways have brought a critical race perspective to discussion of marijuana law, policy and reform, I still think this topic always merits even more extensive and thoughtful attention. Thus, I am very pleased that a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is planned a presentation on racial issues surrounding marijuana reform. And here are materials this student sent my way in preparation for the class presentation and discussion next week:
Seattle Times article, "Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"
Huffington Post commentary, "A Big Shift Is Necessary to Successfully Market Cannabis to Minorities"
March 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, March 20, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post WonkBlog item by Christopher Ingraham. The piece identifies effectively one quite notable marijuana-related take-away from recent New York Times reporting about deadly drug raids by law enforcement. Here is how this piece gets started:
Since 2010, At least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have turned deadly, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
The list of fatalities includes small-time dealers and people who sold the occasional joint to a friend, as well as people suspected of dealing in more serious drugs like crack or meth, but who were found to be in possession of only marijuana after the fact. It also includes four police officers who were killed during the raids, intentionally or otherwise.
The deadly raids are a reminder that an activity that's legal and celebrated in some states -- selling weed -- can get you killed in others.
The dead include:
• 29-year-old Jason Westcott of Tampa, who was shot and killed by police who stormed his home and observed him with a firearm. Westcott never fired his gun. The police uncovered a total of .2 grams of marijuana at Westcott's residence, not enough to fill a typical joint.
• Trevon Cole of Las Vegas, who was targeted for a raid after undercover officers purchased 1.8 ounces of the drug from him. Cole was unarmed, and was shot and killed by an officer as he was trying to flush marijuana down a toilet. His family eventually received a $1.7 million settlement from police.
• Levonia Riggins, also of Tampa, who became the subject of a raid after undercover agents purchased marijuana from him on three occasions. Riggins was in bed at the time of the raid. He didn't respond to officers' demands, and when the officers moved toward him Riggins made a quick movement. He was shot and killed. The raid turned out no firearms and a small amount of marijuana.
Marijuana itself is not a deadly substance. "No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported," according to the DEA. But the deadly raids on suspected marijuana dealers underscore how drug enforcement can become a greater threat to life and safety than drug use itself.
The Times' data shows that drugs are the primary driver of SWAT raids that turn deadly. Among the 85 fatal raids that have occurred since 2010, 61 of them -- or 70 percent -- were initiated on suspicion of drugs.