Saturday, January 30, 2016
You be the state sentencing judge: how much prison time for former state official guilty of (small-time?) marijuana dealing
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story from Michigan, headlined "Ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt pleads, sold marijuana as 'source of income,' judge says." Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):
Former state Rep. Roy Schdmidt pleaded no contest Thursday, Jan. 28, to manufacture of marijuana. Schmidt initially fought charges as a registered medical marijuana caregiver and disputed the amount of marijuana he possessed.
But a police report, read by Grand Rapids District Judge Michael Distel to establish a basis for Schmidt's guilt, said he told police that he sold marijuana to 10 to 15 people who were not his registered medical marijuana patients. He told police that "he was operating his business as a source of income," Distel said.
Schmidt was charged last year with manufacture or delivery of marijuana after police raided his home on Seventh Street NW and a house he rented from his son on Myrtle Avenue NW. Police said Schmidt possessed nearly three pounds of marijuana and 71 marijuana plants. Caregivers are allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of up to five patients. Schmidt has maintained that his drying marijuana was not considered usable.
He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced on March 22 in Kent County Circuit Court.... Under the plea, Schmidt admits no guilt but the plea is treated as such at sentencing. He was allowed to plead no contest because he could face civil forfeiture proceedings related to his marijuana operation.
Schmidt is free on bond. Kent County prosecutors will drop a second charge of manufacturing marijuana.
His arrest followed an ill-fated scheme to switch parties while he served in the House of Representatives. After being elected as a Democrat in 2008, he lost his seat four years later after a controversial switch to the Republican Party. He had spent 16 years on a Grand Rapids City Commission on the West Side of town.
I am cross-posting this story on my Sentencing Law & Policy blog because this case raises interesting classic "offender-based" sentencing issues: e.g., (1) should Schmidt's history as a relatively prominent politician be viewed as an aggravating sentencing factor (because it makes him more culpable as someone who was involved in making the state laws he broke) or as a possible mitigating sentencing factor (because he would seem like the type of person unlikely to be a serious recidivist); (2) should the prospect of Schmidt losing his home and/or his son's home through civil forfeiture proceedings significntly influence what criminal sentence he receives?
But, of course, what really captured my attention in this case is the different ways this defendant's offense might be viewed by a sentencing judge. His lawyers could perhaps claim, given the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, that Schmidt's crime is essentially a regulatory violation comparable to a liquor store owner who would often sell to underage college students. But prosecutors likely will assert that Schmidt should be viewed and sentenced like any other greedy drug dealer.
Thoughts, dear readers?
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The folks at YouGov, as detailed in this posting headlined "Most Americans support marijuana legalization," have released some interesting new data based on interviews of one thousands of Americans in mid-December 2015. Here is part of the YouGov summary of its main findings:
Research from YouGov shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. 52% of Americans now support legalization, while only 34% oppose it. This is slightly up from 48% support for legalization when the question was last asked in March 2015.
Over half of all adults under the age of 65 support it, but over-65s do tend to oppose (49%) rather than support (39%) legalization. Politically, Democrats (66%) and independents (51%) want to legalize marijuana but half of Republicans are opposed. Just over a third of Republicans (36%) do support legalization, however.
While full legalization has the support of just over half of the country two-thirds of Americans believe that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. Unsurprisingly a huge majority of people in favor of legalization (86%) say that the efforts cost more than they are worth, but even opponents of legalization narrowly tend to say that current efforts aren't worth the cost (42% to 33%).
As the last sentence of this summary reveals, the detailed YouGov poll results (which are available here) includes some interesting marijuana-related questions beyond just support for legalization reforms and its breaks down poll responses in some notable ways.
Of particular interest was that the only racial demographic not expressing majority support for legalization was "Hispanic" and the lowest level of support for for legalization among economic demographics was found among families making less than $50,000 per year. I tend to assume that minority populations and lower income groups are more inclined to support marijuana reform because these groups seem to be subject to a larger share of the criminal justice consequences of blanket prohibition. But this YouGov poll suggests that reality may be far more nuanced.
In addition, I find especially significant the findings and political demographic breakdowns concerning the question "Do you agree or disagree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth?". Notably, independents are more than five times more likely to agree (70%) than disagree (13%) with this statement, and even Republicans are more than twice as likely to agree (55%) than disagree (24%) with this statement. If other polls ask this question and produce similar result, such findings I think could well have a real impact on the positions of various presidential candidates in the months ahead.
January 17, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Interesting on-the-ground perspective on impact (or lack thereof) of marijuana reform from a Florida public defender
CBS News has this intriguing new first-person piece about marijuana reform authored by Kim Segal, who serves as a public defender in Broward County, Florida. Here are excerpts:
A client called me to ask if I saw the news. He was referring to the unanimous vote by the Broward County Commission that would allow law enforcement to issue a civil citation instead of filing a criminal misdemeanor charge against anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana. The problem, I explained to my client, was that he was facing state charges. In the state of Florida marijuana is not only against the law but possession of a small amount is still punishable by a year in jail. In case that punishment wasn't enough of a deterrent the state legislature included in the law that anyone adjudicated guilty on this charge will lose their driver's license for a year.
While it has been decided in our county that fines are appropriate for people caught with small amounts of marijuana there are still many people fighting the system. They must fight to keep their license and to avoid a criminal charge on their record.
Take my client Drew Brown for example -- a young man who was getting ready to go to college to play football when he picked up a possession of cannabis 10 grams or less charge. The state refused to drop the case. Considering the national climate on marijuana I thought Drew's case would be an easy one for the prosecutor to justify dropping.
Why? This was a case of constructive possession as opposed to actual possession. A basic explanation is the marijuana was not found on my client it was found in an area where other people had access to it. Despite being adamant that the marijuana wasn't his, Drew had to go to trial if he wanted any chance of the charge going away. His record and his need for a driver's license while in college made the risky decision to go to trial easy for Drew.
As in all jury trials a panel of potential jurors was assembled. After a couple hours of questioning the group of eighteen, we were left with six people who would decide whether Drew broke the law.... Drew told the jury he was walking to a friend's house when a guy he knew drove by and offered him a ride. Drew was in the acquaintance's car for just a few minutes when he heard sirens and saw the lights from the police car behind them. The car was being stopped for a traffic violation. The driver continued a couple of blocks before stopping. The driver said he was near a house where he knew people and he wanted to stop in a place where he would feel safe. Once out of the vehicle the officers found marijuana under the passenger seat that Drew just vacated. Drew told the jurors he had no idea the marijuana was there.
The officer didn't believe him so Drew was arrested for possession of marijuana. Nary a bowl, pipe, wrapping papers or even a lighter was found on his person. Drew faced a criminal charge for allegedly bending over while sitting in a car that had marijuana in a drawer under the passenger seat, that he unfortunately chose to sit in. Thankfully the jury had the good sense to find Drew not guilty. This verdict only reinforced my thoughts on whether this case should have been pursued at all.
As headlines continue with stories about states and local governments decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana, the county court is still full of defendants facing this serious charge. Just this week I have three possession of cannabis cases set for trial. Until there's news that these criminal charges will be changed to civil infractions the court will be spending valuable time hearing about personal use of marijuana that often includes evidence of only residue and roaches.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
The New York Post has this notable new piece on marijuana enforcement patterns in the Big Apple. The piece is headlined "Marijuana arrests drop 40% this year as NYPD mellows out," and here are excerpts:
Cops are following through on Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to stop locking people up for carrying small amounts of pot. Police cuffed 18,120 stoners through Oct. 20 — a 40 percent plummet from the 29,906 pot busts in the same period last year, state Division of Criminal Justice records show.
At the same time, tickets for pot violations have surged. Cops handed out 13,081 low-level pot summonses through the end of September — and are on pace for more than 16,000 tickets. The NYPD issued 13,378 pot tickets for all of last year, and 13,316 tickets in 2013, records show. City Hall ordered cops last year to ticket suspects they caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana instead of arresting them after district attorneys and activists clamored for drug decriminalization.
Still, arrests outnumber tickets citywide, and there appears to be wide variations in enforcement. Bronx cops in the 45th Precinct in upscale Throggs Neck handed out 415 tickets for marijuana possession and made only 48 arrests in the first nine months of the year. Similarly, Staten Island cops in the 122nd Precinct ticketed 258 people and arrested only 18 suspects, city and state crime data show. But Bronx cops in the 52nd Precinct in Kingsbridge arrested 720 individuals but ticketed only 168 people in the first nine months of the year. And Queens cops made 259 pot arrests but only ticketed 79 people in South Jamaica’s 113th Precinct, the records show.
I find this basic data quite interesting, and I am hopeful there will soon be some serious resesrch done in conjunction with what this data reveal and suggest. For example, I would be interested in learning more about related economic realities, e.g., is the city as a whole and/or certain precincts starting to raise (considerably?) more revenue from issuing more tickets instead of making more arrests? And, of course, the relationships between these charing marijuana arrest rates and broader crime patterns could be fascinating if there were any notable correlations between the two. Finally, especially in light of historical patterns of disparate arrest rates for marijuana offenses for different races, I wonder if there are notable new racial dynamics in these notable new data.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Mexico’s Supreme Court Opens Door to Legalizing Marijuana Use," a major legal ruling in a notable country could provide yet another jolt to the legal and policy status of marijuana in the Americas. Here are the basics:
The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.
The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. The ruling is a first step — applying only to a single cannabis club that brought the suit — and does not strike down Mexico’s current drug laws. But it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately legalize marijuana.
The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence....
The ruling on Wednesday was the culmination of an effort to change the law by four members of a prominent Mexican anticrime group, Mexico United Against Crime. Mr. Torres Landa and Mr. Santacruz formed a cannabis club with two other people, called the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption — the Spanish acronym is Smart.
The group applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency, but, as expected, was turned down. Their appeal of that decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. “We have been trying to struggle against illegality, and the results were almost negligible,” said Mr. Torres Landa, who says he has never tried marijuana and does not intend to. “Five or six years ago, we asked why? The answer, as the Americans say, was in the money.”
But the ruling on Wednesday applies only to their petition. For legal marijuana to become the law of the land, the justices in the court’s criminal chamber will have to rule the same way five times, or eight of the 11 members of the full court will have to vote in favor.
If the court decisions continue in that direction, they will be flying in the face of public opinion. Mexicans are so opposed to legalizing marijuana that a leading pollster told the Smart group not to bother with a survey, Mr. Santacruz recalled, or to limit it to young people. The Mexican government, legislators and security and health officials all came out against legalization, as did the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the authorities have not permitted even the use of medical marijuana.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Michigan arrest data highlight diverse impact of local decriminalization and continued impact of state-level marijuana prohibition
This notable new local article, headlined "Michigan pot arrests are trending up, and 8 other points about marijuana," provides data that reinforce my concern that modest marijuana reforms do not really change the basic realities of how marijuana prohibition impacts individuals. Here are some of the notable details:
At a time when surveys indicate a majority of Michigan residents support legalizing pot, arrests for marijuana possession or use are increasing — even as arrests for other crimes are going down, according to data collected by the Michigan State Police. Between 2008 and 2014, arrests for marijuana possession or use went up 17 percent statewide, that data shows, while arrests for all crimes dropped by 15 percent.
One possible reason: Federal health surveys indicate marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, and the number of regular users has been increasing. In 2013, about 7.5 percent of Americans age 12 or older had used marijuana in the past month, according the 2015 federal Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Below are other highlights from the Michigan arrest data, which was collected by the State Police from local and county enforcement agencies.
1. The vast majority of marijuana arrests are for possession or use.
In 2014, there were 20,483 arrests for marijuana use or possession, which was 86 percent of all marijuana arrests. About 10 percent of the other arrests are for selling the drug, and the remainder are for "producing" the drug, smuggling or "other." Arrests related to marijuana are about two-thirds of all drug arrests in Michigan and in 2014 were 9 percent of all criminal arrests.
2. A disproportionate number of those arrested for marijuana-related crimes are between the ages of 18 and 24.
About 43 percent of those arrested in 2014 for marijuana were age 18 to 24. The breakdown for other age groups: 26 percent were age 25 to 34; 11 percent were age 35 to 44; 9 percent were under 18; 7 percent were age 45 to 54, and 3 percent were sage 55 or older. The federal drug survey indicates that marijuana use is highest among young adults. In fact, 24 percent of male and 17 percent of female female full-time college students age 18 to 22 use marijuana, the survey shows.
3. The vast majority of those arrested in marijuana cases are men.
Men comprised 83 percent of marijuana arrests in 2014, which is disproportionate compared to their rate of usage. About 9.7 percent of American males age 12 and older are users of marijuana compared to 5.6 percent of women, according to a 2013 federal survey on drug use. That means men are 1.7 times more likely to use marijuana, but are five times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.
4. African-Americans are a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests.
An African-American in Michigan was three times more likely to be arrested in 2014 for violating marijuana laws compared to a white person, although surveys and research indicate little difference between usage rates between the two groups. In all, African-Americans comprise about 14 percent of Michigan's population, but 35 percent of marijuana arrests....
6. Since 2011, 21 Michigan cities have voted on legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana....
7. Decriminalization initiatives have had mixed impact on arrests in those communities.
Six communities — Detroit, Grant Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Flint and Ypsilanti — passed decriminalization initiatives before 2014. Based on arrests in those cities for marijuana use or possession in 2011 compared to 2014, the initiatives had mixed impact.
The most dramatic changed occurred in Grand Rapids, where arrests for marijuana use or possession dropped from 952 in 2011 to 93 in 2014. The numbers also dropped significantly between 2011 and 2014 in the city of Kalamazoo, from 327 to 166. In Detroit, arrests dropped from 1,297 to 974 during the three-year period.
Arrests for marijuana use or possession actually went up in Lansing and Ypsilanti. Lansing had 73 arrests for marijuana use or possession in 2011, compared to 79 in 2014. In Ypsilanti, arrests went from 74 to 88 during that time frame.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Reefer madness or state law sanity?: Ohio AG sues Toledo after passage of local marijuana decriminalization measure
As noted in this prior post, last month Toledo voters overwhelmingly passed a measure to decriminalize marijuana in the city by reducing penalties for the drug to the minimum allowed by state law and repealing penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But now, as reported in this new Toledo Blade article, headlined "Ohio sues city over marijuana ordinance: Attorney general sees state conflict," Ohio's top state lawyer believes it is necessary to sue the city to block some aspects of what the local voters' approved. Here are the basics:
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed suit Tuesday against the city of Toledo, asking a judge to declare invalid several key sections of the city’s new “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance.”
The legal challenge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court claims several portions of the voter-approved Toledo law, including restricting fines and incarceration for marijuana possession, contradict Ohio law. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates and Sheriff John Tharp joined Attorney General Mike DeWine in the lawsuit.
Voters last month approved a measure reducing penalties in Toledo Municipal Code for all marijuana-related crimes to no fines or jail time. They also supported stopping city police from reporting the convictions to state authorities.
Although it is unfortunate to oppose the will of a majority of voters, significant portions of this law are “clearly unconstitutional,” Mr. DeWine said. He announced the legal action during a news conference at One Government Center.
Mr. DeWine discussed a seizure last month by the Ohio Highway Patrol in Lucas County that found 226 pounds of marijuana. If the motorists had been charged through this Toledo ordinance, neither would be incarcerated or fined. “Such a scenario is completely unacceptable, and it violates the Ohio Constitution,” Mr. DeWine said.
Mr. DeWine said this lawsuit does not seek to dismiss the entire measure, but the portions that contradict state law. Ohio’s constitution allows cities to adopt and enforce local regulations if they do not conflict with the state, according to the complaint. Police are empowered to arrest suspects in their municipality found breaking state law, the lawsuit states. “Municipal drug ordinances are police power regulations, and drug statutes duly enacted by the state of Ohio are laws of general application throughout the state,” the suit states.
The lawsuit specifically names a “gag rule” in the ordinance that says city police and the law director may not report for prosecution under state law any marijuana or hashish offense to an authority besides the law director. The prosecution would be left pursuing a misdemeanor case in Toledo Municipal Court under a law claiming to abolish incarceration, fines, and probation. “The city of Toledo is not empowered to establish or amend Ohio felony law. And municipal authorities are not authorized to prosecute felony offenses under state law,” according to the suit.
When asked during the news conference why Mr. DeWine’s office did not intervene prior to the vote, he said that he did not believe “anyone was aware of everything that was in there.”
City officials were not surprised by the lawsuit. Adam Loukx, Toledo law director, said there were concerns about its potential contradictions with state law, but he will defend the voters’ choice. “It’s only appropriate a court would be the one to decide that,” Mr. Loukx said. Mr. Loukx said he recently obtained a copy of the lawsuit and could not yet say what would remain of the law if Mr. Dewine is successful.
Sean Nestor, campaign manager for the Sensible Marihuana initiative that promoted the ballot measure, said the group expected a legal challenge. When they were crafting the ordinance, organizers studied other successful decriminalization measures in Ohio and Michigan, he said. “We used laws that had survived court challenges,” he said.
Mr. Nestor said his group is ready to work with city officials to defend the measure in court. While the case remains pending, Mr. Loukx said a Toledo police officer who finds a resident possessing marijuana could cite the suspect under Ohio Revised Code. The officer also might be permitted to charge under Toledo Municipal Code as well, Mr. Loukx said. “At this point, a lot of it will be in the discretion of the officer,” he said.
Because I am not an expert on local government law, I am going to need to read the full lawsuit filed by Attorney General DeWine [which is available here] before commenting on its merits. But I can say at the outset that I suppose I am pleased to learn that other crimes and legal concerns in the state of Ohio are so low that the AG's office had ample time to focus on what (I would hope) is a relatively low-level concern for state official.
This local article, headlined "Marijuana legislation calls for DUI study," reports on a notable (and I think very valuable) element of California's recent new law concerning medical marijuana. Here are the details and the context:
Recent legislation awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature not only seeks to implement a statewide regulatory system on the medical marijuana, but also calls for a study on how law enforcement can better detect stoned drivers.
Nestled within one of the bills — Assembly Bill 266 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) — is a sentence that calls for the state to commission the UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to develop a study that identifies how cannabis impacts motor skills. The language was written by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant of 28 years who said he was motivated to coauthor the bill to give officers another tool to get impaired drivers off the street and to save lives.
“We’ve done a good job of reducing alcohol DUIs,” he said. “With drug impairment we have a long way to go. I believe this is a pioneering effort to allow that to take place.” Lackey — who made his first visit to Humboldt County on Tuesday along with two other bill authors to call on Gov. Brown to sign the bills — said that the study could provide data that he hopes will result in an improved field sobriety test specifically for marijuana impairment.
The three-bill package known as the “Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act” is currently sitting on Gov. Brown’s desk. If signed, the bills would create a licensing and regulatory scheme for all aspects of the medical marijuana industry including cultivation, distribution, transport, dispensary sales, laboratory testing, environmental protections and storage.
Unlike with alcohol, where a legal blood alcohol concentration has been established, local law enforcement officials say they are currently limited in their methods of detecting drivers under the influence of the marijuana’s main psychoactive component, THC, with no set level of impairment and no easy detection method like a Breathalyzer.
“We do not have a cutoff point where we can say we know they are impaired,” Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said. “The proof goes back to whether or not their driving showed they were impaired.” When prosecuting someone for driving under the influence of marijuana, Fleming said evidence usually includes patrol car dash cam videos, testimony by drug recognition experts and observations by a law enforcement officer.
Even if such a level were established, a local defense attorney and several studies state that THC processing by the human body is more complicated than alcohol and other drugs. A former president of the DUI Lawyers Association and current member of National College of DUI Defense, Eureka-based attorney Manny Daskal said some studies have shown that drivers actually exhibited safer driving habits and kept more room between themselves and other drivers to compensate for their impairment, though other studies refute the findings. “Right now the research isn’t there for them to accurately predict when impairment occurs or at what level it occurs,” Daskal said.
Regardless of what type of drug a California Highway Patrol officer suspects a driver is impaired by, Humboldt County CHP Public Information Officer Cy May said they will perform the same field sobriety test. “Usually we’re not sure it’s cannabis,” May said, adding there are certain giveaway signs. Such signs include marijuana odor emanating from the car or driver, bloodshot or dilated eyes, and a higher pulse rate....
Two studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released in February found that 12.6 percent of surveyed drivers had evidence of marijuana use in their systems — up from 8.6 percent in 2007 — while those driving under the influence of alcohol dropped by one-third in the same time period.
Another study by the administration found that marijuana users were 25 percent more likely to be in a crash than non-marijuana users, but that the increased risk “may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in groups at higher risk of crashes” — such as young men. “When you take all the confounding factors into account there is not much of an indication that marijuana causes an increase of crashing,” Daskal said.
Speaking at Tuesday’s rally in Eureka, Lackey said a September 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Drug Trafficking Area showed a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado in 2014 — the same year recreational marijuana use became legal — compared to 2013. “We will not stand for that in California,” he said to the crowd.
While these studies state the risk of a crash is much higher when THC impairment is factored in, others — like a 2010 study in the The American Journal on Addictions — state some experimental studies have shown it can have the opposite effect. “Several reviews of driving and simulator studies have concluded that marijuana use by drivers is likely to result in decreased speed and fewer attempts to overtake, as well as increased ‘following distance,’ ” the study states. “The opposite is true of alcohol.”
Friday, September 25, 2015
This interesting local report, headlined "Feds still waging war on weed in Oregon," details that state marijuana reform does not necessarily reallocate federal resources spent on the drug war. Here are the details:
Cannabis may be legal in Oregon, but police are still waging a war on weed. A KGW investigation found the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is sending more than $750,000 to police in Oregon this year to snuff out pot operations.
“I think the DEA’s marijuana eradication program is a huge waste of federal taxpayer dollars,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told KGW. “We have states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana and then you’ve got the federal government trying to eradicate it,” said Lieu. “That doesn’t make any sense.” Congressman Lieu is pushing to get rid of the DEA’s $18 million marijuana eradication program.
In Oregon, the bulk of the anti-pot money is used for police to search for marijuana farms by helicopter and then have officers trample though the woods to pull out plants. “Those of us in reform have always seen eradication programs as largely a make-work, overtime program for cops to go pull weeds and spend taxpayer money on helicopters,” said Russ Belville, executive director of Portland NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
Last year, state records show drug teams in Oregon spent $275,000 for police overtime and $685,000 for use of a helicopter. In 2015, Oregon will get $762,000 from the DEA’s eradication program. In August, the Oregon Department of Justice gave $450,000 of federal money to Brim Aviation of Ashland to help look for marijuana farms....
According to intelligence reports, violent Mexican drug cartels have been connected to large outdoor marijuana farms in Oregon. These sophisticated criminal gangs have been known to protect their grow operations with armed guards, booby traps and razor-wired fences. “This program has proven effective in dismantling and disrupting drug trafficking organizations, has protected public and tribal lands from illegal marijuana grows, and in 2014 was responsible for the removal of almost 5,000 weapons from cannabis cultivators,” said Special Agent Joseph Moses of the DEA....
In 2014, police in Oregon destroyed 16,067 cannabis plants, down from 26,597 pot plants in 2013 and 27,641 plants in 2012. Drug cops theorize that Mexican drug cartels have moved away from growing pot. Instead, they’re focused on trafficking other illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.
“When there were huge cartel problems, we needed that money. But now we don’t,” said Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls. Earlier this year, Falls disbanded a regional marijuana task force called SOMMER, or Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation. “I wanted to focus on person crimes,” said Falls. “Child abuse, sex assault, crimes against people.”...
“It makes no sense for one hand of government doing one thing, such as eradicate marijuana and have other parts of government, such as state governments, legalizing it,” said Rep. Lieu. “The war on marijuana has largely failed and the federal government should get out of the way.”
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
A number of smart folks have talked about state-level marijuana reform as, in the words of GOP Prez candidate Ted Cruz, "a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’” These two new stories about marijuana reform efforts in Ohio has me thinking that the Buckeye state is already in the midst of one of the most interesting and dynamic experimental forms:
Excerpt: Dr. Suresh Gupta ticked off a list of conditions that marijuana could help alleviate: nausea, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome.... Gupta is one of several wealthy donors who contributed millions to help bankroll ResponsibleOhio’s effort to place marijuana legalization on the ballot and limit marijuana growing facilities to 10 locations....
Gupta, along with a Columbus co-investor, wants to grow multiple types of marijuana at the Pataskala facility, focusing on treating specific conditions. The nine other marijuana farms will focus on growing marijuana to be sold at retail stores. He also plans to use about 40,000 square feet for a research facility he’s calling the International Cannabis Institute. There, researchers, chemists and microbiologists would study the makeup of each crop and replicate the best strains, Gupta said. “In the United States, there’s virtually no research being done,” Gupta said.
Excerpt: The group behind November's marijuana legalization initiative said Tuesday it had collected more than enough signatures to advance a separate measure that would allow marijuana convictions to be purged. ResponsibleOhio, the group backing Issue 3, said it collected 236,759 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the Fresh Start Act before state lawmakers next year -- 91,677 are needed to qualify....
Issue 3 would legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales and use for adults over age 21. Commercial growing would be limited to 10 sites belonging to initiative backers, and Ohioans could grow small amounts of marijuana at home. The Fresh Start Act would allow people with convictions made legal by Issue 3 and offenses made legal in the future to file a petition in court to reduce or eliminate their sentences or expunge, or destroy, their criminal records....
ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said many low-level offenders are unable to obtain employment or secure housing because of criminal background checks. "This allows people ability to move forward," James said at a news conference with several Ohio clergy members.
As an initiated statute, the Fresh Start Act would go before the legislature in January 2016. Lawmakers would have four months to pass the bill, pass a revised version, or reject the bill. If the language is changed or rejected, ResponsibleOhio would have to collect some 92,000 more signatures to put the measure before voters.
The Fresh Start Act would not automatically erase records or free inmates, and it wouldn't apply to federal marijuana offenses. Offenses that are illegal now and would remain illegal under Issue 3, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law.
Both of these stories suggest marijuana legalization in Ohio, if passed by voters this Novermber, would trigger novel legal and practical development that could significant reshape future marijuana reform efforts. Indeed, the existing ballot measure in Ohio, Issue 3, is already novel and interesting because it is trying to get Ohioians to support moving from blanket prohibition to full legalization in one vote and the effort is being backrolled by a group of investors poised to have a legal advantage in the future marijuana market based on the provisions of Issue 3.
How these experimental elements of proposed reform play out in the Buckeye state is already making Ohio a laboratory of democracy worth watching. And if Issue 3 is approved by voters, Ohio seems sure to have lots of experimental developments and data that should help advance the national dialogue and debate on these matters for years to come.
September 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
As reported in this Boston Globe article, headlined "SJC bans police stops solely for suspected marijuana: Court ruling cites 2008 decriminalization law," a top state court yesterday ruled that state marijuana reforms necessarily changed policy powers related to suspicion on drug offenses. Here are the details:
In a decision hailed by civil rights advocates and supporters of marijuana legalization, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police cannot stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle’s occupants are in possession of the drug.
The Supreme Judicial Court based its 5-2 ruling largely on a measure that voters approved in 2008 that reduced possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil violation punishable by a fine.
“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives” of the law change, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Botsford wrote that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” another goal of changing the law.
The ruling does not prevent police from issuing citations for marijuana possession if they stop a driver for a traffic infraction, such as speeding, and later notice marijuana in plain view inside the vehicle.
otsford’s opinion was welcomed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, a group pushing for a 2016 ballot question that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement that the ruling “provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes.”
Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, echoed that view, saying that with the vote to decriminalize marijuana in 2008, residents of the Commonwealth were making a statement “about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers’ money.” Pulling over a car on suspicion of marijuana possession, he said, is “not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization.”
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said in a statement that troopers are not primarily concerned about a vehicle occupant who possesses an ounce or less of marijuana. He said troopers usually make observations of marijuana use after stopping a car for other reasons, such as traffic infractions.
“What does concern us about marijuana, even amounts less than an ounce . . . is whether the operator has used it and is thus driving while impaired,” Procopio said. “The voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce. That does not mean that using less than an ounce means you are OK to drive . . . and this ruling will have no impact on the observations we use to establish probable cause for drugged driving or our determination that a driver should be charged as such.”
Botsford’s opinion followed SJC rulings in 2011 and last year finding that the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.
Bristol prosecutors who argued the Rodriguez case before the SJC asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense. The court rejected that argument, finding that traffic laws promote road safety, but there “is no obvious and direct link” between issuing civil citations for marijuana possession and maintaining highway safety.
Justice Robert Cordy, in a dissenting opinion, expressed a different view, writing that even if not all civil marijuana violations affect highway safety, infractions “occurring in motor vehicles do implicate concerns regarding traffic and automobile safety.” He argued that “there is no constitutionally based reason to distinguish” motor vehicle stops for civil marijuana violations from stops for traffic infractions.
The full opinion in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, No. SJC 11814 (Mass. Sept. 22, 2015), is available at this link.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Yesterday's New York Times had this lengthy article, headlined "Oregon’s Legal Sale of Marijuana Comes With Reprieve," which discusses various differences in the various approaches Oregon is taking to marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:
Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, which happened through a state ballot vote last November, nor is it the largest. But in preparing to begin retail marijuana sales next month, it is nonetheless blazing a profoundly new trail, legal experts and marijuana business people said.
“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in criminal law and sentencing....
“In criminal law reform on marijuana, Oregon has gone further than anyone else,” said Leland R. Berger, who specializes in marijuana law and practices in Portland. But the differences in Oregon’s way of handling marijuana go far beyond criminal law.
The state’s recreational marijuana taxes paid by consumers will be among the lowest in the nation. Across the border, Washington tacks on a 37 percent tax, compared with 17 percent in Oregon and a 3 percent local, optional addon.
That raises the possibility here in the Northwest, at least, of a border war, if marijuana consumers start crossing into Oregon for lower prices. (They already do for many other purchases, since Oregon has no regular state sales tax, either.) But Oregon officials say their main motive in tax policy is to better compete with the still-illegal unregulated market at home, offering prices closer to what people are used to but with products and producers now inspected and monitored.
Oregon also rejected ideas tried in Washington and Colorado about how to monitor and license new industry participants. Washington, for example, created a set number of licenses and held a lottery to distribute them; Oregon is setting no limits on how many businesses can enter the industry. Likewise, Oregon has no barriers to socalled vertical integration ownership, in which one company can control the product from growth to sale, a practice Washington also restricts.
In Washington and Colorado, the police must administer blood tests on drivers suspected of marijuana impairment. To avoid such a tricky and cumbersome system, Oregon legislators adopted a more openended standard approved by voters, which lets an officer use his or her judgment as to whether a person is too high to drive.
Friday, September 18, 2015
This new Toledo Blade editorial about a recent local marijuana decriminalization vote highlights a variety of themes that I am always drawn to when discussing the various benefits of robust debate over modern marijuana law and policy. The subheadline of the editorial highlights its coverage: "Toledoans’ vote to decriminalize marijuana has implications for voter turnout, campaigning, and public policy." Here are excerpts:
Toledo voters’ decision to decriminalize marijuana in the city, reducing penalties for the drug to the minimum allowed by state law and repealing penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, drove voter turnout in this week’s municipal primary to 9 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it doubled the turnout from the comparable election four years ago. City and state officials should pay attention.
The marijuana measure drew votes from more than 11,000 Toledoans, compared with 4,700 who voted against the proposal. More residents voted for the measure than voted for all City Council candidates on the primary ballot combined.
The plan to decriminalize marijuana, called the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance to reflect the antiquated spelling in the municipal code, drew support from Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and most other mayoral candidates. City officials now say some parts of the new ordinance may be unenforceable because they conflict with state law.
Whatever the complications of the provision, though, its broad implications are clear. The proposal will, properly, abolish Toledo’s penalties for largely victimless crimes, such as possessing and selling marijuana paraphernalia and using small amounts of the drug. It will help spare nonviolent offenders needless fines, jail time, and criminal records that can keep them out of the work force and subject them to a cycle of crime and imprisonment....
Toledo’s vote creates a strong precedent for Ohioans to dismantle further the state’s marijuana penalties; although they already are among the most lenient in the nation, they are still tough enough to cause the arrests of tens of thousands of people for possessing the drug each year. Ohio voters will get that opportunity with a proposal on the statewide ballot in November.
Whether that initiative also would give a select group of marijuana growers an unacceptable advantage in the drug’s production is, or should be, a question for Ohioans to decide. Secretary of State Jon Husted has sought to tilt the campaign debate by including nonneutral descriptors such as “monopoly” in the language voters will consider. State officials should seek to embrace, not suppress, Ohioans’ desire to assert their own policy preferences through the political process.
More important at the moment, and worthy of celebration, is the level of civic participation that Sensible Toledo, the group behind the local marijuana decriminalization campaign, has activated to draw voters to the polls. On national political issues such as a living wage, racial justice, and now this one, grass-roots organizing has engaged ordinary citizens and forced once unheard-of ideas into the political arena.
When politics is about issues, not feuds or personalities, all citizens gain.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Featured-Editorial-Home/2015/09/18/Make-marijuana-law-work.html#tpD1Vj1q9ijREgQm.99
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The question in the title of this post is my cheeky reaction to this somewhat amusing (but still serious) story emerging from Minnesota. The piece is headlined "Defendant cites membership in First Church of Cannabis for pot use: She says smoking doesn't violate her probation because of her 'sincerely held' religious beliefs," and here are the details:
A Golden Valley woman is asking the courts to allow her to smoke marijuana for religious reasons — because she belongs to the First Church of Cannabis.
Through her lawyer, 31-year-old Ashley Firnschild is arguing to the Hennepin County District Court that the weed’s illegality places an “undue burden” on her “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a member of the Indiana-based church established earlier this year. The case is coming before the court because Firnschild is alleged to have smoked the weed in violation of a condition of her probation for a drug charge.
Firnschild’s use of marijuana is based on “guidance in the philosophies of her church” and her embrace of the church’s mission “establishes her dedication and sincerity to such ideologies,” the motion said.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that selling, possessing or smoking marijuana is not a First Amendment right. “Other folks have argued this in the past, unsuccessfully,” he said. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this case of possession of a large amount of marijuana.”
Oral arguments on Firnschild’s motion are scheduled for Oct. 1. Firnschild’s lawyer, Camille Bryant, is arguing her case under the Minnesota Constitution, which provides greater religious freedom protections than the federal Constitution.
Although Firnschild’s argument is uncommon, the legal analysis is complicated, according to one Twin Cities law professor who cited multiple state cases where individuals have been allowed to exercise their religious convictions even though they violated state laws.
In 2014, Firnschild pleaded guilty to fifth-degree drug possession and was sentenced to community service and probation. The previous year, police had searched her home after Hennepin County Child Protection Services alerted them to a potential marijuana-growing operation in her basement. Police found such operations in the basement and attic. Firnschild said the drug was for personal use.
Last summer, Firnschild’s probation officer alerted the court to a possible violation of her probation for smoking marijuana. Rather than admit to a violation, Firnschild is arguing that her religious freedom is at stake.
The church’s mission statement calls cannabis “the healing plant” and a staple of sacrament. Members are neither required nor requested to smoke the weed, but to “embrace cannabis and hemp for betterment of the world, including medical, industrial, fuel, oil and housing,” the motion said, quoting the church doctrine. By prohibiting her from smoking marijuana, the motion said, “she cannot adhere to the principal ideologies of her church, namely the positivity cannabis provides to the world.”
Her lawyer argues the state can’t demonstrate a “compelling interest” in banning her use of marijuana. Firnschild’s use hasn’t created a danger to the “peace or safety of the public,” nor have there been complaints, the motion said.
Michael Steenson, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said the court will balance the state’s interest in controlling marijuana use with Firnschild’s individual right.
State courts have been reluctant to explore whether a religious belief is sincerely held. In a 1989 case, an Amish family was given traffic citations for refusing to use the brightly colored emblems signaling slow-moving vehicles because they weren’t willing to compromise their belief that the loud colors were worldly symbols. The state Supreme Court found that the family’s beliefs were sincerely held even though the Amish community as a whole wasn’t in agreement....
Steenson noted, as Firnschild’s memo did as well, that there is no alternative to smoking as a means to exercise her religion — either she can or can’t smoke marijuana. “You can see it isn’t all that simple,” he said.
Some prior related posts concerning the First Church of Cannabis:
- "First Church of Cannabis" moves quickly to take advantage of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law
- Will "First Church of Cannabis" really create a legal showdown in Indiana?
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.
Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:
Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:
• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era
• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era
• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era
Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:
• Impaired driving
• Youth marijuana use
• Adult marijuana use
• Emergency room admissions
• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana
This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:
Section 1 – Impaired Driving...
Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...
Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...
Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...
Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...
Section 6 – Treatment...
Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...
Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...
Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...
Section 10 – Related Data...
Section 11 – Related Material...
The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.
This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."
Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat. Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013. I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed.
Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.
September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this recent MSNBC article, which includes these excerpts:
At least 67 people are in prison right now, sentenced to die there for selling marijuana, according to the best available data. Until last week, Jeff Mizanskey was one of them.
“Man, I feel great,” the great-grandfather told MSNBC, as he contemplated his first weekend as a free man in more than 20 years. His sentence was commuted in May from life without parole to simple life, and on Tuesday he walked out of a maximum security Missouri prison. Someone helped him dial this wondrous new thing called a smart phone. “Do you have children?” he asked. “The day a child is born – that’s what this feels like for me. I’ve finally made it to freedom.”
Mizanskey received his harsh sentence in 1996, after he was convicted for trying to distribute six pounds of Mexican marijuana. There was no violence involved, no selling to kids. But Mizanskey had two previous convictions for the possession and sale of pot totaling 10 ounces. That qualified him as a “persistent” drug offender under Missouri law, subject to any punishment short of the death penalty. That law has since been repealed, but similar policies continue to echo down the halls of American prisons, dividing families across the country.
Today, more than twenty states have legalized marijuana in one form or another, and with $22 billion in legitimate sales expected by 2020, pot has become a consumer product like any other. But new laws have done nothing for people with past convictions, including some with sentences heavier than for rape or murder.
About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving marijuana, according to research co-authored by UCLA professor Mark Kleiman. About half of them are in for marijuana offenses alone. And all of them are, in one way or another, victims of the stupendous drug panic that swept America in the 1980s and 1990s....
The war on marijuana dealers began in the 1980s, but it did not end in that decade. Between 1996 and 2014, federal judges sentenced 54 people to life without parole for marijuana offenses, according to new work by The Clemency Report, a project of former USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon. The American Civil Liberties Union has found about a dozen more cases at the state level, and at least a dozen more are alleged by various advocacy groups.
Few if any of these lifers were kingpins, according to the ACLU. One man was busted for selling 32 grams of marijuana. Another conspired to sell 130 grams, the equivalent of less than a carton of cigarettes. Still others were nabbed in cases involving between two and 50 pounds of pot. They all got life in prison and, as far as can be known, that’s where they remain.
Friday, August 21, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the question which necessarily emerges from some recent public safety data released this week in Washington state, and it is also the headline of Jacob Sullum's new Reason column examining this data. Here are excerpts from Sullum's analysis (with key links preserved):
Data released by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) this week indicate that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with active THC in their blood jumped from 38 in 2013 to 75 last year....
Contrary to comments by Staci Hoff, the WTSC's director of data and research, the presence of active THC does not necessarily indicate that a driver was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the accident. Noting that 85 percent of "cannabis-positive" drivers involved in fatal accidents had active THC (as opposed to an inactive THC metabolite) in their blood last year, Hoff concludes that "most of them were high." That is not a safe conclusion to draw, because (as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out) there is no reliable way to relate THC blood levels to impairment....
The picture is further complicated by the presence of other drugs. The Times notes that "half the drivers with active THC in their blood also were under the influence of alcohol, and the majority of those were legally intoxicated." Alcohol has a much more dramatic impact on driving ability than marijuana does, and the two together have a greater effect than either alone. The Times adds that the WTSC's analysis "doesn't account for prescription drugs in the marijuana-positive drivers."Although marijuana's contribution to traffic accidents is hard to pin down, it is possible than an increase in cannabis consumption following legalization would lead to more stoned drivers on the road, resulting in more crashes. Alternatively, if more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking, the net result could be fewer crashes, since alcohol impairs drivers a lot more than marijuana does. It is not clear yet whether either of those scenarios is materializing in Washington.
WTSC data show the total number of traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent last year (from 436 to 462) after falling the previous six years (including 2013, the first full year in which recreational use was legal, although state-licensed pot stores were not open yet). The number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver tested positive for marijuana (which does not necessarily mean he was impaired by marijuana) rose by 55 percent (from 64 to 99). Meanwhile, the number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver was deemed to be impaired by alcohol fell by 13 percent (from 127 to 111). That number had declined or remained steady in the previous six years, except for a 14 percent increase in 2009.
The 6 percent increase in total fatalities is consistent with the idea that legalization raises the number of dangerously impaired drivers. But that increase occurred entirely in the first half of 2014, before the pot shops started to open, which is a bit of a puzzle. By comparison, Colorado, where state-licensed marijuana merchants were open for business throughout 2014, saw only a 1.5 percent increase in total traffic fatalities that year. To get a better idea of what is happening, we will need more years of data, plus comparisons to trends in other states that have not legalized marijuana.
UPDATE: Based on data from a local article about marijuana's impact in Washington, I did an additional post on this topic over at my sentencing law blog: "Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?"
Sunday, June 28, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Indianapolis Star article headlined "Cops warn of arrests at Church of Cannabis." Here are some excerpts from a lengthy and interesting article:
The city's top law enforcements officials put the new First Church of Cannabis on notice Friday: Anyone who smokes marijuana at the inaugural service next week will face criminal charges.
The warning from Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Rick Hite "changes nothing," said Bill Levin, the church's founder, who pledged to move forward with plans for a service at noon Wednesday where marijuana will be smoked. "They haven't raised the stakes," Levin said. "These have been the stakes the whole time."
In fact, an arrest — or arrests — will spur the court fight that Levin wants. It is a legal battle that has been expected by nearly everyone, including Curry and Hite, who've watched the story of the controversial church unfold in the weeks since Gov. Pence signed Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Levin contends the use of marijuana in the church service is protected by RFRA, which limits government encroachment on religious freedoms. Curry said he believes the new law is ill-advised and problematic. That said, he also stressed that RFRA is not "a legitimate defense to committing a crime."
Hite said police can't ignore Levin flaunting the law under the guise of religion. That means everyone in attendance next week is subject to criminal charges, he said, even if they do not partake of the church's sacrament.
Curry said observers could be charged with visiting a common nuisance. Those who smoke the drug could be charged with possession of marijuana. Both charges are class B misdemeanors, which carry a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Curry and Hite said Friday they were announcing their plans in an effort to dissuade Levin and his followers from going through with wide-spread marijuana use at the service. Hite said his department would have police on the church property, including possibly inside the sanctuary itself. "I think it's important to know that we're not trying to create a police state," Hite said. "I think reasonably intelligent people will stay away, quite frankly. But as with any other events we happen to have in our city, we're prepared for it."
Curry listed six considerations he said he recently shared with Levin — and wants others who might attend the service to keep in mind. In addition to making arrests for those who possess or are simply in the presence of marijuana that is being used, Curry said, police will also be looking for impaired drivers, those with open warrants and those who are at the service in violation of a probation order. Curry also cautioned that minors should not be present if marijuana is being used, adding that such a violation has "numerous implications."
Curry and Hite said police and prosecutors are duty bound to uphold Indiana's drug laws and cannot ignore the event that has been widely promoted in the news and on social media. They also are disturbed that they have to expend valuable manpower on this event, when there are many other more pressing needs for law enforcement resources.
Curry added Levin's church is a direct result of the state's RFRA law, and renewed an earlier call for legislators to repeal the law which he sees as unneeded and the result of political posturing. "We anticipated that (RFRA) could be asserted as a defense to criminal prosecution," he said. "As with any defense, our office will address the argument within the context of the case in which it is presented."
The prosecutor said he has met twice with Levin to discuss alternatives to making mass arrests at the service next week, such as making his point on a smaller scale involving just one or two people challenging the law. "I understand completely that what (Levin) is doing is using RFRA as a vehicle to essentially advocate for what he's advocated for all along, and that is the legalization of marijuana," Curry said. "But until he and others convince the legislature otherwise, then it's a crime."
Curry also dismissed concerns that the attendees of next week's Church of Cannabis service would be treated differently than others who are cited for marijuana possession – though he added that the city's advance notice of the event did present a change in how they plan on enforcing the law. "Individuals are cited for criminal offenses when they are observed, whether it's at the Indy 500 or rock concerts," Curry said. "What is different here is that we've been given notice that this is going to occur. From our perspective, it would be entirely the wrong message that we would not react to that."
Hite said the church is not right for Indianapolis, adding he and his officers have talked to drug dealers who are "appalled" by the planned service next week. "Those who deal drugs for a living have said to us, 'Listen. We're trying to get out of the game. You're telling us to get out, chief,'" Hite explained. "How can we allow someone to willingly violate the law?"
Levin said he is unfazed by who might show up at the service Wednesday, including law enforcement officials "I don't have a problem with that," he said. "You want to come pray? Come pray. You better be on the guest list to get into the building, though, because we've already got this thing filled."
The church plans to have a tent to accommodate overflow from the relatively small church building. What Levin described as "ushers" — who sound more like security — will screen people entering the building. The church also will have legal representation on site for the inaugural service.
A woman at the church Friday, wearing a shirt with a peace symbol on it, scoffed at Curry's suggestion for Levin to scale down whatever might trigger a legal battle. "Bill doesn't do anything on a small scale," she said. "I've known him for 35 years."...
"I believe in religious freedom and I will never tell my congregants what not to do," Levin said. "I will warn them of what might happen. If you're on probation, they might nail you. If you're there with a kid, they might get CPS on you. … This is civil disobedience in its finest form while we're celebrating a beautiful birth of a new religion."
Levin appears to be doing as much as he can to protect the church legally. He has non-profit religious status certified by the Internal Revenue Service. He made sure the church building conforms to safety codes. He's not allowing anyone under 21 into the sanctuary, where marijuana will be smoked at the end of the ceremony. And he is not selling or distributing the drug; its a bring-your-own event.
While Levin said he would prefer that officials leave him and church members alone, he's not about to back down from a legal fight. "I'd just as soon not do it. Am I afraid of it? No. Not at all. I'm sorry, I'm right," he said. "I will defend my beliefs as long as it takes and as far as it takes."
Any decision the state makes on religious laws — including whether the First Church of Cannabis is a legitimate religion — "they're going to have to be very committed to, and that goes across the board," Levin said. "Because what's good for one religion is good for all."
Friday, June 26, 2015
I am more than a bit biased in reporting the latest notable news from Ohio's marijuana reform arena because I had a hand in making it happen. But especially because my interest in marijuana reform stems largely from my concerns about the criminal justice harms and costs of marijuana prohibition, I am especially pleased and proud that those advocating for marijuana legalization in Ohio are committed also to advocating for related criminal justice reforms. This local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio proposes legislation to expunge marijuana offense records," provides these basis:
Pro-marijuana group ResponsibleOhio has drafted a law that would allow Ohioans convicted of certain marijuana crimes to expunge their records if the group's marijuana legalization proposal is approved by voters this fall.
The proposed initiated statute would allow Ohioans who were convicted of a marijuana offense to have their records expunged. On Wednesday, the group submitted language to the Ohio attorney general for approval. ResponsibleOhio plans to propose legalizing marijuana for personal and medical use through a constitutional amendment on this November's ballot. The expungement issue would come next year.
"We believe that we should not keep people unfairly shackled to their past when marijuana is legalized," ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said in a news release. The group's "Fresh Start Act" would first go before state lawmakers. If lawmakers vote it down or do not act within four months, Ohio voters would then vote on the law. Even if approved by voters, lawmakers could still change or repeal the language in state law.
In Ohio, expungement typically means the records are sealed unless opened by court order. But in recent years, state lawmakers have allowed records to be expunged, or destroyed, for committing two crimes later made legal: Storing a loaded firearm in a vehicle and soliciting sex as a victim of human trafficking.
The proposed statute mirrors the concealed carry language. ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman said lawmakers should be in favor of extending that opportunity to past marijuana convictions. Oltman said offering the idea as an initiated statute gives lawmakers an opportunity to review and revise the language before voters weigh in. "An amendment meant the legislature couldn't manipulate or alter this piece of good public policy we created," Oltman said. "The Fresh Start Act is more straight forward so not as many guardrails needed to be put in place."
Records would not be automatically destroyed. Individuals would have to file an application in court and prosecutors would have the opportunity to weigh in before the judge makes a final decision....
If the petition language is approved by the attorney general and bipartisan Ohio Ballot Board, the group will then need to collect more than 91,677 signatures of Ohio voters. If lawmakers don't pass the law within four months, petitioners would have to collect another 91,677 signatures to put the proposed law on the statewide ballot.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Time article, which includes these excerpts:
The exact impact of marijuana on driving ability is a controversial subject—and it’s become more important states continue to loosen their drug laws. And, while drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S., driving after having smoked or otherwise consumer marijuana has become more common. According to the most recent national roadside survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.3 percent had some alcohol in their system and 12.6 percent tested positive for THC—up from 8.6 percent in 2007....
[In a recent federal study], researchers looked at 250 parameters of driving ability, but this paper focused on three in particular: weaving within the lane, the number of times the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. While alcohol had an effect on the number of times the car left the lane and the speed of the weaving, marijuana did not. Marijuana did show an increase in weaving. Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, showed increase weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. For reference, 13.1 ug/L THC is more than twice the 5 ug/L numeric limit in Washington and Colorado....
The study also found that pot and alcohol have more of an impact on driving when used together. Drivers who used both weaved within lanes, even if their blood THC and alcohol concentrations were below the threshold for impairment taken on their own.... Smoking pot while drinking a little alcohol also increased THC’s absorption, making the high more intense. Similarly, THC delayed the peak of alcohol impairment, meaning that it tended to take longer for someone using both to feel drunk. Such data is important to educate the public about pot’s effects before they get on the road.
“I think this has added really good knowledge from a well-designed study to add to the current debate,” on marijuana’s effects on road safety, says Dr. Marilyn Huestis, the principal investigator in the study, which was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.