Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

California legislator proposing state law to automatically expunge past marijuana convictions

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California lawmaker wants to make it easier to clear marijuana convictions from criminal records," a lawmaker in California is talking about making a law to make expungement of certain past marijuana convictions automatic. Here are the details:

Proposition 64, approved by California voters in 2016 to legalize recreational pot use, allows people to petition the courts to have past convictions for marijuana offenses expunged from their records. But the process can be difficult and expensive, according to supporters of pot legalization.

In response, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would make it easier to have criminal convictions removed from the records of marijuana users, potentially opening more doors to employment and housing. Rather than require people to petition the courts for a determination, AB 1793 would require criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses to be automatically expunged, placing the burden on the courts, Bonta said.

“Let’s be honest, navigating the legal system bureaucracy can be costly and time-consuming,” the lawmaker told reporters at the Capitol. His bill, he said, “will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives.”

Proposition 64 legalizes, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use. The measure also allows people convicted of marijuana possession crimes eliminated by Proposition 64 to petition the court to have those convictions expunged from their records as long as the person does not pose a risk to public safety. They can also petition the court to reduce some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, including possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by a person who is 18 or older.

As of September, 4,885 Californians have petitioned the courts to have marijuana convictions expunged or reclassified, but many people don’t know about the process, which can be difficult, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported Proposition 64.

Bonta’s bill was supported Tuesday by alliance state director Laura Thomas and Dale Gieringer, who is the state coordinator of California NORML, another legalization group. The bill, Thomas said, “will help to expedite the ability of people to achieve the promise of restorative justice.”

Some prior related posts:

January 9, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 8, 2018

US Attorney for Massachusetts refuses to provide more guidance on federal prohibition prosecution plans

As reported in this AP article, the "top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts offered no guarantees on Monday that he would take a hands-off approach to legalized pot, injecting a new layer of uncertainty and confusion into the commercial marijuana industry as it looked to gain a foothold in the state." Here is more:

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement that while he understood the desire for guidance on the federal approach to the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law, he "cannot provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution." Such determinations would be made on a "case-by-case basis," he added.

The Yes on 4 Coalition, which spearheaded the 2016 ballot campaign, had publicly called for Lelling to provide "clear, unambiguous answers" to several questions, including whether his office would prosecute businesses that are granted licenses by state cannabis regulators to grow, produce, test or sell marijuana legally in Massachusetts....

Lelling took office in December after being nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  His comments on Monday expanded on an earlier statement last week that promised enforcement of serious federal crimes but did not directly address the recreational marijuana issue....

Jim Borghesani, a Massachusetts spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the prosecutor’s comments "ominous."  Pro-marijuana groups fear the change in tone from the Justice Department and federal prosecutors will send a chill through the nascent cannabis industry, discouraging those looking to start or invest in those businesses. "I don’t think any business would ever want to open its door and have fears on the first day that the FBI is going to be standing on their doorsteps," said Borghesani....

The Cannabis Control Commission, a five-member panel created to regulate marijuana in Massachusetts, has pledged to move forward with a process that foresees the first commercial pot shops opening in July. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said last week that rescinding the Cole Memorandum was the "wrong decision," continued to support the commission’s work and would provide adequate funding for it, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The "Statement By U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling Regarding Federal Marijuana Enforcement" is available at this link.  I understand fully why officials and reform advocates in Massachusetts would like to get some more clear and definitive enforcement guidance as the state moves forward with developing and implementing rules for voter-enacted marijuana reform.  But both the tone and seeming intent of the decision by Attorney General Session to rescind the Cole Memo suggests that the Department of Justice is eager to avoid giving clear guidance to state actors and the marijuana industry concerning enforcement plans and priorities in this arena.

January 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Did Jeff Sessions Just Increase the Odds Congress Will Make Marijuana Legal?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico piece with the headline:  "The attorney general has created intolerable uncertainty for a growing industry that is now demanding legal protections from Congress. And lawmakers are listening."  The piece winds down with this remarkable political reality: "As of late Friday, POLITICO Magazine could not find a single member of Congress who had issued a statement in support of Sessions’ actions."  Here is more from thie article:

Capitol Hill screamed just as loudly. And it wasn’t just the Democratic members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.  It was Republican senators, too. Cory Gardner of Colorado took the Senate floor to issue an ultimatum to Sessions: “I will be putting a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado.  Until he lives up to that commitment, I’ll be holding up all nominations of the Department of Justice,” Gardner said.  “The people of Colorado deserve answers. The people of Colorado deserve to be respected.” Gardner is no fringe Republican; he’s the chair of the NRSC....

Sessions’ antipathy for a drug that has lost much of its stigma among a wide cross section of Americans has only galvanized disparate factions in Congress to protect an industry that is expected to generate $2.3 billion in state tax revenue by 2020.

Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, who just a few weeks ago declined to comment to POLITICO Magazine about whether he would work to maintain protections for medical marijuana in the 2018 omnibus spending package, tweeted on Thursday, “I'm now fighting to include my amdt in the final omnibus Approps bill so we can protect patients and law-abiding businesses.”

The fact that marijuana has now risen to the height of top-tier budget negotiations is a sign that the pro-marijuana coalition is no longer merely a menagerie of loud-mouth hippies, stoners, and felons, as the pro-pot crowd has been characterized in the past. The community of Americans who now rely on legal medical marijuana, estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016, includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors, and parents of epileptic children. The American Legion, a conservative veterans organization by any measure, has voted twice in favor of resolutions to expand research and safe access for its members.

“The American Legion has been a leading advocate for the removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to enable greater research into the medical efficacy of the drug to treat ailments that impact veterans such as PTSD and chronic pain,” Joe Plenzler, Director of Media Relations for The American Legion, told POLITICO Magazine — which means Jeff Sessions just crossed the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization.

By the end of the day on Thursday, in a conference call of five members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, lawmakers from four of the eight states that have approved recreational marijuana railed about Sessions’ unconstitutional assault on the rights of their states to decide their own affairs. On that call, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher said that the move by Sessions to strike a blow against marijuana has had the inverse effect of raising the attention from what had previously been a states’ issue but has now become a national priority. “It’s a big plus for our efforts that the federal government is now aware that our constituents have been alerted,” Rohrabacher said. "We can be confident we can win this fight, because this is a freedom issue.”

Prior related posts:

January 6, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

More astute commentary from astute commentators on new DOJ marijuana enforcement policy

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Some early thoughts and comments now that AG Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo

I have so many thoughts about what might come next in the wake of today's big news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinding the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Helpfully, Sam Kamin already has this effective Hill commentary astutely "Jeff Sessions's new pot policy: What happens now?". I recommend the piece in full, and here is just a snippet of its many notable thoughts:

In overturning the Cole memo, Sessions made it clear that the nation’s U.S. attorneys will be left to exercise their discretion over licensed marijuana businesses within their purview....

Allowing U.S. attorneys to exercise total discretion, however, could be particularly disruptive. Imagine California’s four U.S. attorneys each adopting a different policy with regard to the part of the state over which they have jurisdiction. A compliant marijuana business in the northern district, which covers Oakland and San Francisco, might be treated entirely differently than a similar one in Los Angeles, which falls in the central district. Until Sessions’s memo, compliance with state law essentially was a safe harbor for businesses and individuals. That's no longer true, though any attorney advising a client surely would tell them that it's better to be in compliance than out.

As to what the Justice Department actually can do about state marijuana conduct, the limits are more practical than legal. The authority of the federal government to crack down on marijuana conduct — even conduct legal under state law — is unquestioned.

The worst-case scenario for marijuana reform states is that the Drug Enforcement Administration could make arrests, seize assets and property, and seek long prison terms against those operating under state law. More realistically, prosecutors could send cease-and-desist letters to businesses (or their landlords) ordering them to stop violating federal law or face further consequences.

State governments need not participate in any crackdown on the industry. The anti-commandeering principle inherent in the 10th Amendment precludes state authorities from being pressed into the service of federal policy. But there is also very little that state lawmakers can do to protect their citizens from federal enforcement.

Several political options exist at the national level, however. Sessions has lobbed the ball squarely back into Congress’s court. Congress could vote to extend the spending rider both in time and scope. It could protect marijuana businesses past Jan. 19, when the current spending bill is set to lapse. It could also extend protection to anyone operating under the authority of state law, whether medical or recreational.

Congress could also change the legal status of marijuana more generally. It could move marijuana out of Schedule I (where it is categorized alongside heroin and LSD) to a more lenient category where it is permitted with a doctor’s prescription. Or, it could move marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act entirely, treating it the way alcohol and tobacco are — a regulated but legal substance.

The announcement thus creates a significant test of Congress’s willingness to stand up to the administration on matters of state policy.

Speaking of "matters of state policy," I also found interesting and notable this short commentary by Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review headlined "Marijuana Is a Gateway Drug to Federalism." Here is an excerpt:

When I speak on college campuses about the need for a more robust federalism, I am often asked how conservatives should sell the idea to those who do not share their political goals....

My answer, for a while now, has been “marijuana.” “It will annoy many people,” I have suggested, “when the executive branch is staffed by drug warriors, and they decide to enforce federal law against states that have voted to legalize. When it happens, and when there’s a reaction, we should point it out.” ...

And here I am pointing it out.  There is no good reason for Washington D.C. to have a view on this.  If Colorado or Oregon want to legalize weed while Mississippi and Utah ban it, that’s fine. In fact, that is how the country is supposed to work.   The United States is a collection of . . . well, of states; it is not a giant centralized democracy with fifty regional departments. Congress should make it a priority to get the federal government out of this area, and to let the states, not the attorney general’s fealty, determine which rules are best for their citizenries. And conservatives, of all people, should celebrate that.   The Founders did not write the Constitution to impose uniformity on hemp.  Rarely will we get a better teaching moment than this one.

Meanwhile, shifting from matters of constitutional design to dollars and cents, I wonder if marijuana stores in various states across the nation are experiencing any uptick in business (or are even considering an increase in prices). I think a shrewd marijuana consumer, realizing the uncertainty that now defines federal marijuana enforcement, might want to frequent their favorite establishment while still certain its doors are open.

January 4, 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, December 21, 2017

Interesting new data on enduring racial disparities in marijuana arrests after decriminalization in St. Louis

Pot_chartThis new local article, headlined "St. Louis Police Continue to Cite Blacks for Marijuana Possession at a High Rate," reports on some interesting data on arrest rates in St. Louis both before and after the cite decriminalized marijuana possession. Here are the details:

St. Louis police continue to make arrests for pot possession — and most of those arrested are black. In 2013, the final year before St. Louis attempted to decriminalize marijuana, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department made 1,056 arrests solely for pot possession — with black suspects accounting for 87 percent of those arrested.

But in the four years since the city made big changes to the way it handles marijuana possession cases, police records show that black suspects have continued to comprise roughly the same percentage of violations: a total of about 85 percent from 2014 to October of 2017.

That statistic, first obtained by the Riverfront Times through a Sunshine law request, was startling to civil rights attorneys. Sara Baker, the legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, remarks that the new data stands as “a reconfirmation of an old problem.”

Proponents of reforming the city’s drug laws had cheered the policy change that was implemented in 2014, following the passage of a bill that enjoyed broad approval by the city's Board of Aldermen. Prior to the bill’s passage, officers sent all drug cases, even for small quantities of weed, to the Circuit Attorney’s Office for state-level misdemeanor and felony charges, which can carry significant fines and jail time.

Then came the decriminalization proposal sponsored by Alderman Shane Cohn. Starting in 2014, officers were instructed to treat those suspected of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana similar to someone committing a traffic offense, with fines between $100 and $500. But the racial dynamics of who was being cited, records now show, have stayed stubbornly the same. Officers may have changed the paperwork form on which they wrote the charges, but not the racial makeup of the people they cited.

“What’s incredibly revealing about the data,” says the ACLU’s Baker, “is that time and time again, when we see reforms either at the state or local level, and particularly reforms that still allow for fees or for low level criminalization, we might see a dip in is the amount of people overall that are arrested and charged. But that disparity rate remains shockingly persistent.”

Operating under the new policy in 2014 for the first time, pot possession arrests in St. Louis dipped by 144 from the previous year. But that modest decrease still showed virtually the same racial breakdown seen in prior years. In 2014, officers recorded 294 arrests for violations of the city’s updated municipal code; 85 percent of those people arrested were black. African Americans also accounted for 87 percent of the 618 arrests made on state charges, which are now reserved for suspects with more than 35 grams or those with at least two prior possession arrests in the city. The pattern continued in 2015: 88 percent of those busted for ordinance violations were black, as were 87 percent of 649 people facing state charges.

Across all five years’ worth data, there's no significant departure from the pattern. The only year where the percent of black arrests dipped below 85 percent was 2016, which showed ordinance violations given to black suspects in 77 percent of cases. By 2017, with data from January 1 to October, the percentage of black suspects ticked back up to 85 percent for both ordinance violations and criminal arrests. As of October 31, police had arrested 685 people on pot possession charges, about one-third for ordinance violations.

The persistence of the racial gap in arrests continues to worry Baker and the ACLU of Missouri. However, Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis whose work focuses on crime statistics, says it's not necessarily a sign of racial bias among cops. Instead, he suggests, it may reflect the way blacks are more likely to live in neighborhoods plagued by violent crime. "[Officers] stop blacks on the street, typically young black men, out of a concern of violent crime," he explains. "They find no evidence that that individual was involved in violence crime, but they do find marijuana on the individual. And they arrest him."

"That seems to be the pattern. That's not the only reason. It's possible there’s racial bias involved in some of these arrests.” Racial bias could be just one element in the stew, Rosenfeld notes. Officers in neighborhoods suffering violent crime tend to be proactive and on the lookout to stop violence before it happens. They make judgment calls based on experience and (hopefully) reasonable suspicion. Sometimes those judgment calls need a convenient “pretexual arrest,” like a traffic stop or marijuana possession.

December 21, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Another review of California's commitment to expunge past marijuana convictions

In recent weeks, I have spotlighted a number of article from a number of outlets discussing marijuana reform's impact on part marijuana convictions.  The latest example today comes from the Washington Post via this extended article headlined "Convicted of a marijuana crime in California?  It might go away, thanks to legal pot."  Here are excerpts:

California is offering a second chance to people convicted of almost any marijuana crimes, from serious felonies to small infractions, with the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared or the charges sharply reduced. State officials hope to reverse decades of marijuana convictions that can make it difficult for people to gain meaningful employment and disproportionately affect low-income minorities.

“We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help — some way, somehow — repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. The alliance said there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years, and it estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records.

At least 4,500 people had filed petitions to have their sentences reduced, redesignated or thrown out as of September, according to the California Judicial Council. The highest amount came from Riverside County, where 613 applications were filed. In addition, at least 365 people have applied to have their juvenile marijuana convictions thrown out. Not every county reported data.

The change here is part of a nationwide movement to reduce marijuana charges and atone for harsh penalties during the war on drugs. At least nine states have passed laws expunging or reducing marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland, Oregon and Vermont also now allow convictions for marijuana offenses that are not crimes under current law to be wiped off a criminal record.

The re-designation of marijuana crimes in California went into effect immediately after voters approved the measure legalizing pot. Many viewed it as an offshoot of a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and theft crimes. Those who want their marijuana convictions lessened must present their cases in court. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should someone 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 in California.

Some district attorney’s offices notified the recently convicted and incarcerated that they were eligible to have their records changed and that they potentially could leave prison. Last year, prosecutors in San Diego searched for people convicted of marijuana offenses in the prior three years who would be eligible for reductions. When the measure passed, prosecutors got their petitions before a judge as soon as possible. “We absolutely didn’t want people to be in custody who shouldn’t be in custody,” said Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division in the San Diego district attorney’s office. She said that as of mid-December, the office has handled nearly 600 reductions.

But advocates said many people who completed their sentences still do not know they could be able to change their criminal records. Hernandez and defense lawyers said that the state has put little effort into outreach and that most people are hearing about the opportunities through word of mouth or social media. “One of the projects we’re working on this year is to notify people that this is an option,” said Bruce Margolin, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases. “It’s a viable thing to do, obviously, because people are suffering with these felony convictions in so many aspects of their life.”

Omar Figueroa, a defense lawyer in Sebastopol, Calif., who specializes in marijuana law, said the requirement to go to court makes it more difficult for the poor to take advantage. “That’s one of the criticisms, that a lot of people don’t have the time or energy or the access to public transportation to get to the courthouse,” Figueroa said. “What I see is the people who have more means are the ones who are taking advantage of this, and the people who have more basic struggles in their everyday life, the last thing they’re thinking about is cleaning up their criminal history for their old marijuana convictions.”

Some prior related posts:

December 18, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Medical Marijuana and Crime: Substance Use and Criminal Behaviors in a Sample of Arrestees"

The title of this post is the title of this new article published in the Journal of Drug Issues and authored by Hyunjung Cheon, Scott Decker and Charles Katz. Here is its abstract:

After decades of prohibition, laws allowing marijuana use for medical and, in some cases, recreational purposes have been enacted across the country.  To date, however, little is known about medical marijuana use, particularly regarding its relationship to criminal offending and use by nonauthorized persons.  The current study bridges this gap by examining offending patterns in a sample of recent arrestees in Maricopa County, Arizona, identified and interviewed through the Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network (AARIN) project.

Findings suggest that medical users had a higher probability for committing Driving Under the Influendce (DUI) and drug selling/making than nonusers, and diverted medical marijuana users had a higher probability for involvement in property crime, violent crime, DUI, and drug selling/making than nonusers.  The results have important implications for developing marijuana decriminalization policies, criminal justice, and criminological theory.  Directions for future research are discussed.

December 12, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)