Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms

As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:

The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....

The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.

Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

October 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

ImagesAs reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Landmark California marijuana legislation gives residents chance to 'reclaim their lives'," last night finalized some exciting news for those eager to see marijuana reform greatly impact criminal justice reform. Here are details:

Hailed by advocates as a chance for people to “reclaim their lives,” a new California law will soon make it easier for people with past marijuana convictions to get their records expunged completely, or their sentences significantly reduced.  Assembly Bill 1793 – passed by overwhelming majority in the California state Legislature and signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Jerry Brown – will streamline a previously tedious process that made it difficult for residents with a prior cannabis-related conviction to clear their names.

“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

California is not the first state to retroactively allow those with cannabis convictions a chance to reduce or completely remove their past; that distinction goes to Oregon, which legalized recreational weed in 2014.  Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, plus the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, have laws similar to Oregon’s, where individuals convicted of some marijuana-related crimes – like possession, cultivation or manufacturing – can work to get their records sealed or expunged.

But California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing and jobs because of their criminal records.  The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law.  “The failed war on drugs has, in so many ways, wreaked havoc, damage, pain and anguish on so many Californians,” said Assemblymember Ron Bonta, D-Oakland, who proposed the measure. “This is where government can step in and make it better.”

Pot convictions disproportionately affect communities of color, according to a 2016 study from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.  That study found that while white people consume marijuana at similar rates to black people – and more than Latinos – communities of color are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions.  In 2010, for example, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people nationwide.

The measure is California's latest effort to help those with marijuana charges move on with their lives.  Two years ago, Californians passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over and allowed for those with criminal convictions to request to have their records erased.  But the process was lengthy and convoluted, requiring people to petition the courts to reduce their sentence for prior convictions, back when cannabis was illegal.  It could also be an expensive process, with costs spanning court fees, hiring a lawyer (to walk people through paragraphs of confusing legal jargon) and time spent away from work and home....

The Drug Policy Alliance tries to educate the public on what it calls “collateral consequences,” the side effects that stem from a sometimes decades-old conviction, Holcombe said.  Those collateral consequences can include not being able to acquire student loans, find meaningful employment or access good housing, among other issues.

Under the new law, the state will do the work to clean up people's records – even if they didn’t know they were eligible.  Some individuals will be able to completely clear their record, while others will see their crimes significantly reduced.  Possession with the intent to sell, for example, will now be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's how it will work: Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys.  DAs will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents' marijuana-related convictions.  Priority will be given to those currently serving time.  “Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Bonta said.  “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”...

Holcombe and the DPA are hopeful that if California's landmark law is successful, other states could adopt similar measures.  “Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that.”

Regular readers likely know of my affinity for this kind of reform based on my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

October 1, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Criminal Conviction Restrictions for Marijuana Licensing"

Download (21)The title of this post is the title of this interesting "policy brief" authored by Allie Howell at the Reason Foundation.  This web discussion provides this summary of the document's coverage: 

Criminal conviction restrictions are justified as one way to ensure that the legal marijuana market will not be used to divert drugs out of state, to minors, or to fund criminal enterprises.  But using past behavior as a predictor for future actions is an imperfect measure.  It is impossible to determine how exactly these restrictions contribute to public safety since they are always coupled with other regulations.  We do know, however, that there are other ways to facilitate a functioning legal market using regulations that are not subject to prediction error.  Security requirements, marijuana tracking systems, and bookkeeping requirements deter criminal behavior without using an applicant’s past to make assumptions.

In addition to uncertainties that criminal conviction restrictions are the best way to ensure a functioning legal market, it is also important to consider the costs of these restrictions.  Criminal conviction restrictions reduce entry into the legal marijuana industry.  By excluding drug criminals, conviction restrictions may fundamentally undermine the goals of marijuana legalization by forcing some to stay in the black market.  Having a safe legal market is useless if the black market is still the primary supplier of marijuana.

Given the hypocrisy of these criminal conviction regulations, it is not surprising that some states and localities have adopted policies to help those negatively impacted by previous drug policies enter the marijuana industry.  Equity programs, however, will only help a chosen few priority applicants.  Fundamentally opening up employment opportunities in the marijuana industry by reducing conviction restrictions has the potential to help many people who have been impacted by the drug war.

September 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Interesting new data from the FBI concerning marijuana (and other drug) arrests in 2017

Over at Forbes, Tom Angell has already mined the latest new FBI crime data to focus on marijuana arrests via this piece headlined "Marijuana Arrests Are Increasing Despite Legalization, New FBI Data Shows." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana arrests are rising in the U.S., even as more states legalize cannabis. There is now an average of one marijuana bust roughly every 48 seconds, according to a new FBI report released on Monday.

The increase in marijuana arrests — 659,700 in 2017, compared to 653,249 in 2016 — is driven by enforcement against people merely possessing the drug as opposed to selling or growing it, the data shows.

Last year, there were 599,282 marijuana possession arrests in the country, up from 587,516 in 2016.  Meanwhile, busts for cannabis sales and manufacturing dropped, from 65,734 in 2016 to 60,418 in 2017.

The increase in cannabis possession arrests comes despite the fact that four additional states legalized marijuana on Election Day 2016. While among those states, legal recreational sales were only in effect in Nevada by the end of 2017, the prohibition on possession for adults was lifted soon after the successful votes there as well as in California, Maine and Massachusetts....

Overall, marijuana arrests made up 40.4% of the nation's 1,632,921 drug arrests in 2017.  Drug arrests as a whole also increased last year, up from 1,572,579 in 2016. There is now a drug bust every 19 seconds in the U.S.

As with all data, there are lots of stories and possible spins within. Though overall marijuana arrests went up, this was because possession arrests went up (only) 2% while arrests for more serious marijuana offenses went down 8%. Given the reality that a lot more people had access to "legal" marijuana but were still not allowed to use it in public spaces and a lot more people were involved in marijuana manufacturing and sales under state laws, these national data probably can and should be seen as evidence that marijuana reform is "working" to some extent to reduce the criminal justice footprint of marijuana prohibition.

September 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top court in South Africa rules that privacy rights protects adult use of marijuana in private places

ImagesAs reported in this BBC article, "South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places." Here is more about a major ruling for marijuana reform:

In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.

South Africa's government had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding.

Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres".

In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it....

This judgement is a reminder that South Africa's hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government's concerns about public health and public order.

The Constitutional Court's ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person's right to do as they please in their own home. The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable - particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.

It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.

The court has not approved - in any form - the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.

In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa's constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy's other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.

The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling. Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.

The court did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private. Parliament would have to decide on this, it said.

The full opinion in this case, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Gareth Prince, is available at this link, and here is a key paragraph from its introduction:

It is declared that, with effect from the date of the handing down of this judgment, the provisions of section 5(b) of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 read with Part III of Schedule 2 of that Act and with the definition of the phrase “deal in” in section 1 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 are inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, are, therefore, constitutionally invalid to the extent that they prohibit the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private

September 18, 2018 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

California legislature passes bill to require state to proactively identify marijuana cases eligible for relief under Prop 64

Regular readers know that I regularly spotlight my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," because I am so very eager to encourage states to couple marijuana reform with sustained efforts to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with past criminal convictions.  In that article, I praise  California for standing out among marijuana reform states for its robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  And, as reported in this new NPR piece, headlined "California Measure Would Expunge Many Marijuana-Related Crimes," the California legislature merits some more praise:

California lawmakers have approved a measure requiring prosecutors to expunge convictions or reduce sentences for many marijuana-related convictions dating back decades. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, passed by the state Senate on Wednesday by a 22-8 vote, would require the state's Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975 until 2016 to determine their eligibility.

Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters in 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, as The Associated Press notes, "When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors."

If it becomes law, it would put the burden for cleaning up those records on the state. If the bill goes into effect, state DOJ officials will have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are eligible for review and turn them over to the district attorney's office, which will have another year to make any objections....

NPR reported in December that more than 4,000 people had already petitioned the courts regarding their marijuana-related crimes. However, there are still many people who are unaware that they are eligible to petition for a review of their conviction. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in February on the subject. San Francisco took measures to expunge and reduce the convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975 because only 23 people in the city started the process themselves.

"The problem is that if you go through that process, you have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It's a very expensive and very cumbersome process," Gascon said in the interview. "[The] reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney," he said....

State law gives Brown 12 days from Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law without his signature.

August 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Up in Smoke: Removing Marijuana From Schedule I"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by David Katner now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

With over 600,000 marijuana arrests nationwide, and more Americans being incarcerated than for any other crime in the nation's history, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 should be amended to eliminate the inclusion of cannabis or marijuana from Schedule I.   Americans spent nearly $6 billion on "legal" cannabis last year alone, and the trend among states has been to legalize the use of cannabis for both medicinal purposes and recreational purposes.   The initial prohibition, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937  was largely influenced by racially charged propaganda and a lack of any scientific studies of the substance.  By removing the substance altogether from federal regulatory control, states would be allowed to determine for themselves how to regulate the use and dissemination of the substance.  The adoption of state laws recognizing the various medical benefits of the marijuana plant will not have full force until the federal regulatory scheme has been altered.

August 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New executive director for MPP, Steve Hawkins, spotlights how marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice are interconnected

Steve_Hawkins_Headshot-1-258x300Long-time readers know that my interest in marijuana law and policy is based in my work and research concerning the criminal justice system.  Stated differently, I think the marijuana reform movement is fundamentally a criminal justice reform movement.  This new press release from Marijuana Policy Project announcing the hiring of Steve Hawkins as is new Executive Director serves, thought a personnel move, to highlight ways in which marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice can and should be connected. Here is a little from the press release:

The nation’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to marijuana policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Tuesday it has hired Steve Hawkins to serve as its next executive director. The announcement comes after a months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates.

“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Hawkins as the new executive director of MPP,” said Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors. “Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change. We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”

Hawkins has been at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement for three decades as an advocate, policy strategist, nonprofit leader, and foundation executive. He has extensive experience overseeing campaigns to advance policy change through public education, stakeholder mobilization, engagement with government officials, and development of strategic alliances with business leaders, law enforcement officials, scholars, faith leaders, victims’ advocates, and other key voices. “The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dayton said. “Steve is the perfect choice to oversee that work and lead MPP into the future.”

Hawkins began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He later served as executive vice president of the NAACP, spearheading its efforts to end the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization. He also previously served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, as a program executive for the Atlantic Philanthropies, and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation, where he directed early investments of substantial resources into advocacy efforts to end mass incarceration, including groups working to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Most recently, Hawkins was president of the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels. A more detailed biography of Hawkins is available on the MPP website.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed the counterproductive effects of the war on marijuana and its especially devastating impact on communities of color,” Hawkins said. “MPP has been at the vanguard of changing public perceptions and public policies surrounding marijuana, and I am proud to join this incredible team of advocates at such a critical moment in the movement to end marijuana prohibition.”

August 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Catching up with recent state marijuana reform news and research via Marijuana Moment

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lots of new reports on lots of new research on lots of marijuana topics

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New data from Washington state shows dramatic drop in felony marijuana cases after legalization

Download (18)It should not be surprising to see a significant drop in felony marijuana prosecutions after a jurisdiction legalizes the drug.  But this new local article reporting on data from Washington highlights how dramatic the drop has been in one state.  The article is headlined "After Legalization, A Nearly 90 Percent Drop In Marijuana Felony Convictions," and here are excerpts (with a few sentences emphasized):

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state in 2012 resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of people sentenced for marijuana-related felonies, according to an analysis conducted for public radio by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council.

Between June 2008 and December 2009, the analysis showed, there were 1,312 offenses committed that resulted in felony sentences for the manufacture, delivery or possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. By contrast, during an 18 month period following the opening of recreational marijuana stores in 2014, there were just 147 marijuana-related crimes that resulted in felony level sentences--a nearly 90 percent decrease....

The sharp drop in felony-level marijuana sentences in Washington is not a surprise to Tom McBride, the executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. In an email, McBride said a decline in prosecutions was "expected" and "desired" by the public. He added that legalization had also made it more difficult to establish probable cause in delivery to minors or black market marijuana-related cases "because presence, odor, etc of marijuana can be legal or not."

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also said the reduction in prosecutions was to be expected. But he added that a de-emphasis on marijuana enforcement, in part because of the rise in heroin and fentanyl cases, was resulting in more black market marijuana grows with ties to organized crime. “We need to direct more resources to the illicit [marijuana] grows that we are seeing across the state,” Strachan said in an email.

Of the 1,312 felony marijuana sentences that stemmed from offenses committed between June 2008 and December 2009, the vast majority, 1,217, were for first-time offenses, 76 were for subsequent offenses, 17 were for marijuana-related felonies in a school zone and two were for delivery or possession in a correctional facility.

By contrast, between December 2014 and June 2016, after marijuana stores opened, the number of marijuana crimes resulting in felony sentences for a first offense dropped to 145, there were no sentences for subsequent offenses or for selling marijuana in a school zone, and just one felony sentence related to marijuana in a correctional facility.

The Caseload Forecast Council, which helps the state plan for growth in entitlements, picked those particular date ranges to account for several factors including: the time lapse between the date of an offense and the date of the sentencing, and the length of time between when I-502 passed and the start of retail sales.

Data showing sentences for misdemeanor level marijuana crimes was not immediately available.

I think it especially notable that this data reveals how many first offenders were being brought into the criminal justice system prior to marijuana reform for felony offenses. But I would love to also see (a) what kinds of sentences felony offenders were getting both before and after legalization, as well as (b) prosecutions and sentences for misdemeanor marijuana offenses both before and after legalization. These felony data provides one snapshot of how marijuana reform impacts the criminal justice footprint of one part of the war on drugs, but a lot more data (and time) is needed to fully take stock of what a difference legalization laws can make.

July 25, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Jersey AG calls for municipal prosecutors to halt marijuana prosecutions amidst work on statewide enforcement policies

Grewal_110x135pxAs reported in this local article, "New Jersey's attorney general has announced an immediate adjournment of all marijuana cases in municipal courts statewide until at least September." Here is the context:

The decision was included in a letter state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent Tuesday to municipal prosecutors in the state. It asked them to seek an adjournment until September 4 — or later — of any matter "involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," a move that will allow the attorney general's office time to develop "appropriate guidance" for prosecutors.

Grewal said he plans to convene a working group of criminal justice stakeholders to study the issue and advise him on possible solutions. He intends to issue a statewide directive by the end of next month concerning the scope and "appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion" in marijuana-related offenses in municipal court....

[This letter] came just days after Jake Hudnut, the newly installed municipal prosecutor in Jersey City, announced that his office would seek to downgrade some marijuana charges to noncriminal offenses, seek the outright dismissal of low-level marijuana charges and divert those defendants with prior drug arrests and signs of addiction to the city's community court.

The attorney general's office quickly notified Hudnut that he lacked the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute marijuana-related offenses, noting that only the state Legislature could take such action.

The letter from the NJ AG is available at this link, and this press statement further explains what prompted the latter.

July 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reviewing efforts to ensure marijuana reform is focused on criminal justice and social justice issues

Download (19)As long-time readers should know, much of my interest in modern marijuana reform emerged from my interest in criminal justice reform,  as well as from my frustration that many "traditional" approaches to criminal justice reform seem to move much more slowly than have many modern marijuana reforms.  Given this background, I have always been eager to see, and been most supportive of, proposals for marijuana reform that focus on criminal justice issues.  And this recent Stateline article, headlined "Marijuana Bills Increasingly Focus on Social Justice," effectively reports on encouraging developments in this arena. Here are excerpts from an extended article that should be read in full:

State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana this year aren’t just touting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of the government’s war on drugs.

The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters — most of whom, polls consistently show, support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups also have raised their voices in legalization discussions.

Now social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people....

Many state lawmakers say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Buffalo and has put forward a bill to legalize weed....

California’s 2016 ballot initiative, which filled more than 60 pages and covered everything from rules for marijuana testing laboratories to expungement of marijuana crimes from criminal records.

The California initiative allowed people with drug convictions to obtain marijuana licenses. It set aside $10 million a year to pay for services such as job placement, legal help, and mental health and addiction treatment for residents of communities hit hard by former drug laws. Passed by 57 percent, the initiative’s success showed that voters support justice and equity provisions — or at least aren’t dissuaded by them...

Missouri has four pot legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall; three focus on allowing medical use of the drug and the fourth on recreational use. The recreational use initiative by Total Legalization, a volunteer operation that isn’t backed by national pro-weed groups, also would require prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes to be released within 30 days and would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related criminal records. Becca Loane, a member of the board of directors for the campaign committee backing the initiative, said her team wants to legalize marijuana completely without waiting for the Legislature to work out the details. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

In North Dakota, a legalization ballot measure also would expunge the records of people with some marijuana-related convictions automatically. And in Michigan, a legalization ballot measure would require state lawmakers to encourage people in communities impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the marijuana industry....

The argument that marijuana legalization will help poor black and Latino people has been made vociferously in New York and New Jersey, where national groups that back legalization, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have teamed up with clergy and civil rights groups.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called marijuana legalization a social justice issue during his campaign last year. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, also a Democrat, has said she supports legalization because “we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”...

Nearly two-thirds of black, Hispanic and multiracial people supported marijuana legalization, according to a Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults this spring. That was a higher share than support among white adults, according to a breakdown by race and ethnicity shared with Stateline.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Marijuana Legalization and Crime Clearance Rates: Testing Proponent Assertions in Colorado and Washington State"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting Research Article appearing in Police Quarterly.  Here is its abstract:

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Washington state (I-502) and Colorado (A-64) created a natural experiment with ancillary unknowns. Of these unknowns, one of the more heavily debated is that of the potential effects on public health and safety. Specific to public safety, advocates of legalization expected improvements in police effectiveness through the reduction in police time and attention to cannabis offenses, thus allowing them to reallocate resources to more serious offenses.

Using 2010 to 2015 Uniform Crime Reports data, the research undertakes interrupted time-series analysis on the offenses known to be cleared by arrest to create monthly counts of violent and property crime clearance rate as well as disaggregated counts by crime type. Findings suggest no negative effects of legalization on crime clearance rates. Moreover, evidence suggests some crime clearance rates have improved. Our findings suggest legalization has resulted in improvements in some clearance rates.

July 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Marijuana arrests way down, but still racially disparate, in Chicago

The Chicago Sun-Times in this article reports on its analysis of marijuana enforcement in the Wind City under the headline "Marijuana enforcement in Chicago falls but still lands heaviest on blacks."  Here is how it gets started:

Since the city of Chicago and state of Illinois moved to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the number of arrests in the city for such petty crimes has plummeted.

But even as the Chicago Police Department has pulled back on its enforcement efforts over the past seven years, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately targeted, accounting for the vast majority of the dwindling number of arrests, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.

Last year, Chicago police officers made 129 arrests and wrote fewer than 300 tickets for possession of small amounts of cannabis, and even fewer arrests and tickets are expected this year.  By comparison, there were more than 21,000 such arrests in 2011, according to arrest data examined by the Sun-Times.

The number of arrests began dropping after the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 giving police officers the option of writing tickets to people for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana.  Four years later, a new state law put additional limits on such arrests.  Police in Illinois no longer could arrest anyone for having less than 10 grams of marijuana.  Instead, the law made possession of small amounts of weed a civil offense, rather than a crime, with fines as the penalty, not jail.

Before the city council decriminalized possession of “personal-use” quantities of marijuana, African-Americans were arrested on such charges more than members of other racial groups.  That hasn’t changed, the Sun-Times found, even though academic studies have found that marijuana usage is similar across racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In 2017 and the first four months of 2018, 94 people were busted in Chicago for petty marijuana possession. Seventy-six of them were black. Sixteen were Hispanic. Two were white.

“I’m pleased to see the police are arresting fewer people,” says Kathie Kane-Willis, a drug policy researcher who is director of policy and advocacy for the Chicago Urban League. “It’s unfortunate that African-Americans remain criminalized for these activities out of proportion to their population.”

July 16, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Reminders of realities of marijuana arrest rates

7-6-2018-Cannabit-infographic-1The folks at New Frontier Data, who say their mission is "to elevate the discussion around the legal cannabis industry globally by providing unbiased vetted information and educating stakeholders to make informed decisions," have a couple of new blog posts about marijuana arrests.  Here are links to the posts:

Here is some text from the first of these posts:

New research from New Frontier Data finds that cannabis arrests account for 41.6% of all drug-related arrests, with 15.7 million Americans having been arrested for cannabis (either possession, sales, or manufacturing) from 1997-2016. Yet application of unequal justice finds that black or Hispanic suspects are arrested and convicted at rates more than 9x that of whites.

The implications are severe, as the so-called War on Drugs continues to exact enormous socio-economic tolls. Hundreds of thousands of people are caught up in the nation’s criminal justice system; the costs borne by those arrested are significant and long-lasting.  Arrests and convictions negatively impact educational and employment opportunities, child-custody decisions, immigration status and student financial aid or public housing opportunities.  Despite the financial outlay of billions of dollars for more aggressive cannabis enforcement by police departments and other law enforcement agencies nationwide, there have been no noticeable effects overall toward reducing the use or availability of cannabis

 In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio campaigned on a promise to close the gap in racial disparity for arrests of cannabis possession, but inequity persists.  Though cannabis arrests overall have decreased precipitously, the racial breakdowns persist largely as they had before his taking office in 2014: Black or brown New Yorkers are still being arrested nearly 10x more frequently than whites.  According to figures from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, from 2011 to 2013, blacks accounted for 51.0% of the arrests, and Hispanics 34.3% of the them, while whites accounted for only 10.6% of arrests.  In the first four years of De Blasio’s administration (2014-2017), blacks represented 48.3% of arrests, Hispanics 38.0%, and whites 9.0%.  In 2017, blacks represented 48% of arrests for marijuana possession in the fifth degree (possession in a public place, whether burning or, in view of the public), Hispanics 38%, and whites 9%....

New Frontier Data has found that national survey data demonstrates how black, Hispanic, and white people all consume and sell cannabis at similar rates. Yet as described, institutionalized discriminatory practices remain fundamentally unjust.  The significant racial inequality is a critical component in the cannabis legalization debate taking place nationally.  It has undermined public support for prohibition and contributed to the rapid growth in support for legalization throughout the United States.

The image reprinted here comes from the second of these posts.

July 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

NORML releases report on local marijuana decriminalization efforts

Download (1)As reported in this posting, headed "NORML Releases Comprehensive Report Summarizing Local Decriminalization Laws," a major marijuana reform group has produced a new report on some major local marijuana reform efforts. Here is part of the posting:

Even though recreational marijuana remains criminalized in a majority of US states, more and more municipalities are moving ahead with local laws decriminalizing the possession of cannabis within city limits. For the first time, NORML has released a comprehensive breakdown of these citywide and countywide decriminalization policies.

Efforts to liberalize municipal marijuana possession penalties in states where cannabis remains criminalized have become increasingly popular in recent years. Since 2012, over 50 localities, such as Albuquerque, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis in a dozen states — including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. Today, over 10.5 million Americans reside in these localities.

Here is part of the NORML report's "Executive Summary":

The decriminalization of cannabis, as first recommended by the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse in 1972, is a public policy that calls for replacing criminal sanctions for minor marijuana-related offenses with the imposition of civil fines. 

Under full decriminalization, minor offenses are defined by statute as either non-criminal violations or infractions.  Violators are not subject to arrest.  Instead, they are cited and mandated to pay a small fine.  Violators are not subject to a court appearance nor are they saddled with a criminal conviction or record. 

Under partial decriminalization policies, minor marijuana offenses may remain classified as misdemeanor offenses.  However, violators are issued a summons in lieu of a criminal arrest.  Violators may still be required to appear in court and, if found guilty, will likely have to participate in community service or some other diversionary program instead of jail.  First-time offenders may or may not receive a criminal record depending on the jurisdiction.

Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted versions of marijuana decriminalization.  (Eight of these states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont) have since replaced their decriminalization statutes with statewide adult use legalization legislation.)

Today, nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island — have fully decriminalized activities specific to the private possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults.  Four additional states — Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio — have partially decriminalized marijuana possession offenses.  In these latter jurisdictions, cannabis remains classified as a misdemeanor under state law, but the offense does not carry the penalty of jail time.  In New York, marijuana possession 'in public view' remains punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.

Numerous counties and municipalities have moved to decriminalize marijuana offenses locally in jurisdictions where state lawmakers have refused to make any statutory changes in the criminal classification of cannabis.  As public support in favor of marijuana law reform has grown, so too have local efforts by legislators and voters to address the issue at the municipal level.

Since 2012, nearly 60 local jurisdictions in various marijuana prohibition states — including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have enacted regional reforms removing the threat of either arrest and/or jail time for those who violate local cannabis possession laws.  The following report, while not intended to be all inclusive, highlights the growing number of cities and counties in marijuana prohibition that have moved forward with regionalized cannabis liberalization policies — policies which now govern over 10.5 million Americans. 

June 21, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lots of big marijuana reform news emerging from the Big Apple

DownloadThis local article sums up some developing marijuana reform news from New York that seems likely to have national ripples:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill are expected to announce a new plan Tuesday on how police deal with people caught with marijuana. Sources tell CBS2 that police will soon issue a summons instead of making an arrest. It applies to people smoking or in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

“The goals are to reduce unnecessary arrests, which is something we’ve been doing overall — 100,000 fewer arrests overall in 2017 than 2013, crime going down consistently in that time frame. We want to build on that,” de Blasio said on NY1. But sources say there will exceptions, which include if the person is on parole or probation or behind the wheel and an arrest would be at the discretion of the officer.

The announcement comes as the New York State Health Department is also set to issue a recommendation to legalize marijuana state-wide, six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the department to study the effects of legalizing marijuana. “We have neighboring states that have legal marijuana. When those facts change, we need to look at things differently,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “That’s the decision, at this point, to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults.”

While the report has not yet been finalized, Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization. “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker said. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”

Though a new NYC arrest policy could have a real impact real quickly, I see the forthcoming report by the New York State Health Department to be especially notable and perhaps quite consequential.  I would be inclined to expect a state health department to be concerned about the public health consequences of legalization and to see potential health "cons" to generally outweigh other "pros."  I think that if the New York State Health Department articulates the pros and cons of full legalization in a powerful way that really speaking to public health and safety issues, this forthcoming report could become a template for marijuana reform advocacy in a lot of areas beyond New York.

June 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Interesting review of the "footprint" of marijuana prohibition and expungement prospects in Michigan months before full legalization vote

RMLA-MichiganThe Detroit Free Press has this notable new article that includes interesting data on the bite of marijuana prohibition in the Wolverine State. The piece is headlined "Some marijuana convictions could disappear if voters approve legal pot," and here are excerpts:

Untold thousands of Michiganders could be in line for a second chance if voters decide to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Nov. 6 election.

In some other states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, voters or lawmakers have decided to make it easier for people convicted of marijuana crimes to get their records expunged or sealed. And Michigan could be on the same path if a bill introduced last week by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley gets a hearing and is passed.

“I hope we will listen to the will of the people. If the November vote is loud and clear, we should take a good look at it and balance the playing field on the usage of marijuana in the state of Michigan,” said the Flint Democrat. “We definitely don’t want people to have a criminal record for a nonviolent crime that is now legal if it passes in November.”

His bill would only deal with misdemeanor convictions, such as use or possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as some cannabis growing. But under the legislation, judges “shall grant” requests for expungement of criminal convictions if the proposal is passed by voters and the convictions are no longer considered a crime under the legalization....

In the past five years, 117,123 Michiganders have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses and 49,928 of those people have been convicted, according to statistics compiled by Michigan State Police from records supplied by county prosecutors and courts.

Nationally, according to figures compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 8.2 million people were arrested for marijuana offenses between 2001 and 2010. African-Americans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes as whites, according to the data, compiled from the FBI’s annual crime statistics.

Altogether, 3,670 people are either in prison, jail or on probation for felony marijuana convictions, according to the Michigan Department of Correction’s 2016 annual report of its inmate population. Some of those convictions are for high-level marijuana distribution charges, but others are for possession or use of marijuana. Neeley’s bill would allow some of those people to request an expungement of their conviction, but judges wouldn’t be required to grant those requests.

Not many marijuana offenders are locked up in county jails in metro Detroit. In Wayne County, 25 of the 1,725 inmates in the county jail are there on felony marijuana charges and no one is locked up on a misdemeanor pot charge, according to Undersheriff Dan Pfannes. Others may be there on marijuana crimes, but have other charges pending as well, he said. In Oakland County, seven of the 1,300 inmates are in jail on misdemeanor marijuana charges and four for felony crimes, said Undersheriff Mike McCabe....

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which spearheaded the petition drive that got the marijuana legalization on the November ballot, considered adding a clause that would have allowed for expungement of criminal convictions. California did the same thing in 2016 when voters there passed a referendum to legalize weed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

But there was a fear that because the proposal would deal with more than one state law that it could become vulnerable to a legal challenge. “Expungement is a separate issue than legalization,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the coalition. “Our first draft included expungement, but our attorneys strongly recommended pulling it or risk the whole thing.”

Neeley hopes his bill will get a hearing before the November election, but that’s unlikely in the Republican-controlled Legislature. “I’d like to see it taken up before the November election so people will have a clearer vision of what’s going to happen going forward,” he said, noting he hasn’t made up his mind on how he’ll vote on the ballot proposal.

But he will have support from some of the candidates running for statewide office. All the Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed and retired businessman Shri Thanedar, as well as attorney general candidate Dana Nessel — favor the pot legalization proposal and allowing for the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.

All of the Republican candidates for governor — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw Township doctor Jim Hines, as well as Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who are running for attorney general, oppose legalizing marijuana, but they have said they would respect the will of the voters if the measure passes. Schuitmaker said it would make sense to expunge low-level convictions, but she would want to check with prosecutors first to see whether the original charge was more severe and pleaded down. None of the other GOP candidates were willing to address the expungement issue before the legalization vote is taken.

In addition to California, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon have taken steps to make it easier for people to get their convictions sealed or expunged. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Nevada Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have made clearing those convictions easier, saying that the bill didn’t differentiate enough between low-level and more serious crimes.

Regular readers likely know I am very interested in these discussions because of my recent work on a recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

June 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"High on Crime? Exploring the Effects of Marijuana Dispensary Laws on Crime in California Counties"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research now available via SSRN authored by Priscillia Hunt, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula and Gabriel Weinberger. Here is its abstract:

Regulated marijuana markets are more common today than outright prohibitions across the U.S. states.  Advocates for policies that would legalize marijuana recreational markets frequently argue that such laws will eliminate crime associated with the black markets, which many argue is the only link between marijuana use and crime.  Law enforcement, however, has consistently argued that marijuana medical dispensaries (regulated retail sale and a common method of medical marijuana distribution), create crime in neighborhoods with these store-fronts.

This study offers new insight into the question by exploiting newly collected longitudinal data on local marijuana ordinances within California and thoroughly examining the extent to which counties that permit dispensaries experience changes in violent, property and marijuana use crimes using difference-in-difference methods.  The results suggest no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime.  We find a negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates, although event studies indicate these effects may be a result of pre-existing trends.  These results are consistent with some recent studies suggesting that dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.  We also find a positive association between dispensary allowances and DUI arrests, suggesting marijuana use increases in conjunction with impaired driving in counties that adopt these ordinances, but these results are also not corroborated by an event study analysis.

June 16, 2018 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 | Permalink | Comments (0)