Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Marijuana Arrests Down In Colorado For White Teens, Up For Black And Latino Teens"

Enhanced-mid-11604-1462934362-1The title of this post is the headline of this BuzzFeed report.  Here are excerpts:

Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

The report, released in March, found a striking racial disparity in how adolescents aged 10–17 are being arrested: White juvenile marijuana arrests decreased by 8% between 2012 and 2014, while black juvenile arrests increased by 58% and Latino juvenile arrests increased 29%.

Colorado voters passed an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2012 — the year is used in the report to represent pre-legalization. The first full year that the state’s 21-and-older recreational marijuana market was operational was 2014.

Between 2012 and 2014, Colorado elementary and secondary schools saw a 34% increase in marijuana arrests, the overwhelming majority of which were for possession. These arrests were often done by “school resource officers” — local police officers who have increasingly been stationed on campuses in recent years. Although most of these juvenile arrests do not involve jail time, the student must pay a fine and, in order to get the arrest expunged from their permanent record, pay to participate in a drug education class....

According to a 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County has the highest rates of teen marijuana use in the state — 32.1% of high schoolers — but only five adolescents were arrested for marijuana-related crimes there in 2014. Compare that to Arapahoe County, which has about average rates of teen marijuana use (20.6% of high schoolers) when compared to the rest of the state (19.7%), but where nearly 400 students were arrested for marijuana in 2014.

Tustin Amole, the director of communications at Cherry Creek Schools in Arapahoe County, said that while her district decides how to handle marijuana offenses on a case-by-case basis, she felt the students who are being arrested accurately reflect which students are smoking pot. “We don’t really have zero tolerance policies, because there are so many variations and circumstances. You have to take them all into account,” Amole told BuzzFeed News. “All I can say is while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we’re catching with the drugs.”

The state also found that while marijuana arrests among adults have nearly been cut in half since legalization, the racial disparities among those still being arrested grew slightly worse. In 2014, black people were arrested and cited for marijuana-related offenses at almost triple the rate of white people. Back in 2012, black people in Colorado were being arrested for pot crimes at a little less than double the rate of whites.

While national data has shown that adults and juveniles of all races use and sell marijuana at very similar rates, the 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that a slightly bigger percentage of black (25.9%) and Latino (23.6%) high schoolers had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to white students (17%). But even if the disparity in that sample was representative for the entire state, the marijuana arrest numbers for black juveniles would still be wildly disproportionate. Other states and cities that have decriminalized or legalized recreational marijuana use — including Massachusetts, Chicago, and Washington state — have seen a similar trend: a drop in overall arrests but persistent or increased racial disparities among those still being arrested.

May 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Looking critically at the disproportionate impact that drug trafficking laws have on women (with emphasis on race, motherhood, and socioeconomic class)

The impact of the drug war on particular individuals and communities is a focal point for a student presentation this week in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana reform. My student provided this summary blurb to go along with the following links to background reading:

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased by 646 percent. And of those women, approximately 65 percent incarcerated in state prisons have a minor child; in comparison 55 percent of males in prison report having a minor child.  My presentation will focus on the disproportionate impact that drug trafficking and conspiracy laws have on women, with emphasis on race, motherhood, and socioeconomic class.  The discussion will be centered around the history of the war on drugs, incarceration trends of women, drug laws, and the familial consequences of incarceration.

Please read the following articles:

April 12, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Whoopi Goldberg Launches Medical-Marijuana Products Targeted at Menstrual Cramps"

The title of this post is the notable headline of this notable Vanity Fair article, which serves as a very fitting follow-up to my students' recent class presentation on Women & Weed: Blazing A Trail Toward Nationwide Legalization.   Here are the details:

 Whoopi Goldberg has had it with cramps and had it with stoner jokes, and now she’s doing something about both. Goldberg announced Wednesday that she’s launching a medical-marijuana company with Maya Elisabeth, one of the leading “canna-businesswomen” in the field, with a line of products designed to provide relief from menstrual cramps.
The company, Maya & Whoopi, will offer cannabis edibles, tinctures, topical rubs, and a THC-infused bath soak that it describes as “profoundly relaxing.” Frankly that last one, even though your humble reporter is a man, sounds incredible.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, The View co-host said she wanted to create a product for women that was discreet, provided relief, and wouldn’t leave you glued to your couch. “For me, I feel like if you don’t want to get high high, this is a product specifically just to get rid of discomfort,” she says. “Smoking a joint is fine, but most people can’t smoke a joint and go to work.”
“This, you can put it in your purse,” Goldberg continues. “You can put the rub on your lower stomach and lower back at work, and then when you get home you can get in the tub for a soak or make tea, and it allows you to continue to work throughout the day.”
Goldberg has been outspoken about her medical-marijuana use in the past. In 2014, she wrote in The Cannabist about her love of her kush-filled vape pen, which she says gives her relief from glaucoma-related headaches without resorting to eating handfuls of Advil every day . “I started using the vape pen because I stopped smoking cigarettes about four years ago and discovered I couldn’t smoke a joint anymore,” she says. “The relief that I got with the vape pen was kind of different from what I got with smoking. I could control it much better.”
If it worked so well for headaches, surely it could be applied to other aches, so Goldberg got in touch with a couple of industry experts to see if there was already anything on the medical-marijuana market for cramps. They told her no, because it was seen as a niche. At this point in the interview, Goldberg stops to give an exasperated chuckle. “Hey, this niche is half the population on the earth,” she says. “This seems to be people flippantly blowing you off, which is what you get whenever you start talking about cramps. They weren’t thinking how do you target this? I have grown granddaughters who have severe cramps, so I said this is what I want to work on.”
Goldberg then got in touch with Elisabeth, the owner of the female-run medical-marijuana cannabis company Om Edibles in northern California, and the two were off to the races....  Goldberg stands by her product for the same reason she favors it over painkillers for headaches. She says you’ll be able to look at the ingredients on any Whoopi & Maya package and know exactly what’s in it. (Queen Victoria, by the way, supposedly used a marijuana tincture to relieve menstrual cramps, so it basically has the seal of approval from the British royalty.)
For those who don’t have much experience in the field, Whoopi & Maya will also include products with only cannabidiol (CBD), which lacks the euphoric effects commonly associated with marijuana. The whole line is scheduled to be available in April.  For now, thanks to the patchwork of state medical-marijuana laws and the continuing federal ban on the substance, it will only be available in California.

March 30, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"How Black People Are Being Shut Out of America's Weed Boom: Whitewashing the Green Rush"

Longform-original-24272-1458151819-7The title of this post is the headline of this terrific new BuzzFeed News piece authored by Amanda Chicago Lewis spotlighting how the marijuana industry has a notable look to it that ought to trouble progressives eager to see such an industry develop.  Here are a few extended exceprts from the must-read (and lengthy) article:

When Colorado’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 2009, Unique Henderson was psyched. He’d been smoking weed since he was 15, and he’d even learned how to grow, from his ex-girlfriend’s father. He spent $750 on classes about how to run a cannabis business, and then he and a friend both applied to work at a Denver pot shop.

Then only his friend was hired. Henderson was more than qualified, so why didn’t he get the gig? His friend asked the managers and came back with infuriating news: Henderson was not allowed to work in the legal cannabis industry because he had been caught twice with a joint’s worth of pot as a teenager back in Oklahoma, and as a result he has two drug possession felonies on his record.

For most jobs, experience will help you get ahead. In the marijuana industry, it’s not that simple. Yes, investors and state governments are eager to hire and license people with expertise in how to cultivate, cure, trim, and process cannabis. But it can’t be someone who got caught. Which for the most part means it can’t be someone who is black.

Even though research shows people of all races are about equally likely to have broken the law by growing, smoking, or selling marijuana, black people are much more likely to have been arrested for it. Black people are much more likely to have ended up with a criminal record because of it. And every state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana bans people with drug felonies from working at, owning, investing in, or sitting on the board of a cannabis business. After having borne the brunt of the “war on drugs,” black Americans are now largely missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization.

Nobody keeps official statistics on race and cannabis business ownership. But based on more than 150 interviews with dispensary owners, industry insiders, and salespeople who interact with a lot of pot shops, it appears that fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%.

At this rare and decisive moment in American history, state governments are literally handing control of a multibillion-dollar industry to a chosen few, creating wealth overnight. The pot trade has long been open to anyone with some seeds and some hustle, so there are more than enough cannabis experts out there to form a truly diverse industry — if only the laws weren’t systematically preventing thousands of qualified black people from participating....

Legalizing marijuana sounds revolutionary, but with every day that passes, the same class of rich white men that control all other industries are tightening their grip on this one, snatching up licenses and real estate and preparing for a windfall. First-mover advantage, they call it. That means that anyone who doesn’t make the risky leap to violate federal law and get involved now will miss out, forever. In a few years, when the land grab is over, the cannabis industry may become just another example in America’s never-ending cycle of racially motivated economic injustices....

Last year, Oregon made it easier to get past cannabis convictions expunged from people’s criminal records, partly with the goal of helping more people of color become eligible to participate in the recreational industry there. But attempts at giving anyone a leg up in the licensing process to account for past disparities have largely been unsuccessful. In Illinois, where people with drug felonies are not even allowed to be medical marijuana patients, the state gave a tiny boost to the licensing applications of minorities and women. But officials declined to say whether any of the applications that received the boost resulted in a license, as the records are not subject to disclosure laws. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland fought for a much more significant boost, but the state attorney general struck it from the law, saying it could be justified only in an existing industry with documented disparities.

The most promising legal attempts to acknowledge the disproportionate effects of marijuana prohibition are written into the 2016 recreational-use ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and California, which allow all cannabis felons to participate in the industry. In a groundbreaking turn, both initiatives also offer the closest thing possible to reparations for the war on drugs: earmarking tax dollars from the industry for job training and other programs in the communities that have been most affected by past narcotics policies — language designed to avoid the legal complications of explicitly mentioning race.

But even if California’s recreational-use initiative passes in November, the medical market there will still exclude most drug felons, a situation that frustrates California NAACP President Alice Huffman. “There are not many jobs out there for black folks,” she said. “There is an underground market for marijuana and a large part of our community participates in it. A lot of people in the inner city live on those drugs, and we don’t like to admit that.” Legalization, she said, “might be an opportunity for economic development for everyone in the community with a business mind.”

And yet many of the black people “with a business mind” who have tried to get involved in marijuana have already encountered the same racism and disproportionate policing as before pot became legal. BuzzFeed News spoke with over two dozen black cannabis entrepreneurs across the country and heard the same frustrations again and again: the secret decision-making that drives local politics, the unsavory euphemisms and selective application of existing law, and the maddening inability to distinguish bias from circumstance.

March 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interesting data on changing marijuana prohibition enforcement realities in New York City

Big_apple_NY-copyThe New York Post has this notable new piece on marijuana enforcement patterns in the Big Apple.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana arrests drop 40% this year as NYPD mellows out," and here are excerpts:

Cops are following through on Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to stop locking people up for carrying small amounts of pot. Police cuffed 18,120 stoners through Oct. 20 — a 40 percent plummet from the 29,906 pot busts in the same period last year, state Division of Criminal Justice records show.

At the same time, tickets for pot violations have surged. Cops handed out 13,081 low-level pot summonses through the end of September — and are on pace for more than 16,000 tickets. The NYPD issued 13,378 pot tickets for all of last year, and 13,316 tickets in 2013, records show. City Hall ordered cops last year to ticket suspects they caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana instead of arresting them after district attorneys and activists clamored for drug decriminalization.

Still, arrests outnumber tickets citywide, and there appears to be wide variations in enforcement. Bronx cops in the 45th Precinct in upscale Throggs Neck handed out 415 tickets for marijuana possession and made only 48 arrests in the first nine months of the year. Similarly, Staten Island cops in the 122nd Precinct ticketed 258 people and arrested only 18 suspects, city and state crime data show. But Bronx cops in the 52nd Precinct in Kingsbridge arrested 720 individuals but ticketed only 168 people in the first nine months of the year. And Queens cops made 259 pot arrests but only ticketed 79 people in South Jamaica’s 113th Precinct, the records show.

I find this basic data quite interesting, and I am hopeful there will soon be some serious resesrch done in conjunction with what this data reveal and suggest. For example, I would be interested in learning more about related economic realities, e.g., is the city as a whole and/or certain precincts starting to raise (considerably?) more revenue from issuing more tickets instead of making more arrests? And, of course, the relationships between these charing marijuana arrest rates and broader crime patterns could be fascinating if there were any notable correlations between the two. Finally, especially in light of historical patterns of disparate arrest rates for marijuana offenses for different races, I wonder if there are notable new racial dynamics in these notable new data.

November 22, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

First Native American tribe in marijuana business expecting monthy sales of $2 million

Sioux-tribeThis new article, headlined "Indian tribes set to begin marijuana sales," reports on the plans and expectations of the first Native American tribe entering the marijuana industry. Here are the details:

Tourists soon may be able to go to a South Dakota Indian reservation, buy a cigarette-sized marijuana joint for $10 to $15 and try their luck at the nearby casino.  In December, the Flandreau Santee Sioux expect to become the first tribe in the nation to grow and sell pot for recreational use, cashing in on the Obama administration’s offer to let all 566 federally recognized tribes enter the marijuana industry.

“The fact that we are first doesn’t scare us,” said tribal president Anthony “Tony” Reider, 38, who’s led the tribe for nearly five years.  “The Department of Justice gave us the go-ahead, similar to what they did with the states, so we’re comfortable going with it.”   The tribe plans to sell 60 strains of marijuana.  Reider is hoping for a flock of visitors, predicting that sales could bring in as much as $2 million per month....

Other tribes have been much more hesitant. “Look at Washington state, where marijuana’s completely legal as a matter of state law everywhere, and you still have tribes adhering to their prohibition policies,” said Robert Odawi Porter, former president of the Seneca Nation of New York.

It comes as no surprise to Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, who says he works on tribal issues every day.  “Not once has anybody ever brought up that they wanted to go down this track,” he said.  Heck speculated on one possible reason: “We’re all aware of the painful history of alcoholism in Indian Country.”

Tribes won the approval to sell pot in December, when the Justice Department said it would advise U.S. attorneys not to prosecute if tribes do a good job policing themselves and make sure that marijuana doesn’t leave tribal lands.  But federal prosecutors maintain the discretion to intervene, a worrisome prospect for many. “This administration is very pro-tribes, very supportive. What if the next one isn’t?” asked W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

He said many of the state’s 29 tribes also want assurances from federal officials that they won’t lose millions of dollars in grants and contracts if they sell a drug banned by Congress. “We’re not getting definitive answers back,” Allen said.  “There’s a number of tribes that are very aggressively looking into it and trying to sort through all the legal issues.  The rest of us are just kind of on the sidelines watching.”

Many tribal officials took note earlier this month when federal authorities seized 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana on tribal land in Modoc County, Calif.  Federal authorities said they raided the operation because the tribes planned to sell the pot on non-reservation land.  “That’s a warning shot to Indian County that this isn’t carte blanche to do whatever you want, even in a place like California,” said Blake Trueblood, director of business development for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, based in Arizona.

Trueblood said marijuana could give tribes an economic boost, much like gaming. He said tribes will have the best opportunities in states such as Florida and New York, where demand for pot is high but the drug has not been legalized for recreational use by state voters. “Ultimately, I think you’ll see legal marijuana in every state,” Trueblood said. “I think that’s fairly inevitable, even in very conservative places like Florida.”

Reider said his tribe plans to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Minors will be allowed to consume pot if they have a recommendation from a doctor. Under a tribal ordinance passed in June, adults 21 and over will be able to buy one gram of marijuana at a time for recreational use, no more than twice a day. “We really don’t want the stuff getting out to the street,” Reider said. “So we’re going to have like a bar setting where they’ll be able to consume small amounts while on the property.”

Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the California raid shows that it’s still “an extremely risky venture” for any tribe to start selling marijuana. And he said pot sales would fuel more addiction. “If we think alcohol has had a negative effect on young people on tribal lands, we ain’t seen nothing yet,” Sabet said.

As part of his homework, Reider said, he traveled to Colorado, the first state to sell recreational pot last year. He said he does not smoke marijuana but has concluded that it’s safer than alcohol, citing the behavior he witnessed at the Cannabis Cup, a marijuana celebration held in Denver in April. “It was a peaceful environment,” he said. “Everybody was overly friendly, overly talkative to each other and respectful of each other. Where if you go to a concert where there’s a lot of alcohol, you typically see fights and arguments.”

Reider said the tribe plans to begin growing 6,000 marijuana plants in October and is renovating a bowling alley to house a new consumption lounge that will include four private rooms. He said the tribe may consider allowing marijuana consumption in its casino in the future. Reider acknowledged that it’s “kind of an awkward feeling” to start selling pot, but he figures the tribe is well-equipped.

“When we started looking into it, it’s comical at first, but then you realize it’s an amazing business,” he said. “It’s highly regulated, and we’re used to the regulation from operating our casino. We’ve got security and surveillance.” Reider said profits from pot sales will be used to help tribal members. He said that could include the construction of a facility for those addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs or methamphetamine.

July 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 3, 2015

"The Legal Business Of Marijuana Is Growing But The Industry Lacks Diversity"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR Morning Edition segment.  Here is the piece's textual teaser:

The business of selling marijuana legally — for medical and recreational purposes — is expanding. But so are concerns that African-Americans are being shut out of this new industry.

July 3, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2015

"After Losing Custody Of Her Son, Medical Marijuana Advocate Could Lose Her Freedom"

Shona Banda mugshotThe title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes column by Jacob Sullum.  This piece reinforces my belief that family law and family lawyers need to be paying considerable attention  to marijuana reform developments and realities.  Here is an excerpt:

In Live Free or Die, a 2010 memoir recounting how cannabis oil saved her life, Shona Banda emphasizes the importance of “self-taught knowledge,” acquired by constantly asking questions and “looking at all of the angles of any information given.” Her son may have learned that lesson too well. Had he been less inquisitive, less prone to question authority, he might still be living with his mother, and she might not be facing criminal charges that could send her to prison for decades.

Banda, a 38-year-old massage therapist who appeared in criminal court for the first time on Tuesday, is free on a $50,000 bond while her case is pending. She was able to pay a bail bondsman the $5,000 fee necessary to stay out of jail thanks to donations from supporters across the country who were outraged by her situation. The case has drawn international attention partly because it features draconian penalties and a mother’s forcible separation from her 11-year-old son but also because of the way it started.

During a “drug education” program at his school in Garden City, Kansas, on March 24, Banda’s son heard some things about marijuana that did not jibe with what he had learned about the plant from his mother. So he spoke up, suggesting that cannabis was less dangerous and more beneficial than the counselors running the program were claiming. That outburst of skepticism precipitated a visit to the principal’s office, where the fifth-grader was interrogated about his mother’s cannabis consumption. School officials called Child Protective Services (CPS), which contacted police, who obtained a warrant to search Banda’s house based on what her son had said.

As translated by the Garden City Police Department, Banda’s son “reported to school officials that his mother and other adults in his residence were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring in his residence.” From Banda’s perspective, what her son had observed was her consumption of a medicine that had “fixed” her Crohn’s disease, alleviated her pain, and restored her energy. “I had an autoimmune disease,” she says in a 2010 YouTube video during which she displays the scars left by multiple surgeries aimed at relieving her crippling gastrointestinal symptoms. “With Crohn’s disease, it’s like having a stomach flu that won’t go away.” But after she started swallowing capsules containing homemade cannabis oil, she says, her life was transformed. “I’m working for the first time in four years,” she says. “I’m hiking. I’m swimming. I’m able to play with my kids [two sons, one of whom is now 18]….Anything beats raising your kids from a couch and lying there in pain all day.” Banda’s personal experience aside, there is scientific evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

As far as the police were concerned, none of that was relevant, since Kansas is not one of the 23 states that allow medical use of cannabis. In the cops’ view, what they found at Banda’s house — “approximately 1 ¼ pounds of suspected marijuana” — was contraband, not medicine. And when CPS caseworkers took Banda’s son away from her, they were protecting him, not kidnapping him. “The most important thing here is the child’s well-being,” Capt. Randy Ralston told the Associated Press. “That is why it is a priority for us, just because of the danger to the child.”

The precise nature of that danger remains mysterious. Ralston says “the items taken from the residence” — the marijuana, plus “a lab for manufacturing cannabis oil on the kitchen table and kitchen counters, drug paraphernalia and other items related to the packaging and ingestion of marijuana” — were “within easy reach of the child.” But police came to Banda’s house in the middle of the afternoon, so that detail is less alarming than it sounds. “She was producing oil during the day, while her son was in school,” says Sarah Swain, Banda’s criminal defense attorney.

So far Banda has been unsuccessful at regaining custody of her son, who is living for the time being with her husband, from whom she is separated. “He is in state custody and has been since the beginning of the case,” Swain says. “He is placed [temporarily] with the father.” A family court judge ultimately will decide whether it is in the boy’s best interest to be reunited with his mother.

But as Swain notes, that process will be “moot” if “Shona goes to prison.” The charges against her, which Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier announced on June 5, include two misdemeanors—endangering a child and possession of drug paraphernalia—and three felonies: unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of equipment used to manufacture a controlled substance, and distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property. The distribution charge, a “drug severity level 1 felony,” carries the longest maximum sentence: 17 years. Swain says Kansas law allows sentences for different offenses to be imposed consecutively as long as the total term does not exceed twice the longest maximum, which means Banda could be sent to prison for as long as 34 years. Richmeier, apparently based on the assumption that any sentences would be served concurrently, says the maximum term Banda faces is 17 years.

It seems unlikely that Banda, who has no criminal record, would receive a sentence as long as 34 or even 17 years. But a substantial prison sentence is a real possibility given the charges she faces. “When your cure is illegal,” says a caption at the beginning of Banda’s 2010 video, “you are forced to make the choice to live free or die.” If Richmeier has her way, living free will no longer be an option for Banda.

June 19, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Whites Just 8% of New York City's Marijuana Arrests"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Newsweek article.  Here are excerpts:

In New York City, misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests were dramatically lower between January and March 2015 than in the same period of 2014—2,960 compared to 7,110, respectively—but stark racial disparities persist among those arrested, new data obtained by Newsweek indicate.

During the first quarter of 2015, African-Americans were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession 1,494 times: That’s 50.47 percent of the total. Hispanics were arrested 1,130 times, or 38.18 percent, and together these two groups accounted for 88.65 percent of the total. Meanwhile, whites totaled 228 of these arrests (7.70 percent) and 79 (2.67 percent) of the arrestees listed as Asian/Indian, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In terms of the racial breakdown, this isn’t all that different from the first quarter of 2014. Of those 7,110 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, 3,370 (47.4 percent) were African-American and 2,791 (39.25 percent) were Hispanic. So, these two group comprised 86.65 percent of misdemeanor marijuana arrests early in 2014, suggesting the racial disparity in these arrests has grown slightly this year. Whites were arrested 650 times (9.14 percent) and Asian/Indian were arrested 236 times (3.32 percent) during this period. (Some arrestees did not list race-ethnicity data.)

The year-over-year decrease in arrests follows the announcement in November by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner William Bratton that they would issue summonses for small amounts of marijuana rather than collar them. The rule applies to those caught with 25 grams or less of pot, “so long as there is no warrant for the individual’s arrest and the person has identification.” Police can arrest those in possession of 25 grams or less “if the marijuana is burning, if the type of possession indicates intent to sell, if the individual has an outstanding warrant, or if the individual is in a location with special consideration, like a school.”...

New York Police Department officers made 26,385 misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests in 2014. That was down from 28,954 in 2013. Both years, African-Americans and Hispanics comprised some 86 percent of these arrests. Asked about the numbers, a department official responds that these statistics do not reflect racially motivated policing, but result from data driven crime enforcement.

“The NYPD endeavors to assign its resources based, in considerable part, on an analysis of various conditions in different areas of the city. Among these conditions include level of crime, both major crime and lesser offenses. Another significant consideration relates to the nature and number of local citizen and community complaints in the various neighborhoods. This includes calls to 911, calls to 311 and complaints voiced by members of local precinct community groups,” the official says.

“Analysis has clearly shown that a significantly higher level of these conditions and complaints exist in those areas of New York City where there is also a high minority population. Based on these crime-related conditions, as well as complaints, the NYPD attempts to assign its resources to appropriately address these demands. A higher level of police presence in any particular area in which there is a greater level of offenses, in public, will often result in more enforcement activity.”

June 14, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrific NBC coverage of African Americans and the modern marijuana industry

Black_and_green_slate2_2d6258b7ff6757fd04ca12d1dd45030a.nbcnews-ux-840-480Regular readers likely already know that I find extra interesting and important the intersection of marijuana reform and civil rights and social justice issues.  Consequently, I have been especially pleased to see that that NBC has been running a number of article under the banner "Black & Green, A Series About African Americans & the Marijuana Industry."  This piece, headlined "Post-Legalization Many African Americans 'Just Say No' To Marijuana Industry," is the latest in the series, and it gets started this way:

It's not surprising that many African Americans are leery about cashing in on the legal cannabis industry. Numerous reports show that the black community continues to pay a high price for it in the criminal justice system even where marijuana is legal.

A 2013 ACLU report noted that on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person," even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates." Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations, concluded the report, touted as the first to examine marijuana possession arrest rates by race for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) and their respective counties from 2001 to 2010.

"There's more of a negative stigma surrounding this industry — the [cannabis] culture and religion [in the black community] plays a heavy factor," says Lakisha Jenkins, president of the California Cannabis Industry Association, which has been a part of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) since 2013. The Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization billed as the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S., has formed a committee focused on figuring out ways to draw more people of color to the industry. "Since we're the ones who've been incarcerated [the most for marijuana possession and use] it makes it rather difficult [for some people of color] to see it as a positive and viable industry," says Jenkins, a committee member.

Here are the other notable piece in the series so far: 

Part I: Six Reasons African Americans Aren't Breaking Into Cannabis Industry

Part II: Capitalizing On Cannabis: Meet Colorado's Black 'Potrepreneurs'

Part III: Green Chips: African American Investment in Marijuana Marketplace

May 26, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Racial disparities persist in Phila. marijuana arrests"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent article via Philly.com.  Here are excerpts:

There is a robust, national conversation about police and justice reform. And by decriminalizing marijuana, Philadelphia is getting a glimpse of what that entails.

Last October, Philly became America's largest city to make marijuana possession a civil, rather than a criminal, violation. The result has been a dramatic reduction in arrests....  They are down more than 70 percent.

For decades, Philly police put anyone caught with anything from a roach up to 30 grams into handcuffs and a holding cell. The city’s new decrim policy gives officers the option of issuing a Code Violation Notice: $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public.  The result has meant fewer interactions between cannabis consumers and police.

It’s also saving tens of thousands of hours of police time -- and a big chunk of tax dollars. The RAND Corporation this year released a that calculated a single custodial arrest costs $1,266. Using the RAND numbers, Philly may have already saved more than $1 million under the new policy from January to March this year compared to 2013.  RAND estimated that the cost of issuing citations is a mere $20....

The shift in policy has allowed police to spend more time on other crimes. Cocaine and heroin possession arrests are combined in the same code in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System [and] while marijuana arrests have decreased there has been an uptick in arrests for harder drugs....

One of the most compelling reasons that City Council took on pot decriminalization was the disturbing racial disparity specifically in marijuana arrests.  Unfortunately, that has not changed ... [as] Black residents are still 7 times more likely to be arrested for weed than white residents. 

Some are quick to say that this disparity exists because police are heavily patrolling in neighborhoods of color. But that would mean other arrests, especially for other drugs, would have the same disparity. But that is not the case [as data shows] more white people got arrested for cocaine and heroin in Philly so far this year.  

[T]there is no statistical or procedural reason that can explain the continued brunt of marijuana enforcement on black residents. It highlights part of a bigger problem with urban policing, one that will take more than legalizing marijuana to solve.

May 20, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Disconcerting data show problems and persistence of "racial grass gap" in Chicago

Download (1)This important Chicago Reader article by Mick Dumke spotlights issues at the intersection of marijuana reform and racial/social justice that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The piece is headlined "Will marijuana decriminalization end the racial grass gap?: As the politics of pot shift, questions of justice remain," and merits a full read for anyone interested in these issues. Here are excerpts:

Many cannabis enthusiasts saw it as another reason to light up: in a span of three days, the Cook County state's attorney and the Illinois house both took steps to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.

But in some parts of Chicago, people were still getting busted for pot. Police made at least 212 arrests for misdemeanor possession that week, a rate of 30 per day, according to Chicago police data. More than 90 percent were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Amid a national debate on race and the criminal justice system, the politics of pot are clearly blowing in a new direction. Simply put, it's no longer wise for an elected official to call for cracking down on low-level drug offenses. But the shift has also created a jumble of laws and policies that continue to send some people to jail for the same behavior that's overlooked, laughed off, or even celebrated for others.

It's the latest incarnation of what the Reader calls the grass gap: while people smoke marijuana all over Chicago — and Illinois, and beyond — almost everyone busted for it is black.

Ending this racial imbalance has become a top goal of elected officials and policymakers who see it as emblematic of the failed war on drugs. "Anything that takes a meaningful step toward not trapping black and brown men like myself in a cycle of poverty and prison, I'm behind," says state representative Christian Mitchell, a chief sponsor of the house bill to loosen pot penalties.

So far, though, the gap has remained stubbornly in place. In 2011 my colleague Ben Joravsky and I reported that African-Americans accounted for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Chicago, leaving thousands with criminal records for doing something that routinely went unpunished in other parts of the city.

Citing those findings, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 to go easier on some pot possessors. Under the new rules, police officers were allowed to issue tickets to those caught with up to 15 grams (about half an ounce) instead of hauling them to the station to be booked and locked up.

The measure succeeded in reducing busts. In 2010, police made more than 22,000 arrests for misdemeanor possession. Last year the total fell to about 12,800, the lowest in two decades, according to police data. Yet the grass gap hardly budged. In 2014, 76 percent of those arrested for low-level pot possession were black, 19 percent were Hispanic, and 5 percent were white — almost exactly the same breakdown as before the new rules were enacted.

Disparities existed almost everywhere in the city, even in areas with relatively small black populations. African-Americans accounted for a majority of pot possession arrests in all but 97 of the city's 268 police beats. In contrast, though more whites live in Chicago, they made up the majority of arrests in only 13 beats — and in ten of those, fewer than ten people were arrested.

Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, points to the drop in total arrests as a sign of the department's commitment to making enforcement "even more effective and fair." "The City's cannabis ticketing initiative has already kept thousands out of jail," he wrote in an e-mail. Unfortunately, thousands are still going there.

After being arrested, offenders are held in police lockup for hours. Many are then transferred to the county jail before they're given a court date and released. Most misdemeanor marijuana cases are eventually thrown out of court at the discretion of prosecutors and judges. Those that move forward usually involve repeat offenders, but not always. People who've spent a day or two behind bars often plead guilty in return for a sentence of the time they've already served.

All told, 1,263 misdemeanor marijuana cases resulted in jail time last year in Cook County, according to data from the circuit court clerk's office. In almost all of these cases — 84 percent — the defendants were African-American.

In short, while pot has essentially been decriminalized for some people, it still lands others behind bars. And in addition to being unfair, the system is expensive. These misdemeanor pot cases cost county taxpayers approximately $38 million in court and jail expenses in 2014....

Cops say the grass gap is the result of aggressive patrols in high-crime neighborhoods. Officers charged with reducing violence pull people aside for interviews — Chicago's version of stop and frisk. While arrests consume two to four hours of an officer's time, police say they can also be useful in leveraging drug sellers and gang members for information, or simply getting them off the street for awhile.

When low-level possession is decriminalized, police will probably issue more tickets — but even then African-Americans will bear the brunt of enforcement. That's what's happened in Chicago. As marijuana arrests fell, the number of cannabis citations shot up from 1,074 in 2013 to 4,032 in 2014, police data show. And the vast majority — 78 percent — were issued to African-Americans. Just 16 percent went to Hispanics and 5 percent to whites.

When possible, cops will arrest offenders on different charges — such as possessing more than 15 grams, or possessing with the intent to deliver, the formal charge for dealing. Police, prosecutors, and politicians acknowledge that decriminalization won't address the economic roots of the grass gap either. Many of those prosecuted in the last couple years are repeat offenders who appear to have been selling to make money, according to police reports and court records.

A few prior posts on racial justice and marijuana reform:

May 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Considering marijuana prohibition and reform through the lens of minority communities

As mentioned in prior posts here and here, students in my marijuana law school seminar spend the last few weeks of class presenting readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for their class project(s).   This week, one group presentation will be focused on the impact of marijuana prohibition and of marijuana reform in minority communities, and students have highlighted these research findings and stories:

April 8, 2015 in Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Prez Obama talking about pot policies and politics again

As detailed in this new NPR story, headlined "Obama, 2016 Contenders Deal With Changing Attitudes On Marijuana," President Obama had occasion to talk about marijuana reform again in a new interview with Vice News. Here are the basics:

The divide between Republicans and Democrats on pot politics is narrowing, President Barack Obama said in an interview Monday.  "What I'm encouraged by is you're starting to see not just liberal Democrats but also some very conservative Republicans recognize this doesn't make sense including sort-of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party," the president said in an interview with Vice News.

During the wide-ranging interview, Obama noted that the American criminal justice system is "so heavily skewed toward cracking down on nonviolent drug offenders" and has has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, as well as taking a huge financial toll on states.  But, Obama added, Republicans are beginning to see that cost.

"So we may be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side," Obama said. "At a certain point if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana."

Reclassifying marijuana as what's called a Schedule 2 drug, rather than a Schedule 1 drug is part of a bill being pushed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican weighing a potential White House bid, as well as Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

The unlikely trio of lawmakers unveiled their bill, which would also remove federal prohibitions on medical marijuana in the more than a quarter of states where it's already legal, last week.  "We, as a society, are changing our opinions on restricting people's choices as far as medical treatments," Paul, who has been a vocal critic of the so-called war on drugs, said last week.  "There is every reason to try and give more ease to people in the states who want this — more freedom for states and individuals," Paul added.

Paul's emphasis on states' rights is in line with the Republican belief that the federal government should keep its hands out of local affairs.  But this is also a political sweet spot as a majority of Americans back more liberal marijuana laws....

"Members of Congress tend to be between five to 10 years behind the public on this issue," Dan Riffle, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview.  "Medical marijuana is more popular in this country than baseball and apple pie, and it's certainly more popular than Congress.  What this bill means, and what it shows, is Congress is finally catching up to the public on this issue and recognizes that this is a slam dunk."

March 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement

Despite a New Year's resolution to resume regular posts to this blog, I have somehow managed not to write a single one until now.  Hopefully I'll be able to pick things back up with regular contributions.  

I'll start with this quick link to a guest blog post I wrote for the American Constitution Society's two-week blog symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.  My post looks at some of the causes of the racial disparity in marijuana arrests and why the problem is so hard to correct.  Here's how my post begins:

In their influential 1970 study of marijuana prohibition in the United States, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread found that “racial prejudice” was the “most prominent” factor in the passage of early marijuana prohibition laws.  When states began passing these laws in the first few decades of the 1900s, it was not uncommon to see legislatures expressly link marijuana prohibition with race.

 

Reporting on a1929 hearing on a marijuana prohibition bill in Montana, for example, the Montana Standard told readers:

 

“There was fun in the House Committee during the week when the Marihuana bill came up for consideration.  Marihuana is Mexican opium, a plant used by Mexicans and cultivated by Indians.  ‘When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,’ explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, ‘He thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.  I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights in the ‘Bower of Roses’ or put on tournaments for the favor of ‘Spanish Rose’ after a couple of whiffs of Marihuana.’ Everybody laughed and the bill was recommended for passage.”

 

It is rare to see anyone rely on anything approaching this sort of overt racism in the debate over marijuana laws today.  Indeed, nearly everyone ― prohibitionists and legalization advocates alike ― agrees that racial disparities in marijuana enforcement (and drug enforcement more broadly) are undesirable.  Most also acknowledge the issue is a cause for real concern and action.

 

And yet, disparities in marijuana enforcement persist. 

Click over to the ACS blog for the rest.

February 20, 2015 in Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NAACP advocating for full legalization of marijuana ASAP in Nevada

Download (5)As reported in this local article, headlined "NAACP jumps into Nevada marijuana debate," a notable leader is making a notable pitch for marijuana legalization in a notable state. Here are the details:

Jeffery Blanck, the president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has jumped into the legislative debate over the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. Blanck has sent a letter to all legislators, urging them to legalize recreational use of marijuana during the 2015 Legislature.

Nevada lawmakers have the first 40 days of the 2015 Legislature to legalize recreational use. If that doesn't happen, the measure will be placed on the 2016 general-election ballot, since the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association has already collected enough signatures on a petition to do that.

In his letter, Blanck noted that the federal government has wasted millions of dollars on its "war on drugs." And when it comes to marijuana, that war in Nevada has been waged more against black citizens than white citizens. "The use of marijuana by blacks and whites is approximately the same," Blanck wrote in his letter to lawmakers. "Yet, if you are black and live in Nevada, you are four-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than if you are white.

"This is the 11th-worst disparity in arrest rates for marijuana possession in the country," Blanck wrote. "This is nothing to be proud of, seeing how we have historically been referred to as the 'Mississippi of the West.' "

Blanck told lawmakers that prisons populations have sky-rocketed because of drug possession laws and that the current system of punishment for low-level drugs crimes disproportionally hits blacks harder than whites. "It is time to end the failed war on marijuana," Blanck wrote. "Nevada needs to legalize its use and our federal government needs to repeal its listing as a dangerous drug. We need to stop wasting our hard-earned tax dollars on a program that provides no benefit and disproportionately impacts our black residents."...

Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick, who is set to retire on Jan. 4, continues to see any form of legal marijuana – medical or recreational – as a bad thing....

Gammick was asked if it would be better for Nevada to wait on the legalization of recreational marijuana, and see how issues surrounding recreational marijuana are handled in Colorado and Washington....

Gammick replied: "I have in my office a 150-page report out of the Office of Justice on Colorado and all of the issues they are dealing with," Gammick said. "They are having children OD (overdose) on this stuff. They are having children steal it from their grandparents and they're taking it to school and selling it. They are having all kinds of problems, not to include all the robberies and all of the other stuff going on."

Gammick continues to oppose legal marijuana of any kind. "As far as I'm concerned, let's never do it (legalize it) because it is a dangerous drug," he said. "But you can't seem to get that across. Everybody seems to want to toke – not everybody – but there are enough people who want to toke up and sit around and be blown out of their brains…I keep asking folks, do you want that to be your pilot in an airplane?"

December 28, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New York City mayor announces new policy concerning marijuana enforcement

ImagesAs reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Concerns in Criminal Justice System as New York City Eases Marijuana Policy," the NYC's new mayor and old sherrif are bringing a new approach to marijuana enforcement to the Big Apple. Here are the basics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.

Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January. While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.

“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”

For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests.

But the change, detailed in a five-page Police Department “operations order” that is set to go into effect on Nov. 19, immediately raised questions and concerns in many corners of the criminal justice system. It directs officers who encounter people with 25 grams or less of marijuana, in public view, to issue a noncriminal violation in most instances, rather than arrest them for a misdemeanor....

As they headed into a meeting with departmental leaders to hear about the new policy, some police union leaders said the changes seemed to run counter to the “broken windows” strategy of policing, long championed by Mr. Bratton as a way to prevent serious crime by cracking down on low-level offenses. “I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” said Michael J. Palladino, the head of the city’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing police detectives. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”...

At the news conference, Mr. Bratton said officers would still have to use discretion. If marijuana was being burned or smoked, an arrest would be made, he said. If offenders had an “active warrant,” or were wanted, or could not produce proper identification, they would be taken to the station house, he said. Officials said violations would not constitute a criminal record. They said court appearances, within weeks of the violation, could lead to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense....

Critics have said the police and prosecutors have been improperly charging people with possession of marijuana in public view, often after officers ask them to empty their pockets during street stops.

In 2011, Raymond W. Kelly, then the police commissioner, issued an order reminding officers to refrain from such arrest practices. Mr. Bratton said such practices were not now in use and the problem had been fixed. By now, the number of marijuana arrests has decreased, roughly mirroring the drastic reduction in the frequency of police stop, question and frisk encounters.

Of the 394,539 arrests made last year, marijuana arrests totaled slightly more than 28,000, or a little less than 10 percent of all arrests made in the city. That is down from 50,000 a few years ago.

November 11, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wisconsin police chief advocate marijuana legalization to fund treatment for harder drugs

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This Wisconsin State Journal article, headlined "Police chief: Legalize marijuana, use tax revenue to fund drug treatment," reports on a local police chief's notable response to reports highlighting racial disparities on who gets arrested for marijuana offenses. Here are excerpts from the article:

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval endorsed the legalization of marijuana last week, saying the drug should be regulated and taxed, with revenues used to fund treatment programs for harder drugs.

The comments came during an interview with the State Journal Wednesday about data showing African-Americans in Madison were arrested or cited for marijuana offenses at about 12 times the rate of whites in the city.

Koval called efforts to enforce laws against marijuana an “abject failure,” and said the same about the broader war on drugs. “We’ve done such an abysmal job using marijuana as a centerpiece of drug enforcement, that it’s time to reorder and triage the necessities of what’s more important now,” Koval said.

Referring to the states of Washington and Colorado, which have legalized the drug for recreational use and sell it at state-regulated stores, he said it was time for Wisconsin to consider doing the same.

Koval said he would like to see the state “acknowledge the failure” of marijuana prohibition and instead focus on the “infinite amount of challenges” posed by drugs such as heroin. Taxes from the legal sale of marijuana, he said, would create state revenue that could then be used to fund drug treatment and expand the capacity of drug court programs that divert addicts from the criminal justice system....

The cause has not advanced as far in Wisconsin, though, where the drug remains completely illegal. State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, introduced a bill to legalize marijuana earlier this year, but the legislation stands little chance of becoming law.

September 15, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Are cities being racially discriminatory in banning legal marijuana?"

Marijuana-map-620x410The title of this post is the headline of this very intriguing piece from the Seattle Times, which spotlights a very interesting new lawsuit filed in Washington concerning a local ban on marijuana sales.   Here are the details:

The growing number of cities and counties in Washington opting out of Washington’s marijuana legalization experiment is eating away at the foundation of Initiative 502, as a Seattle Times editorial in Thursday’s paper suggested. The lack of stores in widening swaths of the state perpetuates the black market and maintains underground access of youth.

A new lawsuit filed in Benton County Superior Court against Kennewick’s ban takes the argument further: Bans are also racially discriminatory. The suit, filed on behalf of a would-be marijuana company, suggests that Kennewick’s ban (as well as similar prohibitions in all three Tri-Cities and Franklin County) push the underground marijuana trade to poorer neighborhoods. Since marijuana is a cash cow for gangs, they’ll continue to battle for turf.

The lawsuit makes some broad assumptions, including that white marijuana users primarily buy from “friends,” and most transactions occur in private homes.... “Minorities and minority children, who reside in racially segregated, high poverty rate neighborhoods in Kennewick, where black market transactions do not occur in private between friends, but instead on the public streets, are therefore disproportionately subjected to violence as a product of the black market trade as compared to whites.”

Attorney Liz Hallock, who filed the suit on behalf of American Weed LLC, summed it up: “This is white people who don’t see the effect of a ban on their street corners.”

The case is scheduled for a hearing next week. Whether it is successful or not, the legality of these municipal bans is likely headed to the state Supreme Court, as another lawsuit, against Fife, is being directly appealed to the high court. These cases will hinge on a lack of specific authority in I-502 for cities and counties to opt out. Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a non-binding opinion in January that they have an implied right under the state Constitution, which spurred jurisdictions queasy about marijuana to drop the curtain on I-502.

The ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, the architect of the initiative, believes the question about the bans falls to the Legislature: “Are we going to allow opt-out (from I-502), and under what circumstances?” State liquor laws, for example, require an alcohol ban to be put to voters. If state law now treats marijuana like liquor, shouldn’t voters get a say on pot bans?

The Legislative debate is likely to center on whether cities and counties get some of the 25 percent marijuana excise taxes in exchange for accepting state-licensed I-502 businesses. Holcomb said municipalities should have to justify their costs, because legalization, in theory at least, would lower criminal justice costs. “Cities and counties need to make the case and tie the request to the needs,” she said.

Until the Legislature, or the court, acts, the bans are here to stay.

September 13, 2014 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Ending Marijuana Prohibition Must Take a Historical Perspective"

The title of this post is the title of this potent and provocative new Huffington Post piece by Jelani Hayes. The piece demands a full read, and here are excerpts:

Underlying marijuana prohibition is a familiar philosophy: to preserve social order and white supremacy and secure profits for an influential few, it is permissible, even advisable, to construct profit-bearing institutions of social control.  Historically, this philosophy has been advanced by governmental action, guided by special interests. The traditional tactics: manufacturing mass fear, criminalizing the target or demoting them to a sub-citizen status, and profiting from their subjugation.

Cannabis prohibition did all three.  The [New YorkTimes editorial board dedicated an entire article to explaining this phenomenon.  Part 3of the series begins, "The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria in the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that it is almost impervious to reason."...

The United States should legalize marijuana. It should also end the drug war, which would be a tremendous and beautiful accomplishment, but it would not be enough.

The war on drugs is a mechanism of social control — not unlike African slavery, Jim Crow, alcohol Prohibition, or the systematic relegation of immigrants to an illegal status or substandard existence.  Different in their nature and severity, all of these institutions were tools used to control and profit from the criminalization, regulation, and dehumanization of minority communities.  Legalizing marijuana will not alone rid society of the tendency to turn fear into hatred, hatred into regulation, and regulation into profit. To address this cycle, we must put cannabis prohibition (and the drug war) in its historical context and connect the dots where appropriate.

Already we have seen that the reality of legalization does not alone ensure justice or equality. As law professor and best selling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander points out, thousands of black men remain in jail or prison in Colorado (where licit weed has been on the market since January) while white men make money from the now legal marijuana market -- selling the drug just as the incarcerated men had done.  She warns that legalization without reparation is not sufficient, drawing the parallel to what happened to black Americans post-Reconstruction.  "And after a brief period of reconstruction a new caste system was imposed — Jim Crow — and another extraordinary movement arose and brought the old Jim Crow to its knees...Americans said, OK, we'll stop now. We'll take down the whites-only signs, we'll stop doing that," she said.  "But there were not reparations for slavery, not for Jim Crow, and scarcely an acknowledgement of the harm done except for Martin Luther King Day, one day out of the year.  And I feel like, here we go again."

Alexander's historical perspective is warranted because despite the size and intensity of marijuana prohibition, of the drug war in its entirety, its purpose is not unlike that of Jim Crow or other structural forms of social control and oppression. The drug war was never about drugs.  Therefore, our solution to it can't be either.

We must frame the campaigns for cannabis legalization across the states as civil rights movements — as institutional reform efforts — so that the public might demand justice oriented outcomes from the campaigns....

In order to undue the damage — to the extent that that is possible — that the criminalization of marijuana specifically and the war on drugs more broadly have caused, we must pay reparations and retroactively apply reformed drug laws. More importantly, we must undermine the philosophies that allow for the construction of institutional harm, and we must be able to identity them when they creep up again and be ready to take action against them, to arm our minds and our bodies against the next wave of social oppression  — whatever and wherever it may be and to whomever it may be applied. This is my plea to make history matter so that it doesn't repeat itself — again, and again, and again.

August 21, 2014 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)