Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"What Jeff Sessions is getting wrong about legal weed"

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

New report highlights persistent racial skew in marijuana arrests in New York City

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.

July 13, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Another accounting of the big drop in traffic stops after marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington

Wa_b9a991a80a9f2dbe4e216f8a9e0cdfc4.nbcnews-ux-600-480In 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:

"How to Cut Down on Traffic Stops: Legalize Pot"

June 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"How to Cut Down on Traffic Stops: Legalize Pot"

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.

June 21, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Leading local prosecutor among those making the case for marijuana legalization in New Jersey

JH_Quote_Public_Safety_PageI 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.

June 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 16, 2017

New report from ACLU of NJ: "Unequal & Unfair: New Jersey’s War on Marijuana Users"

Mariajuna_arrestsAs 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.

June 16, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Detailed new review of "State of Marijuana" by Colorado Springs Gazette

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"From Medical to Recreational Marijuana Sales: Marijuana Outlets and Crime in an Era of Changing Marijuana Legislation"

1The 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.

April 27, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

National District Attorneys Association releases report on "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective"

UntitledIn 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."

April 25, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Too Stoned to Drive? The question is trickier than you’d think for police and the courts to answer."

Download (1)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.

March 29, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Looking at marijuana reform in black and white

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:

ACLU Report, "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests"

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

"Marijuana raids are more deadly than the drug itself"

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.

March 20, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Looking closely at intersection of marijuana policy and immigration

After a Spring Break break, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students are back next week to continue making presentations based on their selected marijuana-related research issue.  A student this coming week is exploring the ever-so-timely topic of immigration and its intersection with marijuana laws and policies.  Here are the resources the student assembled as background on this topic:

1.  Press article: "If pot is legalized, it can still have big consequences for certain immigrants"

2.  Press article: "When Immigrants are Deported for Smoking weed"

3.  Press Article: "How Marijuana Gets People Deported, In 5 Simple Charts"

4.  Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) Report: "Immigration Impact: Analysis of the Adult Use of Marijuana"

5.  Law review article: "Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"

March 16, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pennsylvania's Auditor General suggests marijuana legalization could help state close budget deficit

Regulating Marijuana FINALA notable bean-counter is making a notable case for marijuana reform in the Keystone State. This official press release, headlined "Auditor General DePasquale Recommends Regulating, Taxing Marijuana as Right Move to Help Deal with Critical Issues: Result would bring in revenue, create jobs, reduce corrections costs," explains:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said today Pennsylvania should strongly consider regulating and taxing marijuana to benefit from a booming industry expected to be worth $20 billion and employ more than 280,000 in the next decade. “The regulation and taxation of the marijuana train has rumbled out of the station, and it is time to add a stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said during a news conference at the state capitol.

“I make this recommendation because it is a more sane policy to deal with a critical issue facing the state. Other states are already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation and savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions. In addition, it would generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year that could help tackle Pennsylvania’s budget problems.”...

In 2012, Colorado voters approved legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. Last year, Colorado – which has less than half the population of Pennsylvania – brought in $129 million in tax revenue on $1 billion in marijuana sales from the new industry that had already created an estimated 18,000 jobs. “The revenue that could be generated would help address Pennsylvania’s revenue and spending issue. But there is more to this than simply tax dollars and jobs,” DePasquale said. “There is also social impact, specifically related to arrests, and the personal, emotional, and financial devastation that may result from such arrests.”

In Colorado’s experience, after regulation and taxation of marijuana, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by nearly half between 2012 and 2014, from nearly 13,000 arrests to 7,000 arrests. Marijuana possession arrests, which make up the majority of all marijuana arrests, were nearly cut in half, down 47 percent, and marijuana sales arrests decreased by 24 percent. “All told, this decrease in arrest numbers represent thousands of people who would otherwise have blemished records that could prevent them from obtaining future employment or even housing,” DePasquale said. “Decriminalization also generates millions in savings from fewer arrests and prosecutions.”

DePasquale said Pennsylvania has already benefited by some cities decriminalizing marijuana. In Philadelphia, marijuana arrests went from 2,843 in 2014 to 969 in 2016. Based on a recent study, the RAND Corporation estimated the cost for each marijuana arrest and prosecution is approximately $2,200. Using those figures, that’s a savings of more than $4.1 million in one Pennsylvania city. Last year, York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties each had more arrests for small amounts of marijuana than Philadelphia. Those counties had between 800 and 1,400 arrests in 2015.

“Obviously, regulation and taxation of marijuana is not something that should be entered into lightly,” DePasquale said. “Should Pennsylvania join the growing number of states benefiting financially and socially from the taxation and regulation of marijuana; there are many things to consider, including details about age limits, regulatory oversight, licensing, grow policies, sale and use locations, and possession limitations.

“As I said earlier, the train has indeed left the station on the regulation and taxation of marijuana,” DePasquale said. “It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.”

March 6, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

What are the possibilities and foundations supporting a constutional argument for access to marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is the question being raised by a student presentation in in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar next week. (It is also a question that has become ever more timely in light of recent suggestions by members of the Trump Administration that we may soon be seeing "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition.) The student addressing this issue has assembled the following background reading:

State Supreme Court decision recognizing a constitutional right to use marijuana in the home: Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (Alaska 1975) (westlaw; public site)

U.S. Supreme Court Cases recognizing a right to privacy and autonomy:

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Stanley v. Georgia (1969)

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Brief summary of unenumerated rights found in the 14th amendment through the concept of personal autonomy

NORML Amicus Brief involving right to use marijuana

March 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"