Monday, May 1, 2017
The Colorado Springs Gazette, which has tended to take a skeptical/critical perspective on marijuana reform in Colorado, has this big new series of big new articles under the banner "State of Marijuana." Here are the headlines and links:
May 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 27, 2017
"From Medical to Recreational Marijuana Sales: Marijuana Outlets and Crime in an Era of Changing Marijuana Legislation"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new research published today in the Journal of Primary Prevention and authored by Bridget Freisthler, Andrew Gaidus, Christina Tam, William Ponicki and Paul Gruenewald. Here is the abstract:
A movement from medical to recreational marijuana use allows for a larger base of potential users who have easier access to marijuana, because they do not have to visit a physician before using marijuana. This study examines whether changes in the density of marijuana outlets were related to violent, property, and marijuana-specific crimes in Denver, CO during a time in which marijuana outlets began selling marijuana for recreational, and not just medical, use.
We collected data on locations of crimes, marijuana outlets and covariates for 481 Census block groups over 34 months (N = 16,354 space–time units). A Bayesian Poisson space–time model assessed statistical relationships between independent measures and crime counts within “local” Census block groups. We examined spatial “lag” effects to assess whether crimes in Census block groups adjacent to locations of outlets were also affected. Independent of the effects of covariates, densities of marijuana outlets were unrelated to property and violent crimes in local areas.
However, the density of marijuana outlets in spatially adjacent areas was positively related to property crime in spatially adjacent areas over time. Further, the density of marijuana outlets in local and spatially adjacent blocks groups was related to higher rates of marijuana-specific crime. This study suggests that the effects of the availability of marijuana outlets on crime do not necessarily occur within the specific areas within which these outlets are located, but may occur in adjacent areas. Thus studies assessing the effects of these outlets in local areas alone may risk underestimating their true effects.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
National District Attorneys Association releases report on "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective"
In this post a few months ago, I praised the National District Attorneys Association for forming a diverse working group to address modern marijuana laws and polices. As detailed in this local article, though, it does not seem all the diverse perspectives reflected in the working group resulted in a nuanced position paper from the group:
District attorneys from across the nation recently backed a position statement that declares that marijuana legalization has increased access by children and that supports federal enforcement. The perspective – ironically released by the National District Attorneys Association on April 20, the 420 day of marijuana celebration – could help guide policy direction by the Trump administration, which has signaled a possible crackdown.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less,” the perspective states. It suggests that “marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.” The opinion goes on to say that alcohol is different because “alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does.”
The perspective cites “scientific studies” that show cannabis can be addictive, especially for children, and initial evidence of child hospitalizations due to “unintended exposure to marijuana.” The perspective in many instances draws upon information provided by the anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM.
On federal enforcement, the NDAA white paper states that there should be a consistent application of federal law across the nation “to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
The statement has split Colorado district attorneys, especially on the issue of impacts to children. In Colorado, the experience has been the opposite. The latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 found that teen cannabis use has not increased since legalization. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in February on national television reiterated those statistics. “We didn’t see a spike in teenage use, if anything it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said on “Meet the Press.”
It’s a thorny subject for Colorado prosecutors, where legalization has often left district attorneys in an uncomfortable situation. While cannabis is legal in Colorado, it remains illegal on the federal level and in many states.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, was one of four people from Colorado on a policy group along with prosecutors from other states with “positions all over the spectrum,” he said. “Nowhere does that document say an individual office or any state organization takes a specific position,” Raynes said. Raynes said he finds the NDAA statements to be “innocuous and general in nature.”
“The only other statement one could make is that federal drug policy should be applied inconsistently across the nation,” Raynes said. “That would be absurd.”
But Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who leans to the left on criminal justice reform and who sat on the NDAA panel, took issue with the perspective of the association. He said the association is “dominated” by conservative prosecutors from the rural South. “They don’t tend to be people on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform,” Garnett said. He added that his participation on the working group was “pretty painful.” Prosecutors wanted to send a letter to Hickenlooper demanding that he close down all legal marijuana businesses in Colorado. The governor would not have even had the authority to make such a move.
“If anything, use is going down by children,” Garnett said, adding that NDAA is a conservative group without a lot of experience in the regulated legalized marijuana industry. There’s a lot of urban myths out there about what’s going on in Colorado from people who don’t really know, and some of that is promulgated by the DEA and the prohibition groups who are funded pretty heavily to continue marijuana prohibition, They tend, on occasion, to distort the reality of what’s going on in Colorado.”
The relatively short report from NDAA is titled "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective," and it can be accessed in full at this link.
April 26, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Delaware court examines whether, after marijuana possession decriminalized, felony charges are proper for possessing gun with marijuana
This local article from the First State, headlined "Marijuana decriminalized but still triggers gun felony," spotlights an interesting case and this lower court ruling concerning the intersection of marijuana reform and guns laws. Here are the details:
Delaware judge is putting lawmakers on notice that they may want to take another look at a law that still makes it illegal for someone to have a handgun while carrying a decriminalized amount of marijuana.
In a recent ruling, Superior Court Judge Paul R. Wallace pointed out that the legislature may not have realized it left on the books a law that bars Delawareans from simultaneously possessing a handgun and any amount of marijuana, even though less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in Delaware in 2015....
The legal conundrum arose in February 2016 when the Wilmington police's drug unit went to an apartment in the unit block of 31st Street to arrest 21-year-old Imeir Murray's mother who was wanted on a probation violation.... Police smelled burnt marijuana and saw a marijuana grinder, an ashtray and a blunt in plain sight in Murray's bedroom, the warrant said. Officers also found a loaded Walther PK380 handgun on an upper shelf of the closet....
Authorities initially believed the marijuana was slightly more than an ounce, but later learned through laboratory testing that it was only 0.798 ounces, or 22.63 grams, which is a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine that can be paid like a traffic ticket, according to Wallace's opinion. At the police station, Murray and the woman in the bedroom admitted to possessing marijuana, but said the handgun was not theirs. Murray told police he had found the gun in his closet a few days earlier and had asked everyone in the apartment if it belonged to them, but no one took ownership, the warrant said.
Murray was arrested and charged in a grand jury indictment with possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, and possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, a felony. He was legally allowed to own a firearm, except for a state law enacted in 2011 that says one cannot have a semi-automatic firearm or handgun while possessing a controlled substance.
"It is undisputed that the amount of marijuana found in Murray's room exposes him to, at most, a civil marijuana possession violation," Wallace wrote in his April 13 opinion. "It is disputed what legal effect that fact has on the two charges for which Murray was indicted and faces trial in this Court."
Murray's attorney, Matthew Buckworth, argued that the firearm charge should be dismissed because the firearm statute wasn't intended to apply to someone possessing under an ounce of marijuana for personal use. "It is not fair for someone to have the potential to be felonized for an offense that would otherwise be OK," Buckworth said. "It was never the intent of the legislature to criminalize that behavior."
Wallace disagreed with Buckworth, saying he must apply the law as it currently reads. "Sure, it's conceivable that if it ever did, the legislature might choose to eliminate non-criminal marijuana possession as an element of that compound weapons crime," Wallace wrote. "But, the legislature has not done so. And, this court cannot do so in its stead."...
Murray's case went to trial in January, and he was found not guilty of the firearm charge, after his attorney argued the firearm in the closet did not belong to Murray. The judge found him liable for a $100 civil violation for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Even though he was found not guilty of the firearm charge, Wallace decided to still write a court opinion after the fact in April. That signaled to lawmakers a need to take a second look....
Buckworth said he is hopeful the legislature will make changes to the firearm charge since they likely never imagined a scenario would arise like it did for Murray. "I think changing the law is so important because he's a very good kid," Buckworth said. "He has a full-time job, and this could have really messed him up. That doesn't seem like the intent of the legislation."
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
"Too Stoned to Drive? The question is trickier than you’d think for police and the courts to answer."
The title of this post is the headline of this ABA Journal article appearing in the April 2017 issue. Here are excerpts:
Massachusetts is one of eight states, plus the District of Columbia, where recreational marijuana use is now legal. Twenty more states have legalized medical marijuana. But science and the law have not kept pace with this rapid political change.
We take for granted that not being able to walk a straight line or stand on one leg means you’re drunk, and that being drunk means it’s unacceptably dangerous to drive. But there is no clear scientific consensus when it comes to smoking pot and driving. And few of the tools police officers have long relied on to determine whether a driver is too drunk to drive, such as the Breathalyzer, exist for marijuana....
Most (but not all) studies find that using pot impairs one’s ability to drive. However, overall, the impairment appears to be modest — akin to driving with a blood-alcohol level between 0.01 and 0.05, which is legal in all states. (The much greater risk is in combining pot with alcohol.)
The increased crash risk with pot alone “is so small you can compare it to driving in darkness compared to driving in daylight,” says Rune Elvik, a senior research officer at the Institute of Transport Economics in Oslo, Norway, who conducted several major meta-analyses evaluating the risks of drugged driving. “Nobody would consider banning people from driving in the dark. If you tried to impose some kind of consistency standard, then there is no strong case, really, for banning it.”
When it comes to alcohol, science and the courts have long established a direct line between number of drinks, blood-alcohol level and crash risk. As one goes up, so do the others. Not so for pot. Scientists can’t say with confidence how much marijuana, in what concentration, used in what period of time, will reliably make someone “high.” (This is especially difficult to gauge because most of the existing studies used pot provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which tends to be a lot less potent than what smokers can buy on the street or in shops.)
Blood levels of THC — the chemical component of pot that makes you high — spike quickly after smoking and decline rapidly in the hours afterward, during the window when a smoker would feel most high. What’s more, regular smokers could have THC in their blood for days or weeks after smoking, when they are clearly no longer high.
Still, laws in 18 states tie drugged driving charges to whether drivers have THC or related compounds in their blood. Some states prohibit driving with any amount, and some specify a threshold modeled after the 0.08 limit states use for blood alcohol. But the lag time between being pulled over and being transported to a hospital for a blood draw — on average, more than two hours — can lead to false negatives, while the tolerance developed by regular users (and the tendency for THC to stick around in their bloodstreams) can lead to false positives. This is why, researchers say, blood THC laws make little sense....
The more sensible strategy appears to be prohibiting driving while high, and 31 states take this approach. But proving that a driver is high turns out to be tricky terrain, too....
Research shows that failing a standard field sobriety test correlates closely with having a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit—and officers have the Breathalyzer to confirm their findings. But “the gap between assessment, cannabis use and driving is really not completely closed,” says Thomas Marcotte, co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California at San Diego....
Some police departments use drug recognition experts — specially trained officers dispatched to evaluate suspected drugged drivers. These officers, commonly referred to as DREs, use an hourlong, 12-step process that includes taking the suspect’s blood pressure and pulse and conducting eye exams and balance tests. They use this information to generate an opinion about whether the driver is intoxicated — and, if so, by what. Preliminary research seems to indicate their opinions are of mixed quality, and not all judges allow DREs to testify to their findings.
“They’re not EMTs. They’re not medically trained,” says [Nicholas] Lovrich, the Washington State professor who, in a recent study of five years of DRE data in Washington and New Mexico, found a false-positive rate for pot intoxication ranging from 38 percent to 68 percent. “Everyone in the DRE business knows it’s really hard to do this.”
The gold standard would be a Breathalyzer-like device that can objectively measure whether someone has recently smoked, as well as how much. Lovrich is working on developing such a tool, using the same type of technology that security screeners use at airports to check for explosives. He says it will be at least two years before the technology is perfected, miniaturized and engineered to be durable enough to toss in the back seat of a squad car.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Though a number of folks in a number of ways have brought a critical race perspective to discussion of marijuana law, policy and reform, I still think this topic always merits even more extensive and thoughtful attention. Thus, I am very pleased that a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is planned a presentation on racial issues surrounding marijuana reform. And here are materials this student sent my way in preparation for the class presentation and discussion next week:
Seattle Times article, "Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"
Huffington Post commentary, "A Big Shift Is Necessary to Successfully Market Cannabis to Minorities"
March 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, March 20, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post WonkBlog item by Christopher Ingraham. The piece identifies effectively one quite notable marijuana-related take-away from recent New York Times reporting about deadly drug raids by law enforcement. Here is how this piece gets started:
Since 2010, At least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have turned deadly, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
The list of fatalities includes small-time dealers and people who sold the occasional joint to a friend, as well as people suspected of dealing in more serious drugs like crack or meth, but who were found to be in possession of only marijuana after the fact. It also includes four police officers who were killed during the raids, intentionally or otherwise.
The deadly raids are a reminder that an activity that's legal and celebrated in some states -- selling weed -- can get you killed in others.
The dead include:
• 29-year-old Jason Westcott of Tampa, who was shot and killed by police who stormed his home and observed him with a firearm. Westcott never fired his gun. The police uncovered a total of .2 grams of marijuana at Westcott's residence, not enough to fill a typical joint.
• Trevon Cole of Las Vegas, who was targeted for a raid after undercover officers purchased 1.8 ounces of the drug from him. Cole was unarmed, and was shot and killed by an officer as he was trying to flush marijuana down a toilet. His family eventually received a $1.7 million settlement from police.
• Levonia Riggins, also of Tampa, who became the subject of a raid after undercover agents purchased marijuana from him on three occasions. Riggins was in bed at the time of the raid. He didn't respond to officers' demands, and when the officers moved toward him Riggins made a quick movement. He was shot and killed. The raid turned out no firearms and a small amount of marijuana.
Marijuana itself is not a deadly substance. "No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported," according to the DEA. But the deadly raids on suspected marijuana dealers underscore how drug enforcement can become a greater threat to life and safety than drug use itself.
The Times' data shows that drugs are the primary driver of SWAT raids that turn deadly. Among the 85 fatal raids that have occurred since 2010, 61 of them -- or 70 percent -- were initiated on suspicion of drugs.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
After a Spring Break break, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students are back next week to continue making presentations based on their selected marijuana-related research issue. A student this coming week is exploring the ever-so-timely topic of immigration and its intersection with marijuana laws and policies. Here are the resources the student assembled as background on this topic:
1. Press article: "If pot is legalized, it can still have big consequences for certain immigrants"
2. Press article: "When Immigrants are Deported for Smoking weed"
3. Press Article: "How Marijuana Gets People Deported, In 5 Simple Charts"
4. Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) Report: "Immigration Impact: Analysis of the Adult Use of Marijuana"
5. Law review article: "Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"
Monday, March 6, 2017
Pennsylvania's Auditor General suggests marijuana legalization could help state close budget deficit
A notable bean-counter is making a notable case for marijuana reform in the Keystone State. This official press release, headlined "Auditor General DePasquale Recommends Regulating, Taxing Marijuana as Right Move to Help Deal with Critical Issues: Result would bring in revenue, create jobs, reduce corrections costs," explains:
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said today Pennsylvania should strongly consider regulating and taxing marijuana to benefit from a booming industry expected to be worth $20 billion and employ more than 280,000 in the next decade. “The regulation and taxation of the marijuana train has rumbled out of the station, and it is time to add a stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said during a news conference at the state capitol.
“I make this recommendation because it is a more sane policy to deal with a critical issue facing the state. Other states are already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation and savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions. In addition, it would generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year that could help tackle Pennsylvania’s budget problems.”...
In 2012, Colorado voters approved legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. Last year, Colorado – which has less than half the population of Pennsylvania – brought in $129 million in tax revenue on $1 billion in marijuana sales from the new industry that had already created an estimated 18,000 jobs. “The revenue that could be generated would help address Pennsylvania’s revenue and spending issue. But there is more to this than simply tax dollars and jobs,” DePasquale said. “There is also social impact, specifically related to arrests, and the personal, emotional, and financial devastation that may result from such arrests.”
In Colorado’s experience, after regulation and taxation of marijuana, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by nearly half between 2012 and 2014, from nearly 13,000 arrests to 7,000 arrests. Marijuana possession arrests, which make up the majority of all marijuana arrests, were nearly cut in half, down 47 percent, and marijuana sales arrests decreased by 24 percent. “All told, this decrease in arrest numbers represent thousands of people who would otherwise have blemished records that could prevent them from obtaining future employment or even housing,” DePasquale said. “Decriminalization also generates millions in savings from fewer arrests and prosecutions.”
DePasquale said Pennsylvania has already benefited by some cities decriminalizing marijuana. In Philadelphia, marijuana arrests went from 2,843 in 2014 to 969 in 2016. Based on a recent study, the RAND Corporation estimated the cost for each marijuana arrest and prosecution is approximately $2,200. Using those figures, that’s a savings of more than $4.1 million in one Pennsylvania city. Last year, York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties each had more arrests for small amounts of marijuana than Philadelphia. Those counties had between 800 and 1,400 arrests in 2015.
“Obviously, regulation and taxation of marijuana is not something that should be entered into lightly,” DePasquale said. “Should Pennsylvania join the growing number of states benefiting financially and socially from the taxation and regulation of marijuana; there are many things to consider, including details about age limits, regulatory oversight, licensing, grow policies, sale and use locations, and possession limitations.
“As I said earlier, the train has indeed left the station on the regulation and taxation of marijuana,” DePasquale said. “It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.”
March 6, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 3, 2017
What are the possibilities and foundations supporting a constutional argument for access to marijuana?
The question in the title of this post is the question being raised by a student presentation in in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar next week. (It is also a question that has become ever more timely in light of recent suggestions by members of the Trump Administration that we may soon be seeing "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition.) The student addressing this issue has assembled the following background reading:
U.S. Supreme Court Cases recognizing a right to privacy and autonomy:
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
Stanley v. Georgia (1969)
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
March 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, March 2, 2017
As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:
The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.
But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.
Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."
In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...
In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.
The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:
We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place. It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum. In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts. We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.
Some recent prior related posts:
- White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states
- AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform
- "Confusion mounts over Trump administration’s stance on marijuana"
- Aggregating evidence on marijuana's role in curbing opioid abuse after AG Sessions expresses skepticism
March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article posted to SSRN authored by Yu-Wei Luke Chu and Wilbur Townsend. Here is the abstract:
Most of the U.S. states have passed medical marijuana laws. In this paper, we study the effects of these laws on violent and property crime. We first estimate models that control for city fixed effects and flexible city-specific time trends. To supplement this regression analysis we use the synthetic control method which can relax the parallel trend assumption and better account for heterogeneous policy effects.
Both the regression analysis and the synthetic control method suggest no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level. We also find no strong effects within individual states, except for in California where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.
February 15, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
In praise of National District Attorney's Association creation of diverse marijuana policy working group
I was pleased to see this local article from Colorado, headlined "Boulder DA Stan Garnett named to group that will advise Trump administration on pot," reporting on a new group assembled by the National District Attorney's Association. Here are the details:
Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett has been selected to join a group of prosecutors from across the country who will help advise the Donald Trump administration on policies regarding marijuana.
The National District Attorney's Association created a policy group featuring 14 district attorneys who will issue advisements on possible law or policy changes regarding marijuana as more and more states legalize it.
Garnett said he is the only active prosecutor from Colorado in the group, but said there are also DAs from California and Oregon — other states with recreational marijuana — in the group. "It's a reflection of the NDAA's interest in having a fairly balanced committee, which will be largely advising on what our policy position should be in communications with the Trump Justice Department," Garnett said.
But while Garnett said there are a wide variety of states in different stages of marijuana legalization represented in the group, he said for the most part NDAA still is a conservative group, which is why he felt it was important to add his voice.
"I always end up on the more liberal position than anyone else, particularly on marijuana," Garnett said. "I think one of the things that happens is that many of the people in states where there is no legalization have a complete misunderstanding of states like Colorado. If nothing else, I'm able to say, 'Wait a minute, this is a huge business in Colorado, it is largely supported by the editorial boards, polls show it was being very popular, and by and large we have not seen an impact on crime rates.
"For somebody from Missouri or South Carolina to tell Colorado how to handle an issue of its own choice like legalization of marijuana is not only bad policy, but it fails to respect the importance of local control and state rights."
For instance, Garnett said that at the first meeting, some of the DAs wanted to send a letter to the governor of any state with recreational or medical marijuana telling them to shut those businesses down within 90 days. "I thought that was a particularly unrealistic and ill-advised idea, and I was not shy about saying that," Garnett said.
Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council and another member of the group, said it will be a feeling out process for the group, which was only formed about 10 days ago. "There's such a myriad of approaches depending on what stage of legalization you are in," Raynes said. "To come up with some sort of nationwide discussion on what works and what doesn't work makes a lot of sense."
Regardless of their stance on legalization, Raynes said all prosecutors have some common goals in regard to marijuana, such as keeping it out of the hands of children, cracking down on impaired driving, and curbing the black market. "Those are things that every state can agree on, and they need to start getting to the difficult issues," Raynes said.
Garnett said the group has toyed with the idea of issuing a majority and a minority opinion on different issues. If he is in fact confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions likely would be the one ultimately going over the policy recommendations. "Assuming he gets confirmed, he would definitely be the recipient of whatever we come up with," Garnett said. "At the moment nobody really knows what approach the Trump justice department will take, so that will determine how long the group meets."
Sessions has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, once saying that " good people don't smoke marijuana," and Trump has also said he plans to keep it illegal on a federal level. Garnett said he thinks that Trump trying to reverse states' decisions to legalize marijuana is possible, but would be tricky. "Legalization has been largely successful everywhere it has been tried, so it would be a highly unpopular move and difficult to accomplish successfully," Garnett said. "But I don't know what to expect on the Trump administration on this issue."
But even if the nation weren't going through a major administration change, Raynes said, an advisory group like this was needed. "I think it would have been done anyway," Raynes said. "Just as the marijuana issues evolve, states need to evolve to figure out some common ground."
I am very pleased to hear about this NDAA group and that they seemingly have a diverse group of prosecutors involved in this discussion. Indeed, I would like to see other criminal justice organizations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer and national police groups assembling an array of members to work on what seems to those groups to be sound marijuana policies.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Terrific UC Davis Law Review Symposium papers on "Disjointed Regulation: State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana"
I just realized all the great articles from the UC Davis Law Review's Symposium on "Disjointed Regulation: State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana" are now in print (and now available at this link) in the December 2016 issue of the UC Davis Law Review: Here is the great set of article with links to the pieces:
Keynote Speech — The Surprising Collapse of Marijuana Prohibition: What Now? by Richard J. Bonnie
Marijuana Legalization and Horizontal Federalism by Brianne J. Gorod
Legal Cannabis in the U.S.: Not Whether but How? by Sam Kamin
Tax Benefits of Government-Owned Marijuana Stores by Benjamin M. Leff
The Colors of Cannabis: Race and Marijuana by Steven W. Bender
The Economics of Workplace Drug Testing by Jeremy Kidd
Marijuana Legalization and Pretextual Stops by Alex Kreit
Legalizing Marijuana and Abating Environmental Harm: An Overblown Promise? by Michael Vitiello
Drug War and Peace by Erik Luna
January 23, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Two notable new pieces from two notable marijuana reform states (co-authored by two notable former students who took my OSU College of Law marijuana seminar)
One of many reasons I have been bullish on teaching marijuana reform at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is because I view the new marijuana reform universe to be a particularly exciting potential "growth industry" for junior lawyers. For that reason (and others), I was so very pleased to see this week the publication of these two (very different) pieces discussing marijuana reform developments in two (very different) states that were both co-authored by students who took my marijuana reform class. Here are links to the pieces and their starting paragraphs:
From California here, "Reclassifying Marijuana Convictions on Your Criminal Record Under California's New Proposition 64," a piece co-authored by Cat Packer, who is now a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance based in California.
On November 8, 2016, Californians took a major step towards ending the war on drugs and repairing some of the damage inflicted on people’s lives by marijuana prohibition, by passing Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Although, the most serious marijuana-related crimes such as providing marijuana to minors, or attempting to smuggle marijuana across state lines remain felonies, under Prop. 64, most marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies have been reduced or altogether eliminated. These sweeping reductions in criminal penalties are retroactive, meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated under Prop. 64 can be reclassified on a criminal record with the courts for free.
From Pennsylvania here, "Medical Marijuana Comes to Pennsylvania: What to Expect As the Keystone State Rolls Out its New Medical Marijuana Program," a piece co-authored by Kelly M. Flanigan, an Associate at K&L Gates
A lack of consensus regarding both medical and recreational marijuana has sparked intense debate across the country. Combined with federal law prohibitions, the state-by-state mosaic creates a dynamic legal landscape. Marijuana remains illegal federally and retains its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. However, 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted state laws legalizing marijuana in some form. On April 17, 2016, Pennsylvania joined other states that have recognized some medical use for marijuana when Governor Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act (“Act 16”) into law.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health (“DOH”) is charged with implementing Act 16, and it promptly developed the medical marijuana program. The DOH has been rolling out temporary regulations (three sets so far) and it anticipates that medical marijuana will become available in Pennsylvania in early 2018. The first critical date for those interested in becoming a medical marijuana organization is January 17, 2017, when the DOH releases its applications for grower/processors and dispensaries through its website.
January 19, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
New survey data on police perspectives indicates strong majority oppose blanket marijuana prohibition
Today the fine folks at the Pew Research Center released the results of a huge national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform (basics here, full report here). The survey covered a lot of ground, including police views on marijuana, and Christopher Ingraham has this Wonkblog posting on this topic under the headline "Survey: Two-thirds of cops say marijuana laws should be relaxed." Here are the details there reported:
A Pew Research Center survey of nearly 8,000 police officers finds that more than two-thirds of them say that marijuana use should be legal for either personal or medical use.
The nationally representative survey of law enforcement, one of the largest of its kind, found that 32 percent of police officers said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 37 percent said it should be legal for medical use only. An additional 30 percent said that marijuana should not be legal at all.
Police are more conservative than the general public on the issue. Among all Americans, Pew found that 49 percent supported recreational marijuana, 35 percent supported medical marijuana only, and 15 percent said the drug should not be legal.
Pew also found a generational divide among cops on the marijuana issue, although not as large as the one that exists among the general public. Officers under age 35 were more likely to support recreational marijuana (37 percent) than those between the ages of 50 and 60 (27 percent). Among the general public, those numbers stand at 67 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Law enforcement groups have often been among the staunchest opponents of marijuana legalization measures. In 2016, such groups made small but significant contributions to oppose legalization measures in California and Arizona, citing concerns over issues such as underage use and intoxicated driving. “You hear people say it’s not as bad as alcohol,” George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, told the Orange County Register last year. “But if you smoke marijuana and drive, it does impair you.”
But as the Pew survey indicates, there's considerable variation in views on marijuana use among the rank-and-file. The group LEAP — Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — was founded in 2002 for active-duty and retired police officers to speak out “about the failures of our existing drug policies.” The group has been particularly active in campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere.
Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department and LEAP board member, said she's not surprised to see that police officers have more conservative attitudes than the public on marijuana legalization. “Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials.” But she added that “the poll reflects a positive attitude shift when you see that it’s only 1 in 3 police officers who believe marijuana should remain illegal.”
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
AG-nominee Jeff Sessions deftly avoids saying too much about aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws
As expected, during today's confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was asked a few questions about whether and how he would enforce federal marijuana prohibitions. These three press reports on the exchange provide slightly different spins on what Senators Sessions said and did not say:
From The Huffington Post here, "Jeff Sessions Offers No Straight Answers On How He’ll Handle Legal Marijuana"
From Reason here, "Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing"
From the Washington Post here, "Sessions on enforcing federal marijuana laws: ‘It won’t be an easy decision’"
Though I suspect some marijuana reform activists were hoping to hear Sessions say he would fully respect and order DOJ officials to always defer to state marijuana reforms, such a statement would be in some ways tantamount to saying he would not fully respect federal marijuana prohibition (which is still the law of the land). Consequently, I was not surprised and in many ways encouraged by how Senator Sessions handled these issues. These passages from the HuffPo piece spotlight what I consider the biggest highlight, along with one marijuana advocate's takeaway:
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” said Sessions, responding to a question about whether he’d use federal resources to prosecute people using marijuana in accordance with their state laws. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”
Sessions went on to say that federal guidelines on marijuana enforcement crafted under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had been “truly valuable” in determining how to navigate inconsistencies between federal law ― under which marijuana is illegal ― and state laws that have loosened restrictions on the plant. Sessions also noted that if Congress wanted to clear up this confusion, it could pass a law adjusting the legal status of marijuana. Until then, however, he vowed to do his job “in a just and fair way” while judging how to approach marijuana going forward.
“It is not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”
Marijuana advocates met Sessions’ stance with guarded optimism, though they cautioned that he had not ruled out the possibility of more aggressive action against legal marijuana states and users. “It’s a good sign that Sen. Sessions seemed open to keeping the Obama guidelines, if maybe with a little stricter enforcement of their restrictions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a drug policy reform group. “The truth is, his answer was skillfully evasive, and I hope other senators continue to press for more clarity on how he would approach the growing numbers of states enacting new marijuana laws.”
January 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic piece, which carries the subheadline "As legalization spreads, so do calls to ease sentences for those convicted of possessing pot." Here are excerpts:
Colorado, which legalized marijuana for recreational usage in the 2012 elections, doesn’t allow anyone with a felony marijuana conviction in the last decade to apply for a retail marijuana business license — this in a state where African-Americans are more than three times more likely and Latinos 1.5 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites. So even though arrests are down 81 percent since 2012, there’s a whole host of black and brown people in the state who will be excluded from participation in the legalized industry for almost another decade.
Activists have, however, learned some lessons from the Colorado experience. “The devastation of communities of color by the war on drugs was always a top priority for people working on this issue,” said Shaleen Title, a marijuana activist on the board of Marijuana Majority and the founder of THC Staffing Group. “But what we started seeing in 2012, and particularly as there started to be a big business incentive for legalization, was less focus on the social justice issues.” This is, in part, because some newer proponents of legalization either didn’t focus on it or worried that introducing the issue of racial justice would impede the effort to legalize. “It’s very well documented that it’s black and brown people who have borne the brunt of prohibition,” she added, noting that only one of Colorado’s 500 marijuana dispensaries is owned by an African-American woman. “When we pass these laws, we have to address that. We can’t just start from scratch and expect for that to be fair.”
Title was part of a coalition of activists in Massachusetts that made sure that the state’s ballot initiative in 2016 allowed people with marijuana-only convictions to be licensed marijuana business holders. It also forced the issue of broader amnesty for marijuana convictions. “The war on drugs has been a racially discriminatory disaster and legalization should be an opportunity to try to correct that and make amends for past wrongs,” explained Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority, which is devoted to reforming the country’s marijuana laws. “But there’s still a lingering, outdated, and cruel attitude that people who broke the law should be punished as much as possible, even if it prevents them from fully participating in society.”...
California’s 2016 ballot initiative to legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes set up a system providing for the reclassification and/or expungement of marijuana-related offenses. For those still serving sentences, there will also be opportunities for resentencing. It’s likely to have an impact on a significant number of Californians: The ACLU says that nearly 20,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession even after the state decriminalized possession in 2011.
In Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana by ballot initiative in 2014, the law did not have an explicit expungement provision — but it did allow people with marijuana-related crimes to qualify for licensure to own a legal marijuana business. Then, in 2015, the legislature passed a law allowing anyone with a marijuana conviction to apply for expungement if the act for which they were convicted — like possession, growing marijuana, or growing in excess of what was deemed allowable for medical use — is no longer considered a crime.
There are fees associated with expungement — as there are in most states — and the process requires legal assistance, which is why the Minority Cannabis Business Association, in partnership with the cannabis company Marley Natural, held its first-ever expungement clinic in Portland, which helped 30 clients. Jeannette Ward, the vice chair of the MCBA, noted that, because of Oregon’s law allowing people with convictions for marijuana-related offenses to participate in the legal system, the clinic wasn’t about helping potential marijuana business owners. “We do it because the war on drugs targeted people of color,” she said, “and we want to take the profits from companies that are making money and try to rebalance the scales of the detrimental wars on drugs.”...
The impacts of a marijuana arrest, let alone a conviction, can be profound. “Arrest is just one moment,” explained Jenny Roberts, a professor and the co-director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law. “And then that moment is determinant of so many things down the line. One moment of racially disparate policing becomes a moment that follows people throughout their life.” She noted that criminal records can — legally or not — affect arrestees’ employment prospects, their ability to find housing, and even their ability to travel outside the country—even if they aren’t convicted of any crime. “We treat too many acts in this country as things that need to be processed through the criminal justice system,” she said. “Everyone knows that you can go around and arrest many, many people for marijuana, but we all know who actually gets arrested for it,” she added. “Policies that end up in racially disparate arrests are unfair and have much broader impacts than just the arrests.”
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Is anyone studying how marijuana reforms are impacting criminal justice systems in non-reform jurisdictions?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Virginia headlined "Enforcement up in smoke? Marijuana arrests down sharply across state, region." Here are is how the article gets started:
Marijuana arrests are down significantly in Virginia over the past few years — leading some to speculate that the decline could reflect a loosening attitude in the Old Dominion about the drug.
The number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses has fallen by 14 percent statewide over a two-year stretch — from 25,981 in 2013 to 22,428 in 2015, according to Virginia State Police figures compiled from local law enforcement agencies.
That's the largest two-year drop in at least 15 years, with cannabis charges on pace to fall once again in 2016. "And it ain't because less people are smoking marijuana," said Ron Smith, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Hampton. "Virginia changes the law very gradually, and you can feel it happening. Even if they don't say, 'Hey, it's legal,' you can see that slow pull, that slow walk toward legalization." Within a few years, he said, marijuana possession laws could go the way of adultery laws: Still on the books, but not enforced.
Newport News has seen a far steeper decline than most localities, helping to drive the statewide reduction. In 2011, 1,461 people were arrested or charged on marijuana offenses in the city. But that dropped to 578 people in 2015 — a 60 percent decrease. Smith, for one, said he thinks police are being less aggressive these days on a variety of crimes, including marijuana offenses. "They're picking the apples that they can reach, but they're not standing on ladders," he said. "I'm not saying they're turning their heads, but they're not doing anything to look past what's right there in front of them."...
In one sign of the times, the top prosecutors in Hampton and Newport News decided in 2012 and 2013 to no longer prosecute adult misdemeanor pot possession cases, saying their resources were running thin for felony prosecutions. "We were wasting resources when we've got bigger fish to fry," said Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell, who said he wanted to increase focus on homicides and gun crimes.
Newport News' drop-off in marijuana arrests, in particular, appears to coincide with Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn's decision not to handle those cases. That left the prosecuting task to police officers — just as they handle their own traffic cases — before the cities filled the breach with alternatives. "Certainly locally here in Newport News, the absence of a prosecuting attorney to help the officers with marijuana charges has had a significant and adverse impact on the officers' ability to make those cases," Newport News Police Chief Richard Myers said. "And we know with certainty that that has contributed significantly with each passing year to the decrease in our marijuana cases."
When police officers find someone with marijuana on the street, Myers said, the extra burden of prosecuting the case "of course is going to factor into their decision-making" about whether to file pot charges or seek an alternative.... Myers, however, said his officers are not being told to "look the other way" on marijuana arrests. "We haven't done any stand-down kind of thing at all," he said. "Some folks on the street probably think we have because the arrests have dropped. And I have heard officers say that because of it, some folks are getting a little more brazen about it." But while the department places a priority on relationship building and "de-escalation," he said, "nowhere does that say that we're not making arrests, not writing tickets, that we're not being proactive."
After about a year of discussion with Gwynn's office, the city of Newport News about a month ago agreed to pay for two new prosecutors to handle marijuana cases, at a cost of about $60,000 per attorney annually, City Manager Jim Bourey said. Police officers began referring new pot cases to the prosecutor's office under the new system just last week. "We really think it's going to give the officers one more tool to kind of reel in any of that activity," Myers said. Perhaps in part because Hampton moved more quickly on this issue — hiring a lawyer with the city attorney's office to take over marijuana prosecutions in early 2015 — the decline of pot arrests in Hampton has been more modest. Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult said there's been no move to back off on enforcing marijuana laws.
"Absolutely not," Sult said. "As a matter of fact, our mission statement is prevention and then it's enforcement. And when we fail to prevent a crime, then we enforce the law, and I expect them to be professionally aggressive to enforce the law. ... I do believe in the broken windows theory, and in my view, marijuana is a gateway drug to harder problems. A lot of our violent crime is associated with marijuana and marijuana distribution, and I do think it's important that we enforce those laws — and we communicate that to our troops."
Saturday, November 26, 2016
As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular. For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64. This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:
Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.
So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....
California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.
California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”
The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.
Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”
Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....
Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.
In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”
Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.
Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”
The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”
The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.
Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.
For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”
Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.