Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper I have written for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

States reforming marijuana laws should be particularly concerned with remedying the past inequities and burdens of mass criminalization.  State marijuana reforms should not only offer robust retroactive ameliorative relief opportunities for prior marijuana offenses, but also dedicate resources generated by marijuana reform to create and fund new institutions to assess and serve the needs of a broad array of offenders looking to remedy the collateral consequences of prior involvement in the criminal justice system.  So far, California stands out among reform states for coupling repeal of marijuana prohibition with robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  In addition to encouraging marijuana reform states to follow California’s lead in enacting broad ameliorative legislation, this essay urges policy makers and reform advocates to see the value of linking and leveraging the commitments and spirit of modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.

Part II begins with a brief review of the history of marijuana prohibition giving particular attention to social and racial dynamics integral to prohibition, its enforcement and now its reform.  Part III turns to recent reform activities focused on mitigating the punitive collateral consequences of a criminal conviction with a focus on the (mostly limited) efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of marijuana convictions.  Part IV sketches a novel proposal for connecting modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.   This part suggest a new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new (and incomplete) data on marijuana arrests

Marijuana_arrests_chart500_shortWriting at The Intercept, Tana Ganeva has this notable new article reporting on some notable new data on marijuana arrests under the headline "The War On Pot Marches On: In Nearly Half The Country, Marijuana Arrests Have Gone Up Since 2014." Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

This week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a politician adept at reading and responding to the public mood, introduced a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. And in some states, pot is already being taxed and regulated.   Underneath that progress, however, a war is still raging.  New data published here for the first time show that in at least 21 states, more people were arrested in 2016 than in 2014. Meanwhile, thousands of people who were arrested previously for what is now legal in many places continue to languish in prisons.

Jon Gettman, associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University, used data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to put together previously unpublished arrest data, which he provided to The Intercept.  The data show that in at least 21 states, pot arrests went up from 2014 to 2016, even as weed has been legalized and decriminalized in other states and cities.  Complete data were not available for Florida, Illinois, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.

Gettman says the idea that we’ve taken a laxer approach to pot prohibition is not true across the board.  “In some places, arrest rates are not only plugging along, they’re going up,” he told The Intercept.  “The idea that marijuana prohibition is going away is not supported by the data.”  

In Arkansas, arrests jumped 30 percent from 2014 to 2016.  In Hawaii, they went up 51 percent.  New Jersey saw a 31 percent increase in marijuana arrests, from 27,208 in 2014 to 35,700 in 2016.  In other states, they’ve stayed at the same high levels.   Georgia arrested 27,738 people for pot in 2014; 27,548 in 2015; and 28,223 in 2016. In Texas, arrests hovered in the 60,000s during those years.

Meanwhile, in states that had legalized or decriminalized pot as of 2016, people were still getting arrested, albeit at lower rates.  Georgia, for instance, has twice the population of Colorado, but arrested more than five times as many people.  In Colorado, which boasts a thriving legal market, 5,771 people were arrested for marijuana in 2014, down from 10,438 in 2012, the year voters legalized it.  That number was lower in 2016, but not by much: 5,098. The overwhelming majority of arrests were for possession.   As NPR reported, these tend to be low-income, young people of color running afoul of the strict regulations imposed in legal markets.

“Marijuana law enforcement becomes a convenient and useful tactic in the implementation of other law enforcement policies,” Gettman said. “You have to ask, ‘What purpose do pot arrests serve the local police?’”

Take New York City.  Pot possession arrests fell from 26,390 in 2014 to 18,120 in 2016, according to data assembled by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.  Yet police officers continue to target young people of color: Between 2014 and 2016, 86 percent of pot arrests were of blacks and Latinos....

Nationwide, there’s an endless list of factors that might influence pot arrest rates. Do police make a lot of traffic stops?  Do they target certain areas or populations, like people they suspect might be undocumented?  Are they trying to establish authority on the street by busting teenagers?  New York’s stop-and-frisk program, in which police used a loophole to conduct illegal searches of primarily black and brown young people, is a classic example.   The policing of homeless people like Winslow, which happens all over America, is another.

A few other factors drive the arbitrary nature of marijuana arrest rates.   There’s some diversion from states where it’s legal, and the creation of black markets driven by the high cost of taxed legal pot.  People might be less discreet in public, thinking they’re not going to get busted for weed, Gettman says.  It’s also possible that there might be backlash among some police against the growing public acceptance of marijuana. 

I am grateful to Professor Gettman for assembling this state-by-state marijuana arrest data, though it only provides the most basic of essential information about marijuana enforcement practices. It would be, of course, valuable and important to have more data on specific marijuana charges (other than just the possession/sale distinction in the data), as well as more data on the demographics of who is getting arrested.  And breaking down county-by-county data could also be quite informative and useful, especially in prohibitionist states that border full legalization states.  Last but not least, I do not believe there is any collection of data on what becomes of all these arrests, and I would guess that the rate at which an arrest turns into a formal charge and a conviction varies dramatically from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction.

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Marijuana use is associated with intimate partner violence perpetration among men arrested for domestic violence"

Tps-150The title of this post is the title of this notable new research published in Translational Issues in Psychological Science. Here is the article's abstract:

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious public health problem. Substance use, particularly alcohol, is a robust risk factor for IPV.  There is a small but growing body of research demonstrating that marijuana use is positively associated with IPV perpetration.  However, research on marijuana use and IPV has failed to control for other known predictors of IPV that may account for the positive association between marijuana use and IPV perpetration.  Therefore, the current study examined whether marijuana use was associated with IPV perpetration after controlling for alcohol use and problems, antisocial personality symptoms, and relationship satisfaction, all known risk factors for IPV.

Participants were men arrested for domestic violence and court-referred to batterer intervention programs (N = 269). Findings demonstrated that marijuana use was positively and significantly associated with psychological, physical, and sexual IPV perpetration, even after controlling for alcohol use and problems, antisocial personality symptoms, and relationship satisfaction.  Moreover, marijuana use and alcohol use and problems interacted to predict sexual IPV, such that marijuana use was associated with sexual IPV at high, but not low, levels of alcohol use and problems.  These findings lend additional support to the body of research demonstrating that marijuana use is positively associated with IPV perpetration in a variety of samples.  Results suggest that additional, rigorous research is needed to further explore why and under what conditions marijuana is associated with IPV perpetration.

April 3, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Enforcing Federal Drug Laws in States Where Medical Marijuana Is Lawful"

Jama-logoThe title of this post is the title of this  new Viewpoint commentary authored by Lawrence Gostin, James Hodge, and Sarah Wetter published earlier this week on line at JAMA. Here is how it concludes:

Toward Rational Medical Marijuana Policies

Although public opinion and state action have trended strongly toward permitting use of marijuana, especially for medical purposes, controversy continues to exist.  The specter of federal prosecution could refrain physicians, patients, and dispensaries from providing marijuana in states where the drug is lawful and dissuade additional jurisdictions from legalizing marijuana.  Public policy formed and implemented in the context of inconsistent federal and state laws, unpredictable legal enforcement, and insufficient scientific evidence is unsustainable.  Rational policies should follow a 3-pronged agenda.

A Solid Research Foundation

Sound policy requires a strong evidence base.  Scientific studies could quell ongoing disagreements about marijuana’s medical effectiveness, harms, and status as a gateway drug.  Yet limited funding and restrictive access to uniformly high-quality cannabis have sharply curtailed longitudinal studies on a drug already in wide use. Physicians require rigorous evidence to inform prescribing practices and counseling of patients.  At present, wide regional variations in prescribing practices exist, and patients do not have access to consistently high-quality, uncontaminated cannabis — where the purity, potency, and dosage can be ensured.  Health officials, moreover, rarely conduct careful surveillance of marijuana use incidence, prevalence, and outcomes.  Public policy on a potentially hazardous psychotropic drug is difficult when short- and long-term effects across populations are underreported, insufficiently studied, and poorly funded.

A Harmonized Legal Environment

Substantial variability of legal approaches to marijuana use exists across jurisdictions and between states and the federal government.  Individuals in certain jurisdictions can lawfully access marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both, whereas individuals in other jurisdictions cannot do so.  Conditions under which physicians can prescribe (or patients can access) marijuana fluctuate extensively.  Federal law is inconsistent with policy in virtually all states.  The CSA should be revised to operate harmoniously with prevailing state law. Model legislation for medical use of marijuana, based on scientific evidence, could help reconcile activities across jurisdictions.

Federal Law Enforcement Respectful of States’ Sovereignty

Under US constitutional design, states and localities are laboratories for innovation, with state sovereignty and local home rule respected and preserved.  This requires federal prosecutorial discretion to hew to the legal environment of states that have legalized marijuana use.  Respecting marijuana laws is essential in states where cannabis is prescribed and used for medical purposes.  On an issue as consequential as marijuana, the nation needs consistent legal norms based on the best available scientific evidence.

March 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

SAM releases major new report on "Lessons from Marijuana Legalization"

6a00d8341bfae553ef01bb09f38626970d-320wiThe leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this big new report titled "Lessons from Marijuana Legalization in Four U.S. States and D.C." Here is how this big report was introduced and described via an email sent my way (with links from the original):

Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the leading, nonpartisan U.S. organization offering a science-based approach to marijuana policy, released the most comprehensive study to date today entitled: Lessons from Marijuana Legalization in Four U.S. States and D.C.  This study, validated by scientists from around the country, found that since legalization, marijuana use has soared, the black market is thriving, and communities of color are being negatively affected.

The study found that legalized states are leading the nation in past-year marijuana use among every age group. Among those states, Colorado currently holds the lead for first-time marijuana use among youth aged 12-17, representing a 65% increase since legalization. Young adult use is also highest in legalized states. Further, the number of young people arrested for marijuana use in Colorado saw an increase from 2015-2016.
 
Not only are more young people being arrested for marijuana use in states that have legalized the substance, but Colorado has also seen an increase in the amount of youth on probation who have tested positive for the drug.
 
This rise in youth use of marijuana is particularly frightening to see given the longterm implications involved with young people becoming addicted to marijuana. "Since commercialization, those of us in addiction treatment have been seeing an increase in the number of patients who have become addicted to marijuana. Their symptoms, particularly sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance and psychosis, don't consistently remit after ninety days of treatment,"  said Bari Platter, Clinical Nurse Specialist at the University of Colorado Hospital's CeDAR (Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation). "We need to do more research about the devastating long-term effects of marijuana before considering commercialization in other states," continued Platter.

Some supporters of legalization have argued that the relaxing of marijuana laws would lead to lower rates of alcohol consumption. The data prove otherwise. In the immediate year following legalization of marijuana, there was a clear drop off, but by year three alcohol consumption was at a multi-year high. 

Commercialization advocates have long argued that legalization will reduce black market marijuana activity in legalized states. However, criminal activity has only been amplified. In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states. The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in postal marijuana seizures. Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal growing operations across rural areas in the state.

One of the most common arguments prevalent amongst the pro-marijuana lobby is that the legalization of the substance will greatly assist communities of color. The study found that the common disparities among use and criminal offense rates continue among race, ethnicity, and income levels. The District of Columbia saw public consumption and distribution arrests nearly triple and a disproportionate number of those marijuana-related arrests occur among African-Americans.

Finally, the study found a disturbing trend in that drugged driving and motor vehicle fatalities have increased in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013-2015 and marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization.

March 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Cannabis Decriminalization: A Study of Recent Policy Change in Five States"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Rick Grucza, Melissa Krauss, Andrew Plunk, Arpana Agrawal, Frank J. Chaloupka and Laura Bierut. Here is the abstract:

Background: A number of public health professional organizations support the decriminalization of cannabis due to adverse effects of cannabis-related arrests and legal consequences, particularly on youth. We sought to examine the associations between cannabis decriminalization and both arrests and youth cannabis use in five states that passed decriminalization measures between the years 2008 and 2014: Massachusetts (decriminalized in 2008), Connecticut (2011), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2013), and Maryland (2014).

Methods: Data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) surveys, years 2007-2015; arrest data were obtained from federal crime statistics. Using a “difference in difference” regression framework, we contrasted trends in decriminalization states with those from states that did not adopt major policy changes during the observation period.

Results: Decriminalization was associated with an immediate and strong reduction in the rate of drug-related arrests for youth (OR=0.38; 95% CI: 0.37, 0.39) and adults (OR=0.40; 95% CI: 0.38, 0.42). Decriminalization was not associated with any increase in the past-30 day prevalence of cannabis use (OR=0.99; 95% CI: 0.95, 1.04). Significant declines in prevalence were observed for Rhode Island (OR=0.92; 95% CI; 0.87, 0.97) and Vermont (OR=0.91, 95% CI; 0.87, 0.95).

Conclusions: Decriminalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maryland resulted in large decreases in drug-related arrests for both youth and adults, suggesting that the policy change had its intended consequences. Our analysis did not find any increase in the prevalence of youth cannabis use during the observation period.

March 13, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New US Attorney for Southern District of West Virginia talking up efforts to "enforce laws against marijuana aggressively - AGGRESSIVELY"

I have just seen via my twitter feed this notable recent tweet posted by US Attorney Mike Stuart, the newly confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia:

Without getting into the particulars of the gateway drug debate, I am eager here to highlight how easy it would be for this new US Attorney to ramp up federal marijuana enforcement relative to what has existed in recent years.  Based on some (too) quick research of US Sentencing Commission data, it seems that there have only been a handful of federal marijuana prosecutions each year in this district.  USA Stewart could "aggressively" increase the federal caseload just by bringing a few more cases each year.

It will be interesting to see if the Southern District of West Virginia does end up having many more marijuana prosecutions in the months ahead, though these statements likely are to be most significant with respect to West Virginia's development of its recently passed medical marijuana legislation.   This local article, headlined "Time runs out on bill making changes to WV's medical cannabis program," suggests that the rescission of the Cole Memo and related concerns about federal prohibition may already be slowing down the state's regulatory efforts.

March 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Examining the persistently significant number of marijuana arrest in New York City

Marijuanaarrestsmayors2017The  Leafly folks are doing a three-part series on cannabis in New York City, and this first part looks at arrests under the headline "Racial Disparities in NYC Cannabis Arrests Are Getting Worse." (The discussion in the piece builds off this Politico article last month headlined "Racial disparities persist in New York City marijuana arrests.)  I recommend both pieces in full, and here are portions of the Leafly piece:

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, cannabis arrests in New York City are significantly down relative to cannabis arrests during the terms of his precedessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. But they’re still an order of magnitude higher than cannabis arrests during the 1980s and early 1990s — and the racial disparities in those arrest figures aren’t getting any better. In fact, the disparities in white, black, and hispanic cannabis arrests were worse in 2017 than they were in the previous year.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Michael Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. How can the rest of the country continue to make progress — decriminalizing in big cities, legalizing in more and more states — while New York City actually goes backwards?

That’s what members of New York’s City Council wanted to know last week. In a joint meeting of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on the Justice System, councilmembers questioned leaders of the New York Police Department about racial disparities in the enforcement of the city’s cannabis laws. It was not a congenial affair. Councilmembers repeatedly took the NYPD to task for withholding critically important arrest data, and for the glaring racial disparities in the little data that was offered up for public scrutiny.

Councilmember Donovan Richards, head of the public safety committee, started off the session by airing data on marijuana arrests, per New York City mayor, during their first three years in office:

Mayor Koch – 6,000 arrests, with an average of 2,000 per year

Mayor Dinkins – 3,000 arrests, with an average of 1,000 per year

Mayor Gulliani 18,000 arrests, with an average of 6,000 per year

Mayor Bloomberg 112,000 arrests with an average of 37,000 per year

Mayor Di Blasio 61,000 arrests, with an average of 20,000 per year...

Marijuanaarrestsrace2017According to a survey of city residents, in the past year, 33% of whites, 32% percent of blacks and 27% of Latinos in New York City have acknowledged consuming marijuana.

Noting those figures, Councilman Richards, who is black, asked: “Are blacks the only ones using marijuana in New York City? It’s pretty even across the spectrum of marijuana use. So why is so much enforcement happening in communities of color?”

Chief Shea dodged the question. He said that in 2014, the city made a legal differentiation between ‘using marijuana’ and ‘burning marijuana.’ Since then, he said, 90% of arrests for marijuana are for ‘burning.’

That didn’t mollify Richards. “Communities of color are not the only ones ‘burning,’” he said.

Under Mayor de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Mayor Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. “If the administration is serious about changing the racial disparity of arrests,” said Richards, “we are not seeing that.”

Chief Shea defended the NYPD’s arrest statistics. “We are following specific complaints from the public, regarding marijuana burned in public view.” He added, “We are probably the most transparent we have ever been as a department, as an administration.”

This seemed hard for Council members to believe, because no data was presented by the department to corroborate their claims, despite repeated prior requests for said data to be presented before the hearing.

March 7, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Interesting report on felony arrests and black market realities in Colorado after legalization

Marijuana+colorado+mgnThis lengthy article from the Colorado Springs Gazette, headlined "Black market marijuana busts nearly quadruple under recreational legalization," provides some notable data on marijuana enforcement in in the first state to have a regulated legal marijuana marketplace. Here are excerpts:

Four years after legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper says the black market for marijuana in the state is shrinking and predicted that it "will be largely gone" in a few years. But new statistics show that arrests for the production of black market pot increased by 380 percent in the 2014-16 time frame, and Colorado law enforcement agencies say they are battling a boom in illegal marijuana cultivation by sometimes violent groups of criminals who rake in millions of dollars by exporting what they grow.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, which tracks various marijuana-related statistics, found that manufacturing arrests leapt from 126 in 2014 to 476 in 2016, according to new state data obtained by The Gazette. Illegal manufacturing encompasses the unlicensed making of THC-laced products, as well as large, hidden growing operations where plant counts far exceed those allowed by state law.

Those numbers have not been put into a formal report yet. But Jack Reed, the state official who compiles them, confirmed the dramatic increase in arrests for illegal grows. Reed deferred to law enforcement officials for interpretation of the new data. Other police agencies also report a growing element of violence in the illegal marijuana trade. Denver counts seven of its 56 homicides in 2017 as marijuana-related. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver classified one-third of its 2017 marijuana cases as violent. Other agencies routinely report seizing guns in marijuana busts.

Overall, marijuana cases filed in state courts have plummeted by about 80 percent since voters legalized recreational marijuana in November, 2012, with sales beginning in 2014. Most officials attribute that number to the precipitous drop in simple possession arrests. There were 9,789 total cases in 2012, compared to 1,650 overall cases in 2016, and a 6 percent spike to 1,759 cases in 2017.

However, felony marijuana cases have risen steadily beginning in 2015 with 579 cases; 2016 saw 807 felony cases, and there were 901 in 2017. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is legal, whereas possessing 10 ounces or more is a felony. That complicates enforcement, because a single home-grown plant can produce up to 2 pounds of leaves and flowers, officials say....

By nature, black market sales are impossible to quantify accurately, but even as arrests rise, black market sales appear to be a fraction of the legal sales in Colorado. From 2014 through 2017, recreational and medical marijuana sales grew from $683 million annually to $1.5 billion last year. By comparison, the largest Colorado bust in 2017 charged 62 people and netted 4,000 pounds, which authorities estimate could be worth $16 million in states where marijuana is contraband....

Mark Bolton, the governor's marijuana advisor, doesn't dispute that arrests for illegal manufacturing have risen. But he said Hickenlooper has taken "important steps to getting rid of black market activity," from supporting legislation that reduced the legal number of plants per household to bolstering law enforcement budgets for investigation.

Law enforcement officials, particularly Republicans, accuse the state's Democratic governor of minimizing the side effects of legalization. They contend that illegal basement businesses are thriving under their noses in a state that permits growing small amounts for personal use. "It's out of control," said Ray Padilla, a drug agent who had just returned from a 20-house bust that yielded thousands of plants and several hundred pounds of harvested marijuana. "We probably spend more assets on marijuana now than we ever did."

Padilla, a balding 42-year-old sporting a beard, earrings and jeans, heads the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. He and other law enforcement leaders say the lure of marijuana millions has drawn armed growers from places as distant as Florida, California and Mexico, as well as home-grown black marketeers who set up elaborate lighting and irrigation systems in suburban houses. "I have encountered more weapons in marijuana locations than any other type of drug," Padilla said....

In 27 raids last year, Sheriff Bill Elder said, "We seized guns out of almost every single one." He holds the high potency of Colorado marijuana partly to blame. "Colorado is exporting the best marijuana in the country, and it's the number one exporter," Elder said. "We are cranking out some seriously good weed."...

John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney in Denver when recreational sales began, described smuggling as a cause for concern but not panic. "Has there been an influx of people from out of state? Yes. Has there been an effective law enforcement response? Also yes. It is an ongoing problem," he said. He credits the Hickenlooper administration for "taking it very seriously" and cooperating with federal efforts to curb black market dealing. "This is a new world. Colorado is on the front end," he said. "We're doing more than any other state in trying to set up a really effective regulatory system."

February 19, 2018 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, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Seattle officials stating they will retroactively vacate past misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91As highlighted by a number of posts linked below, the notion of expunging past marijuana convictions following legalization has quickly become a mainstream part of the reform movement.   The latest notable development on this front comes from Seattle where, as reported here, city leaders are pledging to vacate past vacate misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions.  Here are the details:  

Seattle will move to vacate misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions prosecuted by the city before pot was legalized in Washington in 2012, Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes said Thursday.

Describing the action as “a necessary step” to right the wrongs of what she called a failed war on drugs, the mayor said such convictions have been an unfair barrier for people trying to obtain housing, credit, jobs and educations.

“The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment,” Durkan said in a news conference at Rainier Community Center in South Seattle. “We did little to stem the tide of the supply of drugs and instead incarcerating almost an entire generation of users who could have had a different way.”

Holmes will ask the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate all convictions and to dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecuted before pot was legalized statewide, he said at the news conference. He believes the move will result in the vacation of 500 to 600 convictions from 1997, when Seattle took over misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions from King County, until 2010, when the city stopped such prosecutions as a matter of policy.... In 2010, soon after he was elected, Holmes dismissed all of the city’s marijuana-possession cases and said his office would no longer prosecute such cases.

As Seattle seeks to “undo” the consequences of the country’s decades-long war on drugs, its challenges include a Trump administration, “which would like to turn back the clock,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can in the city of Seattle to hold our gains,” Holmes said.

The city attorney said he plans t0 file a single motion by early next week for all convictions to be vacated and said his office will set up a website where people can determine whether their convictions have been cleared. Karen Donohue, the presiding judge for Seattle Municipal Court, is very supportive of the move, Durkan said.

The mayor said vacating hundreds of convictions from the earlier period will help communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal-justice system and help the city try to eliminate racial disparities in Seattle.

Marijuana-possession arrests in Washington increased sharply between 1986 and 2010, rising from 4,000 a year to 11,000 a year, said the mayor’s office, citing the Drug Policy Alliance.

There were 240,000 arrests in that period, with some communities affected more than others. In Washington, black people were three times more likely than white people to be convicted of marijuana crimes, Durkan said. “Those numbers tell us we were dealing with an unjust system,” she said, adding, “While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we can give back to those people a record that says they were not convicted, because that is the more just thing to do.”...

Durkan said she would like to see officials at the county and state levels, who handle felony marijuana cases, follow the city’s lead....

Seattle’s move follows an announcement last week by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who said he would dismiss 3,038 misdemeanor marijuana charges and would consider reducing 4,900 felony marijuana charges.

 

Some prior related posts:

February 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding up some recent notable marijuana reform commentaries

When I started this blog almost five years ago, it was not entirely overwhelming to try keep up with much of the serious and thoughtful commentary about marijuana reform.  But, in the last few years, there is now so much more good writing about marijuana reform developments in the traditional and new media --- no doubt in part because there is now so many more  marijuana reform developments worth writing about.  If I had the time, I would be eager to do separate posts (and even some original commentary) about all the pieces I have rounded up below.  But my time in short, so my round-up will be too:

From Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) at The Hill, "Sessions' war on marijuana a handout for illegal operators"

From David Keene at the Washington Times, "Marijuana laws and gun ownership"

Fro Richard Freidman at the New York Times, "Marijuana Can Save Lives"

From the Los Angeles Times editorial board, "Marijuana is now legal in California. Continuing to punish prior offenders is cruel and unnecessary"

From Keith Humphries at the Washington Post, "Why states should limit the potency of marijuana: It’s in everyone’s best interest for states to harsh the mellow a bit."

February 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another good review of growing movement to eliminate past convictions with modern marijuana reforms

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91This Washington Post piece, headlined "Cities, states work to clear marijuana convictions, calling it a states' rights issue," provides another useful account of the ever-growing movement to undue past marijuana convictions in conjunction with modern marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

When California voters passed a measure in 2016 that legalized cannabis and allowed for people to have their marijuana convictions wiped away or reduced, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan ordered her staff to immediately start scouring the city’s criminal records to find people who qualified.

As marijuana becomes legal in more states, some are allowing people to ask to have their old marijuana convictions expunged or reduced. It is, proponents say, a way to atone a war on drugs that disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities and to ensure that the criminal records people carry are not out of sync with current laws.

It also attempts to get to the root of a complex legal question: what happens when people have a conviction on their record for a crime that is no longer illegal? “If you’ve made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal, why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?” said Jenny Roberts, an American University law professor.

At least nine states, including Colorado, Maryland and Oregon, have made it easier to have some marijuana charges sealed or thrown out completely. Recreational marijuana use is legal in some, but not all, of those states. Colorado last year approved a bill that allows people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession before Dec. 10, 2012, to petition to have their convictions sealed.

In Oregon, lawmakers stated that judges must take the current law -- which says that possessing and selling marijuana is legal -- into account when they consider whether or not to change a person’s criminal record. In Maryland, people convicted of marijuana possession can petition a court for expungment. “It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record,” said Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland.

In most places, people must specifically request to have their records expunged, a process that can be costly and time-consuming. Though the laws largely aimed to help low-income people, there is concern that the petitioning process makes it more difficult, and therefore less likely, that they will move to have their records changed.

On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office will clear all marijuana misdemeanor convictions dating to 1975 and review all felony convictions to see if they are eligible for a reduction. “California voters have clearly sent a message,” he said. “The war on drugs has been a failure, and more specifically, the war on marijuana has been a failure.“...

Gascón said he made the decision to automatically clear records so people “will not have to jump through hoops to get relief.” He estimates that about 3,000 people will be eligible to have their convictions vacated and about 5,000 will be eligible to have their cases reviewed for possible reduction. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should a person have a major felony, such as murder, on their record. Old convictions will be reclassified under the law as it reads now. For example, if someone had been convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, that conviction would be tossed out because that is now legal under California law.

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a bill that would require automatic expungment of records. “The role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law — not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay,” Bonta said in a statement. “These individuals are legally entitled to expungement or reduction and a fresh start. It should be implemented without unnecessary delay or burden.”

Nevada assemblyman William McCurdy (D) introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to have their records wiped clean; it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). McCurdy said he would like to reintroduce the legislation in the state, where marijuana is now legal. “I’ve always been under the belief that if you made a mistake in the past and the law has changed, you should definitely benefit from the changing of that law,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks who are sitting behind bars for less than an ounce of marijuana, and that’s troubling.”

In San Diego, Stephan ordered attorneys to look at cases shortly after voters passed the ballot initiative in November 2016, when the expungement provisions took effect. Prosecutors first looked at people in prison, then at those who were recently convicted, recommending their cases to public defenders. They worked “backward, with the idea that persons that received their convictions more recently might be directly impacted in terms of their ability to look for jobs or have informal probation, housing benefits, military, other things,” she said.

About 680 people have had their convictions lessened, 55 of whom are currently behind bars, Stephan said. She believes there are about 5,000 people who are eligible to have their convictions changed. “Our hope is that they will take advantage of it and use it to reintegrate and enter society without the burden of having a felony conviction,” she said.

Most of the sentencing laws are tied to the legalization of marijuana, something that Kevin Sabet, the founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization, said shouldn’t be the case. “People deserve a second chance, and we shouldn’t penalize people for past convictions, but it shouldn’t take having to legalize -- and commercialize -- marijuana for that to happen,” he said. “This a false choice between legalization and criminalization.“

Some prior related posts:

February 3, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 2, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon, apparently serving now as chief state regulator, conducts marijuana summit

As reported in this post three weeks ago, Billy J. Williams, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, penned a commentary to express a "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon." That commentary also spoke of his plans to convene a summit to discuss his concerns.

This new local article, headlined "US Attorney for Oregon says state has 'formidable' problem with black market marijuana," reports on the summit which took place today. Here are some details:

The top federal prosecutor in Oregon on Friday pressed for data and details about the scope of the state's role as a source of black market marijuana. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams told a large gathering that included Gov. Kate Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of the cannabis industry that Oregon has an "identifiable and formidable overproduction and diversion problem."

"That is the fact," he told the crowd at the U.S. District courthouse. "And my responsibility is to work with our state partners to do something about it."

Added Williams: "Make no mistake. We are going to do something about it but that requires an effort to do this together. It requires transparency. The facts are what they are. The numbers are what they are."

Williams didn't detail how his office will carry out a new federal directive stripping legal protections for marijuana businesses. He said his office needs more information so it can accurately assess the scope of the problem and come up with a response. Williams didn't say what data he's looking for, but he previously he has said he wants more information from the state about black market trafficking. In a recent opinion piece published in The Oregonian/OregonLive, Williams said he is awaiting a final version of a Oregon State Police report on the issue.

He convened a daylong "marijuana summit" where public health and law enforcement officials gave presentations, along with land owners and industry representatives. He said Oregonians are worried about the implications of legal marijuana on their property rights, their water rights and the environment. Public health, particularly teen access and use, is a priority, he said.

"I am not an alarmist," he said. "Please don't have that perception of me. I just believe in looking at things head on. Take the blinders off, here are the realities."

The press was shut out of those presentations and was allowed only to report on statements offered by Williams and Brown....

Brown also spoke briefly Friday, telling those gathered that Williams has assured her staff that "lawful Oregon businesses" are "not targets of law enforcement." She didn't offer details on how the state will address Oregon's role as an illicit source of cannabis, saying only that she is committed to keeping cannabis in the state.

Prior related post:

US Attorney for Oregon, expressing "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework," plans summit in response to new AG enforcement policy

February 2, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

San Francisco DA talking about proactively revising past marijuana convictions to better implement Prop 64

RawImageThis new local article, headlined "SF will wipe thousands of marijuana convictions off the books," reports on an interesting and encouraging development int he Bay area. Here are the details:

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades. The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.

Proposition 64, which state voters passed in November 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California for those 21 and older and permitted the possession up to one ounce of cannabis. The legislation also allows those with past marijuana convictions that would have been lesser crimes — or no crime at all — under Prop. 64 to petition a court to recall or dismiss their cases.

Rather than leaving it up to individuals to petition the courts — which is time consuming and can cost hundreds of dollars in attorney fees — Gascón said San Francisco prosecutors will review and wipe out convictions en masse. The district attorney said his office will dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions in San Francisco dating back to 1975. Prosecutors will also review and, if necessary, re-sentence 4,940 felony marijuana cases, Gascón said. “Instead of waiting for people to petition — for the community to come out — we have decided that we will do so ourselves,” Gascón said. “We believe it is the right thing to do. We believe it is the just thing to do.”

He made the announcement at a news conference at which he was joined by city Supervisors Malia Cohen and Jeff Sheehy, along with Nicole Elliot, director of the city’s Office of Cannabis, Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance reform group, and the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.

Advocates for poor and minority communities have long complained that marijuana laws are applied disproportionately to the impoverished and people of color. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African Americans were more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, despite similar levels of use. In San Francisco, African Americans were four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession, the study found. A marijuana conviction can affect whether a person qualifies for federally subsidized housing, student loans and disability insurance....

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, nearly 5,000 people statewide have petitioned courts to have their marijuana convictions expunged since Prop. 64 took effect. In San Francisco, however, fewer than two dozen people have done so, Gascón said. His office is believed to be the first in the state to move to clear old marijuana convictions, Gascón said. Most of the work will be done outside of courtrooms, and those affected won’t be required to show up for court.

Misdemeanor clearances will begin immediately, but felony cases “will take a little more time,” Gascón said. Those who were convicted of felony marijuana counts that were tied to other offenses may not be eligible to have their cases expunged under Prop. 64. Gascón said he will have a limited number of attorneys and paralegals going over such cases at first, but may assign more depending on the workload. “It’s evolving,” he said. “It will be a lot of clerical work, and we will evaluate as we start reviewing felonies.”

Prosecutors will also have to coordinate with the state attorney general’s office to make sure cases are updated in the state system.

Gascón said he hopes his undertaking will prompt other jurisdictions to follow suit. “We’re hoping what we are doing here will not only benefit San Francisco,” he said. “We’re hoping other elected officials around the state will say this is the right thing to do.”

On Jan. 9, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced a bill that would make it easier for many people statewide to have marijuana convictions expunged. The legislation, AB1793, would “allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction.” However, the number of such convictions throughout California over the years runs into the millions. Opponents of the bill have said ordering courts to expunge them on a broad scale could cost millions of dollars.

Some prior related posts:

January 31, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 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)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Keeping up with the latest notable news with the help of Marijuana Moment

Regular readers are used to me regularly referencing Tom Angell great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment and his similarly titled news portal available here.  Because I have been busy on many other fronts this week, I have not been able to keep up with some notable news, and so I will link to Tom's particular recent postings that struck me as especially worth highlighting:

The last of these listed items discusses a notable new Ninth Circuit ruling that I am hoping to blog more about before too long.

January 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Notable new data on marijuana arrests in NYC

This new press report, headlined "Still Too High? Marijuana Arrests Barely Budge in NYC," reports on the latest data on marijuana arrests in our nation's biggest city. Here are the details:

Police data obtained by WNYC shows that 16,925 people were arrested last year for low-level marijuana possession and smoking in public. That's a decline of only 1 percentage point from the previous year's total of 17,097.

Public defenders and drug reform advocates said that's disappointing because the mayor said he would cut down on arrests after taking office in 2014. "What these numbers show is that that war has not ended and that crusade is still going on," said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance. She added that "marijuana arrests are still something that NYPD is continuing to use as a way to disrupt communities."

Frederique, who advocates for the legalization of marijuana, has previously cited statistics showing arrests are far more prevalent in low-income communities of color than in more affluent neighborhoods that are largely white. "The city’s progress reducing low-level marijuana arrests has clearly slowed," said Redmond Haskins, spokesperson at The Legal Aid Society. Citing data from Legal Aid's own low-income clients across the city, he said, "there was basically no statistical change in low-level marijuana arrests" since 2016....

De Blasio had asked police to issues more summonses for the lowest amount of possession (25 grams or less). A summons results in a $100 ticket on the first offense instead of a misdemeanor, though the individual still has to go to summons court. In 2017, summonses went up slightly to 21,024 compared to 20,717 in 2016.

Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan said, "What’s important is the broader trend that shows a dramatic shift away from arrests in favor of summonses since 2013, proving this administration’s commitment to enhancing fairness without sacrificing safety or responsiveness to community concerns." He said the total number of low-level marijuana arrests dropped by 38 percent since 2013. There was also a 58 percent increase in summonses.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman, who chairs the justice committee, also expressed disappointment that arrests hadn't declined more in the last year. "We need clarity to determine if this policy is sufficient and what changes must be made," he said. "In 2014 the Mayor pledged to fundamentally change the City’s criminal justice policy by treating most low-level marijuana possession as a violation instead of a misdemeanor. However, these numbers indicate that the policy is not having the impact we hoped and too many individuals still wind up in the criminal justice system, draining District Attorneys' resources and clogging our courts." 

January 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

"Is Today's Cannabis Business Plan Yesterday's Marijuana Conspiracy?"

The question in the title of this post is posed at the start of this blog post authored by Beth Curtis at her Life for Pot blog.  Here is how it starts and ends:

On the first day of market trading for the New Year, CNBC interspersed programing with positive stories of the new California cannabis businesses.  They covered a broad range of the issues startups would face, but the common theme was prosperity and hope.  Sam Masucci talked about the new marijuana ETF, Marcus Lemonis explored the marijuana business in Humbolt County for The Profit.

I was ushering in the New Year trying to give hope to people serving life in prison for selling marijuana while Jane Wells, Kate Rogers and Aditi Roy were convincing listeners that California’s cannabis commerce would bring promised affluence.  As the day wore on, the juxtaposition was as incredible as my conclusion – today’s cannabis business plan is yesterday’s marijuana conspiracy. Life without parole is death by imprisonment.  The people I advocate for, nonviolent marijuana lifers will die in prison while a “new industry” in cannabis takes root.

We hoped that this category of nonviolent prisoner would all receive commutations at the end of the last administration, but they did not.  They are aging in Federal Prisons around the country while they watch the product they are incarcerated for become a main stream commodity and a source of profit for individuals as well as local and state governments....

The marijuana prisoners I advocate for are serving life because they were charged with “conspiracy” and became accountable for drugs sold by others, even people they had never met or known.  Conspiracy charges hold them responsible for acts that occurred over a period of years and involve many people.  Another common thread is they didn’t plead guilty and chose to exercise their right to a trial. Legal experts call it the trial penalty.  Key witnesses are usually co-defendants who accept a plea and receive less prison time, government agents, and even witnesses that are testifying for a fee.

These marijuana prisoners all have names and life stories.  They have mothers and fathers, wives, husbands, siblings and children who all have suffered and wonder why there is no mercy.  Their family time is spent traveling to a Federal Prison, being searched and processed, sometimes drug tested, then sitting in a large visiting room with only two hugs allowed and lunch from a vending machine.  We are paying dearly for this in federal treasure and human dignity.  I would like to tell them that they will have a chance to be home with their family before they die. They have been entrapped in a gigantic failed social experiment and their release would bring it all to a harmonious conclusion.

These sentences are not fiscally responsible and are not compatible with our sense that we are a nation of compassion, mercy and justice.  These nonviolent marijuana offenders with life need sentencing relief either through executive clemency or retroactive legislation.  

January 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 12, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon, expressing "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework," plans summit in response to new AG enforcement policy

BillBilly J. Williams, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, has this fascinating new newspaper commentary under the headlined "U.S. Attorney: A call for transparency and action on marijuana." Here is most of what it says:

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum rescinding existing Justice Department guidance on marijuana enforcement. The move gives U.S. Attorneys wide latitude to develop district-specific strategies and deploy department resources without Washington, D.C. artificially declaring some cases off limits. Before developing a strategy for Oregon, however, we need more information from the state.

Here's what we know right now. Oregon has a massive marijuana overproduction problem. In 2017 alone, postal agents in Oregon seized 2,644 pounds of marijuana in outbound parcels and over $1.2 million in cash. For comparison, postal agents in Colorado seized just 984 pounds of marijuana during a four-year period beginning in 2013.

Overproduction creates a powerful profit incentive, driving product from both state-licensed and unlicensed marijuana producers into black and gray markets across the country. This lucrative supply attracts cartels and other criminal networks into Oregon and in turn brings money laundering, violence, and environmental degradation.

A survey of recent federal cases in Oregon illustrates alarming trends: in the last six months, federal agents and port police have seized over $1 million in cash linked to marijuana transactions passing through Portland International Airport; law enforcement partners from 16 states have reported marijuana seizures from Oregon. In the first half of 2017, in-state production of butane hash oil resulted in six separate lab explosions. And police and sheriff deputies regularly encounter vehicles with hundreds of pounds of marijuana on highways heading out of state.

We also know that even recreational marijuana permitted under state law carries ill-effects on public health and safety, as Colorado's experience shows. Since 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths have doubled in Colorado. Marijuana-related emergency and hospital admissions have increased 35 percent. And youth marijuana use is up 12 percent, 55 percent higher than the national average. We must do everything in our power to avoid similar trends here in Oregon.

As U.S. Attorney, I have traveled throughout the state to meet with community leaders and citizens to discuss distinctive issues facing rural Oregonians.  Many of these conversations quickly turn to marijuana.  Landowners throughout central and southwestern Oregon have legitimate concerns that marijuana cultivation has had a detrimental effect on water rights, public lands and livability.

Rural communities simply do not have the resources to fund the additional police and sheriff deputies needed to address these issues. While state officials have allocated a portion of marijuana tax revenues to public safety organizations including the Oregon State Police, the net effect on enforcement remains an open question. Moreover, can 20 Oregon Liquor Control Commission marijuana enforcement specialists adequately police thousands of recreational licensees?

We don't know the answer to these questions, in part, because the state has yet to release a final version of its report evaluating out-of-state diversion, distribution to minors, cultivation on public land and violent crime associated with marijuana in Oregon.  We need this information to move forward smartly, effectively, and transparently.

In sum, I have significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon.

Congress's judgment on marijuana activity is reflected in the Controlled Substances Act.  Before charting a path forward for the enforcement of marijuana in Oregon, we must see how the state mitigates the public safety and health issues raised here.  The time for informed action is now.

In the coming days, I will send invitations to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, public health organizations, Oregon marijuana interests and concerned citizen groups to attend a summit to address and remedy these and other concerns.

This summit and the state's response will inform our federal enforcement strategy.  How we move forward will depend in large measure on how the state responds to the gaps we have identified.  Until then it would be an inappropriate abdication of my duties to issue any blanket proclamations on our marijuana enforcement strategy in light of federal law.

This commentary and its coming echoes confirms what has been one of my thoughts since Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescind the Cole Memo (basics here and here): each US Attorney in each US district is now able to be (and perhaps inevitably will become) the chief regulatory officer for marijuana reform in that jurisdiction.  This commentary is a clear statement that this US Attorney is concerned that Oregon's state reforms and regulations are not working, and he is going to have a quasi-regulatory hearing with interested parties, and then (perhaps) he will issue some "regulations" in the form of some explanation of the types of federal marijuana crimes and criminals he will be eager to prosecute in the near future.

January 12, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)