Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Meet the Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners"

Meet-mother-teresa-pot-prisoners-heroIn part because of the headline and in part because of the focal point, I could not resist linking to this effective High Times article with the headline that serves as the title of this post.  The piece merits a full read, and here are only some of the good parts (with links from the original):

Beth Curtis used to fill her days playing tennis with friends and attending community board meetings in her rural home of Zanesville, Ohio, a small coal country city on the outskirts of Appalachia. But in the past decade, the social calendar of the 76-year-old widow and mother of three has all but disappeared. Instead, she spends her time corresponding with incarcerated people, sending mailers to cannabis companies, talking to the media, and updating her website, LifeForPot.com — all exercises dedicated to advocating for nonviolent offenders serving life sentences without the possibility of parole on marijuana convictions.  Called the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” Curtis is lauded as a crucial voice in criminal justice circles for her work calling attention to those who remain incarcerated on marijuana charges as the plant becomes legal across the country.

Curtis, who worked briefly as a social worker in the 1960s, spent the majority of her life raising her three sons and volunteering on various boards. That changed when her brother, John Knock, was given two life sentences plus 20 years without the possibility of parole for his involvement with a marijuana distribution ring. During the 1970s and early ‘80s, Knock, who had moved to San Francisco, spent most of his time out of the country as part of a group that imported marijuana into Europe, Canada, and the northwest.

He left the group in the late ‘80s to spend time with his family and son, moving to Hawaii. Knock was indicted in 1994, picked up in Paris in 1996, and extradited to the United States in 1999, where he stood trial at a federal district court in Florida. He was convicted of conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and money laundering. Nine years later, when Knock’s legal team had exhausted all of his appeals, his loved ones were left in disbelief of the future that awaited him.

“Our family was shocked because we really didn’t understand the justice system and thought it couldn’t be right,” said Curtis....

Curtis, who was 66 at the time, had honed her skills on the internet investing in small pension plans in the early ‘90s.  She started searching government websites looking for people who had similar sentences for marijuana. She looked for cases that appeared to involve people who were incarcerated solely for marijuana offenses and wrote letters to them in prison in hopes they’d be willing to share more.  “It wasn’t that easy, at that time there weren’t a lot of people who were advocating for them,” Curtis said. “When a stranger writes to you in federal prison I think it’s very logical they were afraid it would be someone who would be an outside confidential informant trying to get information about them that would do harm.”

 Once she earned their trust, Curtis drew on the conversations to write profiles for her entirely self-funded website in a bid to raise awareness for people like her brother who were condemned to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for marijuana.   “It’s pretty satisfying to be able to give them some kind of the story on the outside,” she said. “Every story is a tragedy.”...

Curtis’ reputation has grown over the years and with that, she’s become a regular source for media navigating the sometimes intricate world of marijuana lifers and commutations. She regularly offers her expertise for articles, helps reporters fact check confusing court documents, and connects them with incarcerated people for interviews.  Curtis doesn’t know how many nonviolent drug offenders are now serving life sentences for marijuana but says there aren’t as many as people would expect. The website currently lists 29 people, separated into age categories of “inmates over 62” and “inmates under 62.”...

Amy Povah, a formerly incarcerated person and founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, an organization that advocates for clemency for all nonviolent drug offenders, christened Curtis as the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” alluding to the Roman Catholic Saint known for her charitable work. CAN-DO works closely with Life For Pot and has taken over some advocacy work for pot lifers in recent years. Povah credited Curtis’ work vetting cases as a boon to many other advocates as “many people, myself included, have benefited from her body of work.”

At least five pot lifers who Curtis has advocated for have received commutations, but Cox and Knock were among the more than 3,000 cases denied commutations or pardons by former president Barack Obama before he left office in January 2017. Curtis had been helping families of pot lifers prepare complicated clemency petitions to be processed through Obama’s Clemency Project 2014, or CP14, which then Attorney General Eric Holder said could shorten the sentences of more than 10,000 incarcerated people behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

“It was pretty devastating. I honestly could not believe it,” Curtis said. “It was all very hard because everybody who didn’t receive mercy contacted me and they needed reassurance there’s still hope and frankly there still is.”...

Curtis pointed out that clemency is now especially relevant as marijuana is increasingly decriminalized and legalized while a bill to end the federal ban is gaining momentum.

But the policy shifts are bittersweet for those still behind bars for their own roles in harvesting and distributing the plant. In an effort to build support from people benefiting from the new regulations, Curtis has amassed a database of cannabis business enterprises, conglomerates, and venture capitalists to whom she sends mailings urging them to advocate for those serving life sentences for cannabis. There aren’t many in the industry doing so, Curtis said—a surprising revelation, given that the plant is now part of a $9 billion industry projected to employ 292,000 people by 2021.

Curtis talks to her brother a few times a week but has passed on work like communicating regularly with pot prisoners to other advocacy groups such as CAN-Do and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), whose president, Kevin Ring, heralded her as an inspiration.

“When advocates say, ‘When a person goes to prison, the whole family serves the time,’ you just have to look at Beth’s life. I don’t think she’s breathed a free breath since her brother went to prison,” he said. 

June 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Telling modern Minneapolis tale of minor marijuana enforcement still flush with racial disparity

Ows_152840735539363The Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, became the city's first African-American "top cop" last year.   But, as reported in this new local story, the city still has been involved in a remarkable form of disparate policing in its marijuana enforcement.  The piece is headlined "Minneapolis cops halt low-level marijuana stings after racial disparity revealed: All charges dropped after reports show 46 of 47 arrested were black," and here are the details:

Minneapolis police abruptly ended the practice of targeting small-scale marijuana sellers downtown after revelations that nearly every one arrested was black.  In a series of rushed announcements Thursday, authorities said that police would no longer conduct sting operations targeting low-level marijuana sales, and charges against 47 people arrested in the first five months of 2018 would be dismissed.

The extraordinary turnaround came after Hennepin County's chief public defender contacted Mayor Jacob Frey to complain about what looked like blatant racial profiling.  Frey then directed Chief Medaria Arradondo to stop the stings. "I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said in a statement Thursday.  "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."...

[I]n recent years, Minneapolis police have stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about safety downtown.  Using undercover officers posing as buyers, they arrested 47 people for selling marijuana on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.

The Hennepin County Public Defender's office determined that 46 of those arrested were black.  All were charged as felonies.  Some were put in diversion programs, some were convicted and at least one man went to prison.  "Almost all of those cases involve a sale of 1-2 grams of marijuana for a total of $10-$20," assistant county public defender Jess Braverman wrote in a May 31 court document....

Arradondo announced Thursday in a 12:30 p.m. news conference that he had discontinued stings targeting low-level marijuana sales at the request of Frey.  "While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence," he said.  He said that during the downtown police effort, officers arrested other people who were in possession of illegal guns and other drugs such as opioids, although that was separate from the marijuana arrests.

Arradondo defended his officers, saying they were acting professionally and not targeting black people because of their race.  A police spokesman said that while the undercover stings were being stopped, police would still make arrests for marijuana sales.

At 3 p.m., Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a news release that said he had informed Arradondo that he would not charge any more people arrested in the stings and that he was reviewing the remaining cases.  An hour later, his office notified [Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary] Moriarty that all the cases were being dismissed. "These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge," Freeman said in a statement. "Because they occurred over a period of months and were distributed to about a half-dozen of our attorneys for prosecution, we did not detect any pattern."...

In a court document, Braverman wrote that the arrests "have resulted in felony convictions for numerous black defendants who had been targeted, and all the devastating collateral consequences that go along with such convictions: jail time, prison time, and even deportation proceedings."

Details about the stings were described in a case involving the arrest of one suspect, Shauntez Palmer, who was charged with fifth degree sale of 1.6 grams of marijuana. An undercover officer stated in her report that she purchased marijuana from another person, Ameir Davis on Hennepin Avenue between N. 5th Street and N. 6th Street, while Palmer acted as a lookout.  Both men were arrested and brought to jail....

"On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals and groups, and asking to buy drugs," Braverman wrote.  "Officers have directly asked black men to facilitate drug deals with other black men, and have then requested that the facilitator be charged with sale.  They are submitting the cases for felony charges."  Moriarty said that the only white person arrested was not approached by police, but had himself approached an undercover officer about selling some marijuana.

In a letter to Arradondo on May 29, Moriarty wrote, "A review of the cases received by our office strongly suggests a trend of racial profiling under the guise of a 'livability' detail."

Mel Reeves, a human rights activist who lives in Minneapolis, said he was cheered by the decision to halt the stings. "It's not news that black people are targeted by law enforcement on marijuana charges," he said. "It's good news they are recognizing the disparities and doing something about it."

June 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States"

HeaderImageThe title of this post is the title of this big new report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association.  This press release about the report provides some highlights on its coverage and points of emphasis:

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that in 2016, 44% of fatally-injured drivers with known results tested positive for drugs, up from 28% just 10 years prior.  More than half of these drivers had marijuana, opioids, or a combination of the two in their system.

Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States presents new research to examine the impact of marijuana and opioids on driving ability and provides recommendations on how best to address these emerging challenges.  Funded by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org), the report found that among drug-positive fatally-injured drivers in 2016, 38% tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16% tested positive for opioids, and 4% tested positive for both marijuana and opioids.

While alcohol-impaired driving remains a significant threat to traffic safety, presence of alcohol in fatally-injured drivers is slightly lower than it was a decade ago, decreasing from 41% in 2006 to 38% in 2016.  Some of the strategies that have been used to address alcohol-impaired driving can also be employed to deter drug-impaired driving, yet drug impairment presents several unique challenges.  For example, there is no nationally-accepted method for testing driver drug impairment; there are an unwieldy number of drugs to test for; and different drugs have different impairing effects in different drivers.

Report author Dr. Jim Hedlund, former senior NHTSA official and nationally-recognized issue expert, explained, “Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash. But it’s impossible to understand the full scope of the drugged driving problem because many drivers who are arrested or involved in crashes, even those who are killed, are not tested for drugs. Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired.”

Adding to these concerns is the frequency of poly-drug use, or the use of multiple potentially-impairing substances simultaneously.  In 2016, 51% of drug-positive fatally-injured drivers were found positive for two or more drugs.  Alcohol is often in the mix as well: 49% of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for alcohol in 2016 also tested positive for drugs.

May 31, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

New York Daily News says "End the war on pot"

7FZLW5L46V6V6AGOGX2CDDHXYYFor many reasons, New York is an important and interesting state to watch in the array of debates over marijuana reform.  And another notable voice chimed in yesterday in the form of the New York Daily News editorial board, which published this editorial headlined "End the war on pot: We welcome the push to legalize and regulate marijuana." Here are excerpts from an effective editorial:

After many decades of treating as a crime the personal possession and use of a drug that is a negligible threat to public safety, New York is awakening to the folly of — and racial disparities widened by — its approach.

We are part of this awakening, which is why we welcome the push to legalize and regulate marijuana. By every honest measure, the substance has more in common with alcohol and tobacco than it does harder drugs that are rightly illegal.

Which is not to say we endorse vaping or toking, or that government should. Legalization can coexist with stigmatization, especially for young people, for whom drug use and abuse is disastrous.

But continuing to turn the punitive gears of the criminal justice system against 50 people per day in the five boroughs for so much as touching a drug that countless adults use harmlessly in the privacy of their own homes does not serve New York.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 1977, New York decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, making it an infraction with a $100 fine. In the intervening 40 years, hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested. Police in the five boroughs continue to make some 17,000 arrests annually for pot possession. Though that's down 40% since 2013, due in large part to a rise in criminal summonses, it's still high.

And despite the fact that research shows marijuana is used in about equal numbers by whites, blacks and Latinos, blacks and Latinos make up 86% of arrestees. Those two groups account for just 51% of the city's overall population. Even the NYPD's chief of crime control strategies has said this gulf "should be troubling to anyone." While it's true that arrests are often driven by calls to 311 and 911, analysis by the Daily News this year showed the association to be far weaker than the city claims. The New York Times matched ethnically different neighborhoods with almost identical complaint levels — and found that the predominantly white and Asian neighborhoods generally saw orders of magnitude fewer arrests than the predominantly black and Latino ones.

This stubborn racial enforcement disparity points to a fundamental question: why it makes sense to treat marijuana use as a nail to be hit with the hammer of cuffs, cops and courts, saddling individuals with arrest records and sometimes, though infrequently, jail time for partaking....

Nine U.S. states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, California and Alaska, have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use. New Jersey is leaning strongly in the same direction.

Where the drug has been legalized, fears that taking sales out of the black market and into the open would lead to a surge in violent crime and drug use have not materialized. There are trends worth worrying about, and learning from, such as an apparent rise in pot-related DWIs. But the sky has not fallen, or even noticeably darkened, anywhere that marijuana has gone from being a criminally forbidden substance to a taxed and regulated one.

By the same token, it is crucial to make clear that legalization advocates oversell their product with the suggestion it will eliminate stubborn policing disparities. No state that allows small amounts of marijuana to be sold and held for personal use permits public smoking, which remains anything from a non-criminal ticket to a criminal misdemeanor. In other words, it is properly an offense to be enforced, and that enforcement may prove racially disparate, following differences in behavior. So, too, would black-market sales remain against the law.

One alternative to legalization is decriminalization. Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez call for declining to prosecute pot possession while keeping it illegal on the books. While tempting, this could create a patchwork of enforcement whereby the same offense is treated radically differently across New York jurisdictions. We've gained little, and lost plenty, in waging this misbegotten war. It's time to try another way.

May 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Code for America helping with technology to enhance marijuana offense expungement efforts in California pilot program

DownloadAs reported in this local article, headlined "San Francisco will use new technology to automatically reduce marijuana convictions under Prop. 64: 'It’s about leveling the playing field'," a notable player in the tech world is stepping up to aid expungement efforts in California in the wake of marijuana legalization. Here are the details:

When recreational marijuana use was legalized in California, it presented an opportunity to reduce or expunge convictions for possession crimes that made it harder for some people to get ahead in life. Since then, some counties have worked to address those convictions, taking on the lengthy bureaucratic process so that people would not have to wade through the legal world on their own.

San Francisco led the charge, announcing in January that the district attorney's office would retroactively apply the new marijuana law to prior convictions dating as far back as 1975. But for prosecutors, the chance to change those convictions also came with a challenge: It required a lot of resources to plow through thousands of cases.

On Tuesday, Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced what he believes to be the solution. San Francisco is working with a nonprofit organization to create a program that would automatically clear eligible convictions under California's new marijuana legalization law. The program, created by Code for America, will allow the district attorney's office to use new technology to determine eligibility for record clearance under state law, automatically fill out the required forms and generate a completed motion in PDF format. The district attorney's office can then file the completed motion with the court....

The new program will clear people's records of crimes that can be barriers to employment and housing, the district attorney said. Lack of access to employment and housing drive recidivism, Gascón said, adding that he hopes the partnership will inspire other prosecutors who have cited resource constraints to follow suit.

In February, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said petitioning through the courts would be faster for people seeking relief than waiting for her office to review the case files. The same month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to develop a plan to help make it easier for people to reduce or clear minor pot convictions. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office estimates there have been 40,000 felony convictions involving pot-related offenses since 1993. It is unclear how many of those people are eligible for relief or how many have petitioned for it.

Although "drug use in this country has not been limited to people of color" in California, minorities — particularly African Americans and Latinos — have been arrested and jailed for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than white people, Gascón said. Many of those affected are poor, he added, or lack the resources needed to change their criminal records on their own. "It's about leveling the playing field," he said. "Justice is supposed to be about fairness and equity."...

The district attorney's office said Gascón and Code for America began exploring the possibility of automating the process in February, after recognizing how "resource intensive" it was to wipe out or reduce convictions. Some 962 motions to dismiss a misdemeanor marijuana conviction have been prepared, 528 have been submitted to the San Francisco Superior Court and 428 have been granted, the district attorney's office said, but felony convictions take longer because they require an analysis of rap sheets in order to determine eligibility.

Code for America plans to expand the pilot program to other California counties with the target of clearing 250,000 convictions by 2019. The organization has previously delved into the realm of criminal justice: In 2016, it created Clear My Record, an online application that connects people with lawyers to clear criminal records across California.

"By reimagining existing government systems through technology and user-centered design, we can help governments rethink incarceration, reduce recidivism, and restore opportunity," Code for America Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka said in a statement. The program, she said, will demonstrate that "our institutions can deliver on the promise voters intended when they passed propositions like Proposition 64."

Regular readers perhaps already know that I am eager to follow-up this story by plugging my new paper written for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter focused on the intersection of marijuana reform and ameliorating collateral consequences.  Among the themes of that paper is the opportunity that marijuana reform presents for building a more robust infrastructure for helping individuals access existing expungement remedies.  In my writing, I was thinking primarily about building up government infrastructures here, but this new development is a great indication of how technological infrastructure can develop to extend the benefits of marijuana reform in various ways.

Prior related post:

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

May 16, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

The power of the pen: NYC mayor and prosecutors pledge to reduce marijuana arrests after new reports on racial disparity

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c84afc33200c-320wiAs reported in this recent post, titled "NY Times highlights racialized realities of NYC marijuana arrests," the Gray Lady earlier this week ran a big story on the racially disparate patterns of arrests for marijuana offenses in New York City.  Though lots of other folks have tracked and reported on these racialized realities in the past, the New York Times can often capture attention like few others.  And proof of this reality comes from this follow-up New York Times article headlined "Mayor and Some Prosecutors Move to Curb Marijuana Arrests." Here are excerpts:

After years of halting steps, top prosecutors and elected officials in New York City on Tuesday made a sudden dash toward ending many of the marijuana arrests that for decades have entangled mostly black and Hispanic people.

The plans, still unwritten and under negotiation, will rise or fall on the type of conduct involving marijuana that officials decide should still warrant arrest and prosecution. The changes appear likely to create a patchwork of prosecution policies across the city’s five boroughs, and are unlikely to restrict police officers from stopping and searching people on suspicion of possessing a drug that is now legal in a number of states.

But with the city now conceding a wide racial gap in arrests and with the Police Department’s rationale for that gap collapsing under scrutiny, the plans represent a striking shift that could lead in some parts of the city to people generally facing no criminal penalties for smoking marijuana.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who suggested only weeks ago that city policy would hold fast until New York State legalized the drug, directed the Police Department on Tuesday to have a plan within 30 days to “end unnecessary arrests.”

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said he would stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking arrests this summer, and he gave the Police Department until then to make a case for still charging limited categories of people. The Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said that over the last three months his office had doubled the number of marijuana smoking cases it had stopped prosecuting and that it now planned to start throwing out more cases after the Police Department weighed in.

And the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said he would convene a working group to review marijuana enforcement tactics and conceded that at least some arrests “have no impact on public safety.”

A New York Times investigation published on Sunday showed that black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white people over the last three years, and that among neighborhoods where people called to complain about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a significantly higher rate in the area with more black residents.

Defense lawyers and drug reform advocates, stung by years of piecemeal policy changes that have only reined in prosecution and arrest tactics bit by bit, said the plans did not yet offer any assurances that the decades-long era of mass enforcement of marijuana laws was over. Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which has long pushed for legalization and publicized the racial gap in arrests, faulted Mr. de Blasio for not acting sooner. In January, the mayor said the roughly 17,500 annual marijuana arrests represented “a normal level in the sense of what we were trying to achieve.”...

At the end of 2014, Mr. de Blasio said the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Arrests fell from about 26,000 people in 2014 to 17,500 people on average in the years since then, about 87 percent of them black or Hispanic. But still, thousands of people continued to miss work and school for court and face consequences in their searches for housing or jobs. Research has shown there is no good evidence that marijuana arrests are associated with reductions in serious crime in New York City.

In a report released Tuesday, Mr. Vance said he supported legalizing marijuana and had found no rationale for the New York City’s enforcement tactics: “These arrests waste an enormous amount of criminal justice resources for no punitive, rehabilitative, deterrent or other public safety benefit. And they do so in a racially disparate way that stigmatizes and disadvantages the arrestees,” the report said....

The district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn left the door open to prosecuting people on marijuana charges if they had previous criminal records. Scott Hechinger, a senior staff lawyer and director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services, said doing so would undermine a policy intended to reduce the impact of marijuana laws on black and Hispanic people: “The people that are going to have records are folks that live in neighborhoods that are overpoliced and targeted for enforcement,” he said....

The moves on Tuesday highlighted the discretion afforded the city to enforce the state’s marijuana law as police officials see fit. But defense lawyers and drug reform advocates said that so long as using marijuana was still a crime, police officers would continue to seize on the smell of marijuana to stop and search people and check for open warrants. “The odor of marijuana has become the new broken taillight,” Mr. Hechinger said. “It creates a pretext that’s quite difficult to disprove for officers to approach and search our clients in neighborhoods with a high police presence.”

Some (of many) prior related posts:

May 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Center for Justice Reform at Vermont Law School conducting expungement days for old misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses

CFJR-LOGO-and-text-larger-highresAs explained in this recent press release, the Center for Justice Reform at Vermont Law School is taking an active role in helping Vermont's recent marijuana reform become consequential for persons with certain prior marijuana convictions. Here are the details (with links from the original):

Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill, Chittenden County State’s Attorney, Sarah George, and the Center for Justice Reform at Vermont Law School, invite community members convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses to Expungement Day, a free information session to assist individuals with removing convictions from their record. Expungement Day for Windsor County convictions will be held from 9 a.m. to Noon Saturday, June 9, in Oakes Hall, Room 012 at VLS.  Expungement Day for Chittenden County convictions will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, in Courtroom 2C of the Costello Courthouse at 32 Cherry Street in Burlington. 

Effective July 1, Vermont law changes to allow for the personal possession of small amounts of marijuana by individuals age 21 and older. In recognition of this change and shifting attitudes about marijuana, the Windsor and Chittenden County State’s Attorneys have agreed to support the expungement of all old misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses that arose within Windsor and Chittenden County.  This does not apply to felony-level offenses, convictions for sale of marijuana, or any offenses that took place outside of Windsor or Chittenden County.   Cahill and George will support expungement regardless of any prior or subsequent convictions for other offenses. However, even after July 1, it will remain illegal to possess more than an ounce of marijuana, to use marijuana in a public place, or to drive under the influence of marijuana or any other drug.  These laws will continue to be enforced by police and prosecuted by the Windsor and Chittenden County State’s Attorneys. 

Under Vermont law, 13 VSA §7606, once a conviction is expunged, a person may lawfully claim that he or she was never arrested, convicted, or sentenced for the marijuana possession offense.  While Vermont affords these protections for expunged offenses, other states and the federal government may treat the effect of the expungement differently.

During each Expungement Day, Professor Robert Sand, director of the Center for Justice Reform, VLS students, and other volunteers will educate community members about how to complete an expungement petition.  Though volunteers will not provide legal advice, by the end of the session, participants will have a completed expungement petition ready for filing.  Both State’s Attorneys have agreed to accept the petitions and file them with their respective courts. 

“When a person has paid their debt by virtue of a criminal conviction, that should be finite — they shouldn’t keep paying” said Sand in a VPR interview earlier this year. “There is room within our judicial system — and it should be appropriately resourced — for court to be a place where rights are restored.”  Participants in Expungement Day should plan to bring valid, government-issued photo identification as well as any records they have related to their prior misdemeanor marijuana offense, to include the original docket number. For more information about Expungement Day, email justicereform@vermontlaw.edu

Expungement Day is supported with a generous contribution by the Pennywise Foundation.

May 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)