Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Is anyone studying how marijuana reforms are impacting criminal justice systems in non-reform jurisdictions?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Virginia headlined "Enforcement up in smoke? Marijuana arrests down sharply across state, region." Here are is how the article gets started:
Marijuana arrests are down significantly in Virginia over the past few years — leading some to speculate that the decline could reflect a loosening attitude in the Old Dominion about the drug.
The number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses has fallen by 14 percent statewide over a two-year stretch — from 25,981 in 2013 to 22,428 in 2015, according to Virginia State Police figures compiled from local law enforcement agencies.
That's the largest two-year drop in at least 15 years, with cannabis charges on pace to fall once again in 2016. "And it ain't because less people are smoking marijuana," said Ron Smith, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Hampton. "Virginia changes the law very gradually, and you can feel it happening. Even if they don't say, 'Hey, it's legal,' you can see that slow pull, that slow walk toward legalization." Within a few years, he said, marijuana possession laws could go the way of adultery laws: Still on the books, but not enforced.
Newport News has seen a far steeper decline than most localities, helping to drive the statewide reduction. In 2011, 1,461 people were arrested or charged on marijuana offenses in the city. But that dropped to 578 people in 2015 — a 60 percent decrease. Smith, for one, said he thinks police are being less aggressive these days on a variety of crimes, including marijuana offenses. "They're picking the apples that they can reach, but they're not standing on ladders," he said. "I'm not saying they're turning their heads, but they're not doing anything to look past what's right there in front of them."...
In one sign of the times, the top prosecutors in Hampton and Newport News decided in 2012 and 2013 to no longer prosecute adult misdemeanor pot possession cases, saying their resources were running thin for felony prosecutions. "We were wasting resources when we've got bigger fish to fry," said Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell, who said he wanted to increase focus on homicides and gun crimes.
Newport News' drop-off in marijuana arrests, in particular, appears to coincide with Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn's decision not to handle those cases. That left the prosecuting task to police officers — just as they handle their own traffic cases — before the cities filled the breach with alternatives. "Certainly locally here in Newport News, the absence of a prosecuting attorney to help the officers with marijuana charges has had a significant and adverse impact on the officers' ability to make those cases," Newport News Police Chief Richard Myers said. "And we know with certainty that that has contributed significantly with each passing year to the decrease in our marijuana cases."
When police officers find someone with marijuana on the street, Myers said, the extra burden of prosecuting the case "of course is going to factor into their decision-making" about whether to file pot charges or seek an alternative.... Myers, however, said his officers are not being told to "look the other way" on marijuana arrests. "We haven't done any stand-down kind of thing at all," he said. "Some folks on the street probably think we have because the arrests have dropped. And I have heard officers say that because of it, some folks are getting a little more brazen about it." But while the department places a priority on relationship building and "de-escalation," he said, "nowhere does that say that we're not making arrests, not writing tickets, that we're not being proactive."
After about a year of discussion with Gwynn's office, the city of Newport News about a month ago agreed to pay for two new prosecutors to handle marijuana cases, at a cost of about $60,000 per attorney annually, City Manager Jim Bourey said. Police officers began referring new pot cases to the prosecutor's office under the new system just last week. "We really think it's going to give the officers one more tool to kind of reel in any of that activity," Myers said. Perhaps in part because Hampton moved more quickly on this issue — hiring a lawyer with the city attorney's office to take over marijuana prosecutions in early 2015 — the decline of pot arrests in Hampton has been more modest. Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult said there's been no move to back off on enforcing marijuana laws.
"Absolutely not," Sult said. "As a matter of fact, our mission statement is prevention and then it's enforcement. And when we fail to prevent a crime, then we enforce the law, and I expect them to be professionally aggressive to enforce the law. ... I do believe in the broken windows theory, and in my view, marijuana is a gateway drug to harder problems. A lot of our violent crime is associated with marijuana and marijuana distribution, and I do think it's important that we enforce those laws — and we communicate that to our troops."
Saturday, November 26, 2016
As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular. For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64. This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:
Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.
So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....
California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.
California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”
The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.
Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”
Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....
Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.
In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”
Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.
Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”
The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”
The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.
Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.
For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”
Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.
Monday, November 7, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this new FoxNews article, which starts and ends this way (with links from the original):
In early October, 3-year-old Madyson began suffering from seizures and hallucinations after coming off of a prescription anti-psychotic medication that was being used to treat a history of seizures. Her mother, Kelsey Osborne, made her a smoothie with marijuana butter to relieve her symptoms, and has now lost custody of her two children and is facing criminal charges. Osborne of Gooding, Idaho, was charged with a misdemeanor count of injury to a child and is now protesting Child Protective Services to regain custody rights of Madyson and two-year-old son Ryker, from her ex-husband, Jerome, Fox 42 reported.
On Thursday, she and the Idaho Moms for Marijuana group rallied outside of the Department of Health and Welfare in Boise in favor of medical marijuana reform. Idaho is the only state from the surrounding states in which all forms of marijuana use, medical or otherwise, are illegal. However, the Food and Drug Administration has a program in Boise that uses cannabidiol oil (CBD) as an experimental treatment for 34 children with severe epilepsy, KTVB reported....
According to Idaho Statesman, Osborne made the marijuana butter herself and the substance did contain THC, as CBD oil is not available in the state. Osborne told Fox 42 that she did what she thought was right as a mother. "It's something that I'm going to fight for and I'm not going to give up until I have them back home where they have been begging me to be," Osborne told the news channel. "I'm not going to stop. I won't stop. If it takes me two years, then it's going to take me two years."
Saturday, November 5, 2016
This new MarketWatch article, headlined "Marijuana ballot initiatives could get people who’ve done time for drugs back on their feet," reports on ways that marijuana reform efforts in California and other states could help unwind the drug war. Here are excerpts:
The war on drugs has disproportionately punished minority groups and the less fortunate for decades. Now, with five states set to vote on legalizing and regulating the recreational use and sale of marijuana on Nov. 8, the cannabis industry is using newfound support to undo the harm caused by the drug war....
As the cannabis industry grows and evolves, advocates and organizations are exploring ways to help those impacted by the war on drugs. “If we want to build a successful industry, it has to be diverse,” said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of medical marijuana dispensary Harborside Health Center.
The problem is well documented. In 2015 there were 643,121 marijuana-related arrests in the U.S., according to the Drug Policy Alliance, 89% of which were for possession offenses that are often viewed as relatively minor. And while blacks use and sell drugs at a similar rate to whites, they are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
As sentiment has changed, more facts about the war on drugs have come to light. Former U.S. marshal and Drug Enforcement Administration agent Matthew Fogg, who is now running for Congress in Maryland’s fourth district, has said that during his time in law enforcement, he was directed to target black people and neighborhoods. “Race plays a very important part here,” Fogg said in a 2014 interview on CNN. “We were targeting black areas.”
On Nov. 8, five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will decide whether to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana. A recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and recent election polling shows voters in each of the five states in favor of legalizing and regulating its adult use, production and retail sale, according to a Washington Post report....
And many see legalizing the drug as an opening to give back opportunities taken from those impacted by the war on drugs. For convicted felons, re-emerging into a legal cannabis landscape could prove difficult. Using California as the example, as it stands now, legislation governing whether medical-marijuana business licenses are granted to convicted felons is a patchwork of laws and discretionary decisions sewn by local governments. They grant and deny licenses on a case-by-case basis, said Steve DeAngelo, who is white.
DeAngelo, one of the industry’s pre-eminent advocates and businessmen, runs the largest medical-marijuana dispensary in the country in Harborside Health Center, helped to start a chain of marijuana testing labs and serves as president of influential cannabis investment network The ArcView Group.
Like many others, DeAngelo, who has been in the business for more than 40 years, worked on the black market and is a convicted felon. “It’s critically important this industry make a place for people of color, especially those hurt by the war on drugs,” said DeAngelo. “The cannabis industry is really different in that we were born out of this social-justice movement. There are some things government can and should address, but it’s also incumbent upon this industry to get this right.”...
California’s Proposition 64, which would legalize and regulate cannabis if passed on Tuesday, would not only offer resentencing, potentially reducing sentences for prisoners, but would give felons who have completed their sentences the opportunity to apply to have their criminal records revised.
It echoes a process in Oregon — a state where marijuana is legal — that allows people with a felony drug conviction to get criminal records expunged. Jesce Horton, co-founder of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said that his organization has worked to educate people about the process and added that other states are looking at it as an option.... Expunging records can have a far-reaching impact, said Horton. “Even for people who don’t want to get into the industry, this can really help them in life. A rising tide will lift all boats.”
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new local commentary authored by Carol Rose, who executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Here are excerpts:
When thinking about how to cast your ballot on Question 4, to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, consider the social justice implications of your vote.
Don’t buy the argument that "no one gets arrested for possession of marijuana” anymore. That’s simply not true. More than 600 people are still arrested for marijuana possession annually in Massachusetts. It matters a lot to them and their families that using pot is still not legal. Arrests generate criminal records, which create barriers to housing, employment, education, adoption and more.
Moreover, criminalizing marijuana disproportionately hurts poor people and folks of color. Black people are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though rates of marijuana use are the same across race. Recent data from the Boston Police Department show that hundreds of people in Boston’s neighborhoods of color are disproportionately stopped by the police for marijuana, while their white suburban neighbors who consume at the same rate do so without concern. Indeed, since voters approved decriminalization of an ounce or less in 2008, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have increased in Massachusetts. Legalization will reduce those disparities.
Unnecessary drug raids are another part of the problem. Last month, after spotting one marijuana plant from a helicopter, state police stormed the property of an 81-year-old grandmother and medical marijuana patient in Amherst in order to tear up the single plant. Last July, Massachusetts National Guard personnel and state police stormed the property of Martha’s Vineyard resident Paul Jackson, an 81-year-old former cancer patient who grows the plant for medicinal tea. They confiscated four plants. Question 4 would put an end to such outrageous waste of criminal justice resources....
The marijuana business already exists, it’s just in the shadows where exploitation takes place. It is time to bring the underground economy into the light, where we can regulate it and address it as a public health matter, with education and controls. Remember the "Let's make smoking history" education campaign? That did far more than prohibition to make once-ubiquitous cigarettes uncool.
We can’t wait for the Legislature to fix the law. They have had multiple opportunities to do so and failed to act. Despite widespread calls for public health approaches to substance abuse, most politicians still fear being labeled “soft on crime” at reelection time. Criminalizing marijuana has failed, because criminal law is too blunt a cudgel for an issue that calls for a public health education approach. A yes vote on Question 4 is a vote for public health and social justice.
November 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 14, 2016
The folks at the Drug Policy Alliance have released this notable new report titled "So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C." The website provides this summary of the short report's contents:
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).
The report’s key findings include:
Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.
Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.
Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.
Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.
October 14, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 13, 2016
New report highlights that 2105 had more US marijuana possession arrests than for all violent crimes combined
As noted in this new Mic piece, a "Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday revealed [that] in 2015, there were more arrests in the United States for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together." Here is more:
The report found that, in 2015, there were more than 574,000 arrests for marijuana possession — at least 68,319 more than there were for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined.
Presently, at least 137,000 men and women are incarcerated for drug possession — a number that ebbs and flows as thousands more people are arrested daily, literally at a rate of one drug arrest every 25 seconds. "It's been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared and it hasn't been a success," Tess Borden, lead study author, told the Washington Post. "Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds we're arresting someone for drug use."...
What's more troubling is the disparity between drug arrests of black versus white Americans. Data in the past year suggests that both groups "use illicit drugs other than marijuana at the same rates and that they use marijuana at similar rates," the report said. "Yet around the country, black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession."
In 2014, though black adults only accounted for 14% of actual drug users, they made up roughly a third of those arrested. "We can't talk about race and policing in this country without talking about the No. 1 arrest offense," Borden told the Post. The study found that in some states like Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors working on drug possession cases often sought the highest charges possible against the defendant. Last year, more than 78% of people thrown in jail for felony drug possession had less than a gram of a controlled substance....
In Louisiana, Corey Ladd was given a 17-year sentence for possessing a half ounce of marijuana, a sentence exacerbated by his two previous drug charges. "Corey's story is about the real waste of human lives, let alone taxpayer money, of arrest and incarceration for personal drug use," Borden told the Post. "He could be making money and providing for his family."
Currently, there are 116 people in Texas prisons serving life sentences for drug possession — and at least seven of those sentences are for possession of less than four grams.
During a series of interviews HRW conducted with incarcerated men and women around the country, the group spoke with Jerry Bennett of New Orleans, who took a plea deal of two and a half years in jail, down from what could have been a couple decades. His crime: possession of half a gram of marijuana. "They spooked me out by saying, 'You gotta take this or you'll get that'," he HRW team. "I'm just worried about the time. Imagine me in here for 20 years. They got people that kill people. And they put you up here for half a gram of weed."
The full title of this lengthy new report from Human Rights Watch, which serves as the foundation for this Mic article, is "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States." The full HRW report is about a lot more than marijuana criminalization, but it is still a must-read for those working in any way in the marijuana reform space.
The title of this post is the title of this fascinating new study available via SSRN from a group of economists. Here is the abstract:
An argument against the legalization of the cannabis market is that such a policy would increase crime. Exploiting the recent staggered legalization enacted by the states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014) we show, combining difference-in-differences and spatial regression discontinuity designs, that recreational cannabis caused a significant reduction of rapes and thefts on the Washington side of the border in 2013-2014 relative to the Oregon side and relative to the pre-legalization years 2010-2012.
October 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice. (The report was released a couple months ago, but I just saw it today.) Here is an overview of the report from this Vera website:
In national research, self-reported marijuana use is similar across races, but in New Orleans, black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses, including simple possession. In recent years, some states have legalized marijuana, while the consequences for marijuana possession in Louisiana remain severe — under state law, repeated convictions for simple possession are punishable by multi-year prison sentences.
This report illuminates through quantitative analysis the persistent racial disparities in marijuana policing from 2010 – 2015 and discusses the impacts of statutory and policy reforms the city has implemented to date. We are hopeful that these findings will guide state and local policymakers toward further improvements to lessen the harm even seemingly minor police encounters inflict on black communities, and inspire other jurisdictions to examine their own practices.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR story, which includes these excerpts:
California is one of five states this year where marijuana legalization is on the ballot. Washington and Colorado paved the way for making recreational pot legal back in 2012. Since then marijuana arrests have plunged in Washington. They've also gone down in Colorado, but not by as much. This raises the question, what is the effect of legalizing marijuana on policing?...
Defense Attorney James Clark's office window looks down on the lake. He says [California police's] "stop and smell" practice happens across the state. In California, the smell of marijuana gives police probable cause to search someone's entire vehicle. If cops find something bigger - guns, stolen property - Clark says that can turn a traffic stop into a felony. "You can imagine that if you're trying to advance your career by searching cars along the freeway, that this is a tool that would be difficult to resist passing up," Clark says. [So now people] are wondering, if recreational pot gets legalized in California, could that be the end of this "stop and smell" practice?
Meanwhile, in Washington state, there have been some changes in policing since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Patrol sergeant Nate Hovinghoff has been with the Washington State Patrol for 11 years and works along the scenic Columbia River Gorge dividing Washington and Oregon, another state that recently legalized pot. "Prior to legalization in Washington state, odor alone was enough to arrest," Hovinghoff says.
If Hovinghoff pulled over a vehicle, say, for speeding and smelled marijuana, that gave him license to investigate further. "In my experience as a trooper, probably 90 percent of my felony arrests, they started with the odor of marijuana," he says.
But once pot was legalized in Washington state, the rules of engagement changed. "Now when I stop a vehicle and I go up and I smell marijuana, if they're 21 years or over it doesn't mean automatically a crime's occurred," Hovinghoff explains. He says as long as the driver of the car is compliant with the law and not impaired, and that's key, it's basically, "Have a nice day."
But folks ... aren't convinced that it will go down like that in California.... In fact, recent data from police stops in Oakland show that African-Americans are more likely than whites to be searched, handcuffed, and arrested.
That question of disparity is very much on the minds of researchers who are tracking the effects of marijuana legalization. Mike Males is with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He released a study earlier this year that's been widely cited. It shows that while marijuana arrests dropped dramatically in Washington state, African-Americans are still two times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses.
"So there's still a large racial discrepancy. It doesn't solve that. It does reduce the overall impact of marijuana arrests, but it doesn't change the racial discrepancy as much," Males says. The bottom line, says Males: "If one of the goals is to reduce marijuana-related arrests then legalization appears to accomplish that." But it may not resolve disparities in how the law is enforced or applied.
A few of many prior related posts:
- "Whites Just 8% of New York City's Marijuana Arrests"
- "It’s Not Legal Yet: Nearly 500,000 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade"
- Michigan arrest data highlight diverse impact of local decriminalization and continued impact of state-level marijuana prohibition
- "Marijuana Arrests Down In Colorado For White Teens, Up For Black And Latino Teens"
- Massachusetts top court says marijuana reforms limit police authority to stop drivers
- Are any criminal justice researchers or marijuana reform groups taking a very close look at marijuana arrests in recent years?
- "Marijuana Enforcement Disparities In California: A Racial Injustice"
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
The title of this post is an expansion of the headline of this lengthy Westword article by Joel Warner. Among many virtues in this long-form article is that it includes quotes from one of my former students who examined in my marijuana seminar the connections between marijuana reform and immigration issues. Here is how the article gets started and some excerpt from its legal discussion:
Claudia didn’t think anything was wrong when United States Customs and Border Protection agents flagged her for an in-depth security screening after the early-morning flight from her native Chile landed at Los Angeles International Airport early on October 8, 2015. “It’s normal,” she says. “Sometimes the officers review people.” Besides, Claudia had never been in trouble in her life....
[Agent] Torres asked Claudia about past trips to the States; in her accented but largely fluent English, she told the agent that she’d previously visited Tennessee, Louisiana, New York and Colorado. At the mention of Colorado, he asked to see her phone. Since the device wasn’t password-protected, he quickly clicked to her photo gallery and began scrolling back several months to her visit from April through June of that year... The agent [eventually] arrived at three photos she’d taken inside Native Roots, a marijuana dispensary on Boulder’s Pearl Street. Looking at the images of glass display cases filled with edibles and jars of marijuana, he asked if she’d tried any. “Yes, I tried marijuana in Colorado,” she replied. “It’s legal there.”
With those words, Claudia immediately placed herself in the middle of a growing clash between state cannabis reforms and U.S. immigration law’s unyieldingly austere approach to marijuana. While cannabis may be legal in a growing number of states, it’s still very much against the law for all non-U.S. citizens to use it — even if few people know that. In fact, over the past decade, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has penalized and deported more people convicted of marijuana-related crimes than ever before. As a result of the inconsistencies between state marijuana laws and immigration law, immigration lawyers are finding themselves stymied by legal predicaments that don’t make any sense — and their clients are suffering. Husbands are being separated from wives, parents from children, because of activities that in many states are no longer crimes. And foreigners like Claudia are finding their lives changed forever when they simply admit that they tried something they assumed was completely legal.
But Claudia didn’t know that when she admitted to trying marijuana; she still thought everything was fine. After Torres had finished going through her luggage, two female agents gave her a pat-down and confiscated her belongings, then led her to a locked, windowless cell with security cameras on the ceiling and miserable-looking people of various nationalities lying on bare metal cots. Only then did she realize that something was very, very wrong....
The most famous example of a marijuana-based deportation might be the U.S.’s failed attempt to bar John Lennon from the country in 1973 because of a past cannabis conviction in England. But it was only later, as the War on Drugs heated up, that U.S. immigration policy became increasingly unforgiving regarding marijuana and other narcotics. These days, any drug offense, save for the possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana, is a deportable crime for non-U.S. citizens, including those with green cards. And any offense involving the sale of marijuana — even just peddling $5 worth of the drug — is considered an “aggravated felony” that triggers mandatory deportation.
It doesn’t matter if the conviction doesn’t come with a prison sentence or is expunged through a drug-court program. It doesn’t matter if the convicted individual can prove that his or her expulsion would cause extreme hardship on U.S. family members, a situation that can be used to stop deportation for other crimes such as assault or fraud. If an immigrant is busted for marijuana or other drugs, they’re likely to be taken into immigration custody and deported without any chance of coming back.
While President Barack Obama has long promised to ease the drastic consequences of the drug war, immigrants convicted of drug crimes have faced increased penalties during his time in office. That’s because of the Secure Communities initiative, a program launched under George W. Bush but expanded by the Obama administration that allows immigration agents access to local fingerprint data banks.
The result is more drug-related deportations than ever before. According to a Human Rights Watch investigation of U.S. government data, between 2007 and 2012, drug-possession-related deportations increased 43 percent, and drug-sale-related deportations increased 23 percent. In all during that period, nearly 266,000 people were forced out of the country after being convicted of a nonviolent drug offense, which accounted for roughly one out of every four criminal-conviction-related deportations. More than 50,000 of those deportations were related to a marijuana conviction....
“We are at a really interesting time politically,” says Grace Meng, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the organization’s report on drug-related deportations. “The country is willing to reconsider drug policy and laws, but those same laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s have had really severe immigration impacts — and they aren’t being considered at all.”
According to Alexander Holtzman, a fellow with the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York City who studied marijuana-related immigration sanctions while at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, it’s hard to know exactly how many people are currently being deported because of minor marijuana offenses; most deportation statistics don’t indicate whether a cannabis crime was the cause of someone’s expulsion. (ICE didn’t respond to multiple interview requests from Westword.)
There is some indication that the agency’s stance on marijuana could be shifting, though. In 2014, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrants convicted of minor cannabis crimes should be given a chance to contest their deportation, ICE released a policy noting that marijuana-possession convictions would no longer be an enforcement priority. But it’s clear that at least until recently, cannabis-related crimes were a main priority for immigration authorities. According to ICE deportation records stored and analyzed by Syracuse University, in 2013 marijuana possession was the fourth-most-common offense associated with deportation — above assault, illegal re-entry or any other drug charge. The sale of marijuana was the twelfth-most-common deportation-related crime. Holtzman estimates that slightly more than 6,000 people were deported that year after being convicted of minor marijuana-possession charges.
“If these individuals are deported because of these offenses, then the sanction of deportation strikes me as severe, disproportionate and unjust,” says Holtzman. “Citizens are not similarly punished for identical conduct.”
September 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, August 26, 2016
Many opponents of significant marijuana reforms are often quick to assert that nobody really ever gets in any trouble simply for smoking a joint and that we need not and should not support marijuana legalization because practically speaking marijuana use is functionally decriminalized. Not surprisingly, these kinds of statements typically come from privileged, upper-middle class persons who personally do not know anyone who has experienced any troubles for minor marijuana activities. But, as this new lengthy Washington Post article highlights (running under the headline that I used as the title for this post), even in a jurisdiction like the District of Columbia with reformed marijuana laws, a single joint can sometimes lead to a lot of trouble for some individuals. Here are the basic details:
For eight years, Rajuawn Middleton, an assistant at a major downtown law firm, lived in a four-bedroom, red-brick home she rented on a quiet, tree-lined street in Northeast Washington — until she was forced out over a few cigarettes containing a “green leafy substance.”
In March 2014 police arrested her adult son on charges of possessing a handgun outside a nightclub. He had not lived with Middleton for years, but two weeks later D.C. police looking for more guns raided her home. The routine search placed Middleton in the grip of an indiscriminate bureaucratic mechanism known as nuisance abatement, a mild-sounding term for a process that has had harsh and disproportionate consequences for Middleton and other District residents.
Middleton said a dozen officers stormed in as she and her husband were helping their 8-year-old son with his homework. Police handcuffed the couple, cut open a mattress and dumped food on the floor, she said. The search turned up three cigarettes; Middleton said only one of them was a joint of marijuana. No firearms were found. No one was charged.
A week later, the D.C. attorney general’s office deemed the house a “drug-related nuisance” in a form letter sent to Middleton’s landlord. “The fear and intimidation that results from these activities inhibit normal interactions among neighbors and interfere with their right to use and enjoy their property,” said the letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Rashee Raj Kumar. The letter cited a 1999 law that gives broad power to city officials to sue property owners who fail to stop illegal activity at their properties. The landlord moved to evict. Middleton moved out.
During the past three years, city officials sent out about 450 nuisance-abatement letters to landlords and property owners, the vast majority aimed at ousting tenants accused of felony gun or drug crimes, including many bona fide drug dealers. But in doing so the District has also ensnared about three dozen people who were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession or faced no charges at all, a Washington Post review of the letters has found.
The attorney general’s office in January sent a nuisance letter to one property over one gram of marijuana, a legal amount of the drug in the District. As a result, the property company forced a grandmother out of her Southwest Washington apartment, records show. The Post found that some cases were driven by an assembly line of government agencies that merely processed paperwork and failed to differentiate between dangerous felons and people such as Middleton and the grandmother in Southwest....
The D.C. Council passed the Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act in the late 1990s, when officials were grappling with the aftermath of the crack-cocaine epidemic. For years, drug dealers had used neglected properties across the city to store and sell narcotics and weapons, making them havens for drugs, violent crime or prostitution. Modeling the law after zero-tolerance policing policies in New York, council members gave city attorneys and community groups power to sue landlords who failed to combat illegal activity at their properties. The broadly worded law can cover any property where police have served a search warrant for drugs, weapons or prostitution, or that has prompted repeated complaints from neighbors.
Police search thousands of properties each year, identifying between 100 and 200 per year as potential nuisances, records show. Police did not provide The Post with any written guidelines or policy for how they flag properties as nuisances. A police spokesman said supervisors select the ones where people “have engaged in drug trafficking, the sale of weapons, or prostitution.”...
In the majority of cases reviewed by The Post, city officials targeted serious offenders. In one case from 2013, police raided an apartment in Washington’s Dupont Park neighborhood and uncovered 548 grams of crack, 22 grams of heroin and five guns. The attorney general deemed the property a drug and firearm nuisance and told the landlord to take action. The landlord sued the tenants, and they moved out.
Friday, August 19, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this new short report from the Drug Policy Alliance, which gets started this way:
Short of legalization, California has some of the most permissive marijuana possession laws in the United States, yet law enforcement continues to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate thousands of people annually for marijuana offenses. Between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California. During this period, there were on average 14,000 marijuana felony arrests in the state each year. California voters will have the chance to greatly reduce marijuana arrests this November when they vote on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Should I care more about (and is anyone studying closely) state marijuana decriminalization reforms?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Illinois headlined "Rauner reduces punishment for minor pot possession from jail to citation." Here are the details:
Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana will result in citations akin to a traffic ticket instead of the possibility of jail time under legislation Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Friday.
Rauner's approval of the decriminalization measure comes after he used his amendatory veto powers last year to rewrite similar legislation he argued would have allowed people to carry too much pot and fine violators too little.
Supporters incorporated his proposed changes, and under the new law those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana will face fines of $100 to $200. Individual municipalities could add to the fines and implement other penalties, such as requiring offenders to attend drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1.
Under previous Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams of pot was a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500.
The law also would loosen the state's zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. Before, a driver could be charged if any trace of marijuana was detected, even if it was ingested weeks before and the driver showed no signs of impairment. Under the new law, drivers won't be charged with DUI unless they have 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more of THC in their saliva.
The state law follows a measure enacted by Chicago in 2012 that allows police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana. The state law wouldn't override laws in cities such as Chicago that already have fines in place, but would create uniformity across the state for towns that don't have such measures on the books.
The effort marks a rare point of agreement between Rauner and Democrats. Both sides seek to cut the burden on the court system and overhaul the state's approach to criminal justice. "We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois's needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy," Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. "This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest."
I tend to view so-called "decriminalization" of marijuana to be something of a misnomer because a person still risks fines and other problems from marijuana possession even after laws are changed in this way. Moreover, I think only some form of legalization enhances the benefits of serious marijuana reform. But, especially if there is developing research showing that decriminalization significantly reduces the economic and human costs of marijuana prohibition, perhaps I should get more excited when more states join the decriminalization bandwagon.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Can anybody point me to great databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana convictions (state or federal)?
The question in the title of this post started banging around my head this afternoon after I did two posts today over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog: this one about a notable federal misdemeanor marijuana prosecution of a Native American teen in Oregon and this one about an article doing an empirical analysis of the "downstream consequences" of pretrial detention for misdemeanors.
I am always trying to take stock of the criminal justice "footprint" of marijuana prohibition, and it should be obviously that misdemeanor charges, convictions and punishments are surely a huge (and probably the largest) part of that footprint. Nevertheless, I have never seen (nor really every seriously looked for) any detailed databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana cases in any particular jurisdiction. I would be very grateful to hear from any and everyone who know whether and where such resources might be found.
Monday, July 11, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Carrie Lynn Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This paper asserts that state and local marijuana reforms that relax criminal penalties should, but will likely not, benefit Latino/a noncitizens. Because of the intricate relationship between criminal and immigration enforcement, state and local police engagement in racial profiling will not only fail to be eliminated by state-level marijuana reforms but may be exacerbated. As a result, in spite of marijuana law reforms intended to lessen overly punitive penalties stemming from minor marijuana conduct, noncitizen Latino/as will continue to be disproportionately criminally policed and deported.
Scholarly literature addressing the intersection of criminal and immigration law has considered ways in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process. However, the literature has yet to explore the way in which sub-federal drug law reforms, and specifically, recent marijuana law reforms, will fall short for noncitizen Latino/as because of the way in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.
After decades of excessive, punitive, and ineffective policies, particularly in the area of drug law enforcement, states have initiated reforms, including marijuana decriminalization. At the same time that decriminalization measures are being implemented, in the field of immigration law, resources for apprehension, detention and deportation have skyrocketed, with a focus on “criminal aliens.” The criminal-immigration removal system has resulted in local and state law enforcement agents playing a critical, and problematic role in the detection, apprehension, and removal of “criminal aliens.”
The plight of noncitizens deported or found inadmissible based on marijuana-related conduct highlights a deeper, systemic problem. Not only do extremely harsh immigration consequences serve as a double-penalty for potentially minor marijuana offenses, particularly in light of criminal law reforms, but enforcement of remaining marijuana laws will likely fall disproportionately on Latina/o noncitizens. Over ninety percent of deportations arising out of criminal law enforcement are to Central American and Mexico, yet Mexican and Central American immigrants make up less than half of the United States immigrant population.
While decriminalization of marijuana may be more than a symbolic move away from the failed “tough on crime” policies of the past, it not only fails to take into consideration the impact of marijuana laws on noncitizens but also may exacerbate the racially biased aspects of drug law enforcement on noncitizens, particularly Latinos. This Article discusses the ways in which criminal-immigration law enforcement has impacted noncitizens, primarily Latino/as, to demonstrate why sub-federal marijuana reforms will fail to alleviate racially disparate outcomes, perpetually leaving Latino/a noncitizens in the shadows.
July 11, 2016 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 (1)
Monday, June 6, 2016
Are any criminal justice researchers or marijuana reform groups taking a very close look at marijuana arrests in recent years?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by seeing today these two notable headlines about marijuana arrests in two notable cities:
UPDATE: Here are three more recent press piece on this topic that I just came across:
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this new short new data reprt/analysis released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this little report:
Effective January 1, 2011, California reduced the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Subsequently, misdemeanor marijuana arrests plummeted by 86 percent. Although the penalty does not include jail, the offense is still punishable by up to a $100 fine plus fees, making the actual cost of an infraction much higher. This can be a substantial burden for young and low-income people. According to original research presented here, enforcement of marijuana possession — and the economic burden it entails — falls disproportionately on black and Latino people. The disparity is particularly acute for black people and young men and boys....
Infraction data are hard to come by in California. The demographic profile of people issued marijuana possession infractions in Fresno and Los Angeles, however, demonstrates that enforcement continues to fall disproportionately on black and Latino people, particularly young men and boys. In Los Angeles and Fresno 90% and 86% of marijuana possession infractions respectively were issued to men or boys.
These findings demonstrate that reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana does not go far enough. There are still substantial costs associated with an infraction, such as legal fees, court costs, and lost time at school or at work — and the burden of these costs most heavily impact young black men and boys. While reducing marijuana possession to an infraction has dramatically decreased the number of marijuana arrests in the state, it has not sufficiently reduced the disparate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Christian Science Monitor article. It carries this subheadline: "A California law passed in October denies felons with drug convictions a license to sell medical marijuana. An new initiative would change that." And here are excerpts:
If you committed a felony for something that is no longer illegal, should your criminal record keep you out of the business now? A California law denying medical marijuana licenses to those with felony convictions for drug possession answers that question with a "yes," and it touches on the debate about how long a felony record should follow someone who has served their time....
The question could have even deeper implications for the state's pot industry, because although only medical marijuana is legal now, California voters will likely see a referendum for full marijuana legalization on the November ballot. Many current or prospective sellers of medical marijuana do have felony charges because of – for example – past drug possession. Casey O'Neill, board chairman of the marijuana group California Growers Association, told the Los Angeles Times' Patrick McGreevy that 25 to 30 percent of California's weed growers have felony convictions.
The current initiative, if passed by referendum in November, would change the law to permit people with felonies for drug possession of any kind to apply for a license to sell marijuana, according to the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies for California.
Some members of law enforcement suggested that giving felons licenses to sell marijuana supports the growing pot industry at the expense of safety. "This new initiative will specifically allow for convicted major meth and heroin dealers to be licensed recreational marijuana vendors in California," said Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, in a statement. "You have to question proponents in terms of placing personal wealth and corporation profits ahead of community well-being."
California's law enforcement has said fighting the black market by keeping felons out of these businesses is part of the reason the state requires licenses. California Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R) said the October law provides law enforcement with "clear rules for overseeing medical marijuana activities in their community—something badly lacking for the past 20 years," according to a press release for the California Police Chief Association.
Other states where medical marijuana is legal have different approaches to the question of whether a person convicted of selling marijuana before the state legalized it deserves a legal license now. Applicants for a medical marijuana license in Colorado must have all felony charges and sentences at least five years behind them; for drug charges, their record must have been clean for ten years. Colorado offers a case-by-case exemption for past state-level marijuana charges "that would not be a felony if the person were convicted of the offense on the date he or she applied," according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
May 15, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this BuzzFeed report. Here are excerpts:
Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
The report, released in March, found a striking racial disparity in how adolescents aged 10–17 are being arrested: White juvenile marijuana arrests decreased by 8% between 2012 and 2014, while black juvenile arrests increased by 58% and Latino juvenile arrests increased 29%.
Colorado voters passed an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2012 — the year is used in the report to represent pre-legalization. The first full year that the state’s 21-and-older recreational marijuana market was operational was 2014.
Between 2012 and 2014, Colorado elementary and secondary schools saw a 34% increase in marijuana arrests, the overwhelming majority of which were for possession. These arrests were often done by “school resource officers” — local police officers who have increasingly been stationed on campuses in recent years. Although most of these juvenile arrests do not involve jail time, the student must pay a fine and, in order to get the arrest expunged from their permanent record, pay to participate in a drug education class....
According to a 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County has the highest rates of teen marijuana use in the state — 32.1% of high schoolers — but only five adolescents were arrested for marijuana-related crimes there in 2014. Compare that to Arapahoe County, which has about average rates of teen marijuana use (20.6% of high schoolers) when compared to the rest of the state (19.7%), but where nearly 400 students were arrested for marijuana in 2014.
Tustin Amole, the director of communications at Cherry Creek Schools in Arapahoe County, said that while her district decides how to handle marijuana offenses on a case-by-case basis, she felt the students who are being arrested accurately reflect which students are smoking pot. “We don’t really have zero tolerance policies, because there are so many variations and circumstances. You have to take them all into account,” Amole told BuzzFeed News. “All I can say is while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we’re catching with the drugs.”
The state also found that while marijuana arrests among adults have nearly been cut in half since legalization, the racial disparities among those still being arrested grew slightly worse. In 2014, black people were arrested and cited for marijuana-related offenses at almost triple the rate of white people. Back in 2012, black people in Colorado were being arrested for pot crimes at a little less than double the rate of whites.
While national data has shown that adults and juveniles of all races use and sell marijuana at very similar rates, the 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that a slightly bigger percentage of black (25.9%) and Latino (23.6%) high schoolers had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to white students (17%). But even if the disparity in that sample was representative for the entire state, the marijuana arrest numbers for black juveniles would still be wildly disproportionate. Other states and cities that have decriminalized or legalized recreational marijuana use — including Massachusetts, Chicago, and Washington state — have seen a similar trend: a drop in overall arrests but persistent or increased racial disparities among those still being arrested.