Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Guardian commentary authored by Alex Halperin.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been known as dope, grass, herb, gage, tea, reefer, chronic. B ut the most familiar name for the dried buds of the cannabis plant, and one of the few older terms still in use today, is “marijuana”.

For the prohibitionists of nearly a century ago, the exotic-sounding word emphasized the drug’s foreignness to white Americans and appealed to the xenophobia of the time. As with other racist memes, a common refrain was that marijuana would lead to miscegenation.

Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the prohibition effort, is credited as saying back then: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”.  At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use....

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown.  According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana....

As with other symbols of past oppression, from the pink triangle to the n-word, there’s a powerful tradition of marginalized communities redeploying symbols of their oppression.  It’s these communities – not businesses – who have the moral authority to decide if marijuana is a racist word which should be avoided or an important reminder of a more racist past.

January 29, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Is marijuana legalization really just "another Jim Crow law"?

RonriceThe notable question in the title of this post is prompted by the last sentence of this notable recent commentary, headlined "Marijuana Legalization Is Not the Answer to the Injustices of the War on Drugs," authored by New Jersey State Senator Ronald L. Rice. Here is the bulk of the piece (with one particular line stressed for follow-up commentary):

In 1982 President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. He promised to fund a major campaign against drugs and to develop a plan to carry out his war.  Reagan’s declaration followed that of President Richard Nixon, whose effort to vilify people of color and tear apart their communities began when he used those same words in 1971.  The ‘war on drugs’ theme of these administrations was the political rhetoric that ultimately became the statutory and legislative foundation over the years for the United States’ domestic policy.

The campaigns launched by these administrations were designed to change the public’s perception of the use of drugs. They were intended to demonstrate that the administrations of Nixon and Reagan were concerned about public safety, crime prevention and victims of crime.  As a result, African-Americans and Latinos became the target.  And the public perception became that these groups were responsible for the immoral habits, practices and crime such as drug use, possession, sales, prostitution, and bad conduct in general.

The war on drugs was a racially divisive campaign that put countless numbers of black people behind bars, became a political tool for the government and a money-making venture for too many in America. African-American communities to this day suffer from discriminatory practice of mass incarceration of black people.  The use and violation of drug laws by whites and blacks are reasonably proportionate; however, the enforcement effort disproportionately affects minorities.

In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union found that in New Jersey, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites, despite similar usage rates. There is also disparity in sentencing, with blacks often receiving longer and more severe sentencing, for the same type and similarly-situated crimes.

In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, black people are still arrested at a rate of nearly three times greater than whites for a violation of marijuana laws. There are more children being exposed with calls to poison control centers increasing, nearly half of the cases a result of a child ingesting an edible product. There are more babies born with THC in their system due to the mother’s use of marijuana than there were prior to legalization of recreational marijuana, and much we don’t know about the extent of harm this could cause.  And there is a lot of money being made by business people and investors, who are largely white, at the expense of people of color. Their profits are also coming at the expense of newborn babies, children and the poor....

Legalizing recreational marijuana would without a doubt produce in New Jersey’s urban communities, more so than any other community, unintended consequences.  It would continue the problems we are seeing now, such as racial profiling and disparity in arrests and incarceration.  It would mean increased homelessness and undoubtedly it would mean increased crime.  It would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is not the answer to the injustice, disparity issues and the discriminatory arrests of people of color.   We can begin the process of righting the wrong by passing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana use and possession, releasing people from jails and prisons who are incarcerated for use and possession of marijuana, and by expunging their records.

This we can do without passing another Jim Crow law that disproportionately harms people who historically have seen the most suffering as a result of the War on Drugs.

I have reprinted much of this commentary because I consider Senator Rice's perspective very interesting, important and debatable, particularly in light of the fact that many advocates for marijuana reform believe marijuana reforma can and will help ameliorate "the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs."

If Senator Rice were only to state that legalization and commercialization of marijuana has not yet sufficiently remedied drug-war inequities and that reform efforts must make such remediation a priority concern, this commentary would likely be widely embraced by many marijuana reform advocates.  But the assertion that legalization and commercialization of marijuana "would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs" is a more forceful claim that does not seem supported by existing data (e.g., such as this report indicating more minority marijuana executives than minority executives in other industries).  Nevertheless, it is both interesting and valuable to hear from a legislator clearly concerned about the racialized reality of the drug war who is also clearly concerned about racialized realities an impact of marijuana reform efforts.

January 23, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Jersey paper discusses "The moral case for legal pot"

With the election of a new governor, New Jersey is an especially interesting new state to watch as a legislative debate over recreational marijuana reform heats up.   This morning the state's leading paper, the Newark Star-Ledger, weighed in with this editorial headlined "The moral case for legal pot." Here are excerpts:

Gov. Phil Murphy wants to legalize pot in his first 100 days in office, but needs the votes to do it — and is facing some opposition even within his own party.

It's especially troubling to hear Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), who chairs the black caucus, and a Newark bishop claim that marijuana legalization will hurt black communities. In fact, it's quite the opposite, which is why so many black leaders and groups like the NAACP support legalization.  So let's address the lingering skepticism.

First, there's no evidence that legalizing marijuana for adults will "gut the best and brightest in many neighborhoods," as Newark Bishop Jethro James put it, in a sermon he invited Murphy to attend on Martin Luther King Day. On the contrary, it's the criminalization of marijuana that has gutted the best and brightest, as many other black leaders point out.

While blacks use pot at the same rate as whites, they are arrested nearly four times more often for it — needlessly ensnaring them in our criminal justice system.  It's the kind of injustice that would outrage MLK.  The real moral issue is "keeping people in jail for something they can now go out and purchase legally in many states," said Rev. Tim Jones of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, who supports legalization.

Some legislators, like Rice, argue that instead of making pot legal and taxing it, we could simply decriminalize it — permit people to have a small amount, instead of arresting them.

This would end the arrests of pot users, but we'd still have the same illegal market. Those who sell pot in places like Newark would still get shot in turf battles between dealers and people would still buy dangerous and illegal marijuana on the streets. The city also wouldn't have the tax revenue from controlled and regulated sales, which could be used for things like schools or anti-drug education....

It is true that after Colorado legalized marijuana, the number of young minorities arrested for pot offenses went up 58 percent. That's disturbing, but an increase in arrests does not mean an increase in drug use by kids. On the contrary: There was a slight decrease in youth drug abuse after legalization in Colorado, research showed. So what would account for the surge in youth arrests? A shift in policing strategy, one we must prevent here....

In the end, this isn't about big marijuana profits, as Rice and Bishop James claim.  The best argument for legalization isn't money — it's morality.  Prohibition taught us that making alcohol illegal caused even greater moral problems, like the rise of organized crime.  The same is true of marijuana, Rev. Jones says: "The more it's controlled and out in the open, the better for our communities."

January 21, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Maryland report details basis for marijuana measures to "remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses"

Maryland-Medical-Marijuana_thumbnailAs reported in this local article, headlined "State consultant finds grounds to consider race in awarding medical marijuana licenses," a notable report focused on the Maryland business arena was released yesterday. Here are the basics and context:

A state consultant has determined that there are grounds to conclude that minorities are at a disadvantage in Maryland's fledgling medical marijuana industry.

The state’s medical marijuana commission has awarded 15 licenses to growers, but none of them to a minority-owned business.  The General Assembly is considering a bill that would create five new licenses and require the commission to consider the race of applicants.

The consultant’s finding, released by Gov. Larry Hogan’s office Wednesday, is a key legal step toward allowing officials to weigh race when awarding any new licenses. Hogan ordered the study in April.  “Today’s findings are clear and unequivocal evidence that there is a disparity in the medical cannabis industry,” said Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor.  “This study is an important part of the process to allow for increased minority participation in our state.”

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus and a leading advocate for more minority participation in the state’s new marijuana industry, said the finding will help whatever legislation the General Assembly passes withstand a court challenge.  “I’m ecstatic Maryland can move forward and be a beacon of light and show it is a serious issue, that everyone should be concerned about having diversity in a multibillion-dollar industry,” the Baltimore Democrat said....

Such disparity studies are commonly used in government contracting to provide a justification for considering the race or gender of bidders for jobs.  Civil rights advocates found the commission’s failure to award any licenses to black-owned businesses especially galling because African-Americans have disproportionately faced consequences from marijuana being criminalized.

The full consultant report is available at this link, and here are key passages from its conclusion:

After reviewing and analyzing the information received from the State, and bearing in mind the 2017 Disparity Study’s finding that discrimination continues to adversely impact minority-owned and women-owned firms throughout the Maryland economy, I conclude, based upon the information available to me at this time, that the 2017 Disparity Study provides a strong basis in evidence, consisting of both quantitative and qualitative findings, that supports the use of race- and gender-based measures to remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses in the types of industries relevant to the medical cannabis business.

Moreover, the 2017 Disparity Study details a range of race- and gender-neutral activities that the State has already undertaken to address existing disparities. The 2017 Disparity Study found that, notwithstanding these race- and gender-neutral activities, many of which have been in place for a number of years, disparities continue to exist in both public and private contracting in the same geographic and industry markets in which medical cannabis licensees and independent testing laboratories are likely to operate. These disparities, in general, are large, adverse, and statistically significant. In addition, the 2017 Disparity Study contains both qualitative and quantitative evidence to suggest that economy-wide contracting disparities in Maryland’s relevant markets are even greater than disparities in the public sector. This difference may be due to the fact that the State has, for a number of years, operated an assertive MBE program in an attempt to remedy discrimination, which would tend to reduce, though it has not yet eliminated, the effects of discrimination in public procurement. Absent such affirmative remedial efforts by the State, I would expect to see evidence in the relevant markets in which the medical cannabis licensees will operate that is consistent with the continued presence of business discrimination.

January 18, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

CityLab and Harvard Law Review critically examine Marijuana Justice Act

This notable new CityLab article, headlined "What Does Marijuana Justice Actually Look Like?," unpacks some part of the the Marijuana Justice Act proposed by Senator Cory Booker and it also links to this new Harvard Law Review piece also looking at the MJA. I recommend both pieces, and here is how the HLR piece concludes:

Unlike most legalization efforts advanced thus far that do little to address the legacy of marijuana prohibition, Senator Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act represents an important moment in the conversation surrounding marijuana legalization.  Still, the victims of America’s long and vicious war on drugs deserve more.  Future legislation committed to dealing with the harm exacted by prohibition will have to seriously consider providing a regulatory framework that addresses the racially disparate distribution of the wealth generated by the market for legal marijuana.  A failure to do so represents a missed opportunity.  Absent these regulatory provisions, marijuana legalization threatens to entrench the inequalities exacerbated by the history of prohibition, and reparatory legalization efforts like the Marijuana Justice Act will leave behind a key tool in accounting for the harms they set out to repair.

January 11, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Two notable new reviews of efforts to enhance racial equity in modern marijuana markets

Two major news sources have run two major recent pieces about efforts in California to enhance minority participation in the marijuana industry:

From the Washington Post here, "California cities try to atone for war on drugs with help for minority marijuana entrepreneurs." An excerpt:

At least four California cities — Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco — have created “equity programs” to help people personally affected by the war on drugs or who come from communities that bore the brunt of it get an early stake in the legal cannabis business.

The goal is to attempt to atone for past policies that perpetuated generational poverty and to diversify an industry whose profile is overwhelmingly young, white, male and wealthy. “The folks who are profiting don’t look anything like the people bearing the brunt of the war on drugs,” said Greg Minor, who runs Oakland’s cannabis program.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Despite helping hand from L.A., drug offenders would face obstacles in cannabis industry." An excerpt:

As California’s legal cannabis industry heats up, officials in Los Angeles and other cities say they want to make sure early players in the pot business who were selling it when it was still illegal aren’t pushed out of the market. In Los Angeles and Oakland, city cannabis rules provide for so-called social-equity programs, which provide a leg up to marijuana business license applicants who either have been convicted of a marijuana crime or live in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.

But many of the entrepreneurs who might benefit from those programs would face a huge obstacle: Most banks won’t open accounts for marijuana businesses, and the few institutions that are willing to do so are likely to refuse to serve businesses whose owners or managers have criminal records, even if those records are for selling marijuana.

January 6, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Interesting new data on enduring racial disparities in marijuana arrests after decriminalization in St. Louis

Pot_chartThis new local article, headlined "St. Louis Police Continue to Cite Blacks for Marijuana Possession at a High Rate," reports on some interesting data on arrest rates in St. Louis both before and after the cite decriminalized marijuana possession. Here are the details:

St. Louis police continue to make arrests for pot possession — and most of those arrested are black. In 2013, the final year before St. Louis attempted to decriminalize marijuana, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department made 1,056 arrests solely for pot possession — with black suspects accounting for 87 percent of those arrested.

But in the four years since the city made big changes to the way it handles marijuana possession cases, police records show that black suspects have continued to comprise roughly the same percentage of violations: a total of about 85 percent from 2014 to October of 2017.

That statistic, first obtained by the Riverfront Times through a Sunshine law request, was startling to civil rights attorneys. Sara Baker, the legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, remarks that the new data stands as “a reconfirmation of an old problem.”

Proponents of reforming the city’s drug laws had cheered the policy change that was implemented in 2014, following the passage of a bill that enjoyed broad approval by the city's Board of Aldermen. Prior to the bill’s passage, officers sent all drug cases, even for small quantities of weed, to the Circuit Attorney’s Office for state-level misdemeanor and felony charges, which can carry significant fines and jail time.

Then came the decriminalization proposal sponsored by Alderman Shane Cohn. Starting in 2014, officers were instructed to treat those suspected of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana similar to someone committing a traffic offense, with fines between $100 and $500. But the racial dynamics of who was being cited, records now show, have stayed stubbornly the same. Officers may have changed the paperwork form on which they wrote the charges, but not the racial makeup of the people they cited.

“What’s incredibly revealing about the data,” says the ACLU’s Baker, “is that time and time again, when we see reforms either at the state or local level, and particularly reforms that still allow for fees or for low level criminalization, we might see a dip in is the amount of people overall that are arrested and charged. But that disparity rate remains shockingly persistent.”

Operating under the new policy in 2014 for the first time, pot possession arrests in St. Louis dipped by 144 from the previous year. But that modest decrease still showed virtually the same racial breakdown seen in prior years. In 2014, officers recorded 294 arrests for violations of the city’s updated municipal code; 85 percent of those people arrested were black. African Americans also accounted for 87 percent of the 618 arrests made on state charges, which are now reserved for suspects with more than 35 grams or those with at least two prior possession arrests in the city. The pattern continued in 2015: 88 percent of those busted for ordinance violations were black, as were 87 percent of 649 people facing state charges.

Across all five years’ worth data, there's no significant departure from the pattern. The only year where the percent of black arrests dipped below 85 percent was 2016, which showed ordinance violations given to black suspects in 77 percent of cases. By 2017, with data from January 1 to October, the percentage of black suspects ticked back up to 85 percent for both ordinance violations and criminal arrests. As of October 31, police had arrested 685 people on pot possession charges, about one-third for ordinance violations.

The persistence of the racial gap in arrests continues to worry Baker and the ACLU of Missouri. However, Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis whose work focuses on crime statistics, says it's not necessarily a sign of racial bias among cops. Instead, he suggests, it may reflect the way blacks are more likely to live in neighborhoods plagued by violent crime. "[Officers] stop blacks on the street, typically young black men, out of a concern of violent crime," he explains. "They find no evidence that that individual was involved in violence crime, but they do find marijuana on the individual. And they arrest him."

"That seems to be the pattern. That's not the only reason. It's possible there’s racial bias involved in some of these arrests.” Racial bias could be just one element in the stew, Rosenfeld notes. Officers in neighborhoods suffering violent crime tend to be proactive and on the lookout to stop violence before it happens. They make judgment calls based on experience and (hopefully) reasonable suspicion. Sometimes those judgment calls need a convenient “pretexual arrest,” like a traffic stop or marijuana possession.

December 21, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Applicant Sues to Block Ohio from Using Racial Preferences in the Award of Commercial Marijuana Licenses

Over at my blog, I've just posted some details about a new lawsuit challenging Ohio's purported use of a "racial quota" in the award of its large-scale marijuana cultivation licenses. Check out the post here. The suit could have some far-reaching ramifications for state efforts to boost minority participation in the state licensed marijuana industry.

December 15, 2017 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Looking into challenges facing communities of color in the marijuana industry

The final student presentation this year in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is looking at how communities of color are participating in the marijuana industry. Specifically, as the student has put it, the topic involves "an exploration of the hurdles communities of colors face when trying to break into the marijuana industry, and a discussion of the policy considerations we ought to engage when developing a framework for this new and emerging industry." Here are links for background reading on this topic:

Drug Policy Alliance, "Race and the Drug War"

"Rigged game: inequality on the rise in legal pot industry; How people of color are blocked from Washington’s legal pot marketplace"

"Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"

"Pioneering women in cannabis industry losing ground, author says"

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

"In politically charged D.C., cannabis is a cottage industry"

December 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Can Los Angeles repair the damage done by the war on marijuana?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Los Angeles Times editorial.  Here are excerpts:

Make no mistake, the war on marijuana has not been colorblind. Despite national surveys showing that white people and black people use marijuana at approximately the same rates, blacks have over the years been nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

That disparity is as true in Los Angeles as it is elsewhere in the country. African Americans comprise less than 10% of the population in L.A. Yet between 2000 and 2017, blacks represented 40% of marijuana-related arrests.  Latinos made up 44% of arrests.  Whites made up only 16% of arrests, according to a city consultant’s analysis of Los Angeles Police Department data.  And even as Los Angeles and other cities allowed the growth of a quasi-legal, hugely profitable medical marijuana industry run mostly by white entrepreneurs, police arrests for marijuana possession and sales continued to target African Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly.

A drug arrest — especially if followed by a conviction — can have terrible consequences.  Even after a person has completed his or her sentence, it remains harder to get a job, get into college, rent an apartment or get a loan.  A drug conviction is a barrier to economic opportunity.

Now that California has voted to legalize marijuana for adults, a crucial question is whether there a way to repair the damage created by decades of unequal enforcement practices.  The answer being considered by the Los Angeles City Council is to make it easier for people who were arrested or otherwise affected by the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws to get in on the ground floor of the emerging multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

The idea behind the proposed “social equity” program is that the people most affected should now be helped to partake in the profits and benefits of legalization.  The challenges of opening a marijuana business are so great — there are huge upfront costs, serious impediments to getting bank loans and extremely intricate regulations — that many would-be entrepreneurs would be locked out without government assistance.

Without question, Los Angeles ought to use a portion of future marijuana tax revenue to help communities that have been disproportionately targeted for marijuana enforcement. Tax money could fund drug education and treatment, legal clinics to help people expunge their marijuana conviction records, and reentry programs for individuals leaving prison.

The city could also help encourage entrepreneurs from communities that have had disproportionate numbers of marijuana arrests to enter the business by offering training, compliance assistance and priority licensing. Priority licensing is important because, due to zoning restrictions, only a limited number of applicants will ultimately be granted the right to host a marijuana business.  The first batch of licenses will be offered to medical marijuana shops that have operated since 2013 in L.A. with limited immunity under Proposition D.  Under the city’s proposed rules, the second batch of licenses would be divided equally between general applicants and social equity applicants — giving the latter a better shot at snapping up those opportunities. The third batch of licenses would be open to all applicants.

But here’s where the social equity program raises concern: The current proposal gives special advantages, waives fees and offers the most assistance to low-income people who themselves have marijuana-related convictions.  It’s one thing to target assistance broadly to communities that have felt the impacts of unequal enforcement. It’s another thing to reward people who broke the law and got caught by giving them priority over people who did not break the law.  That doesn’t seem fair.  Nor does it seem like a great idea to incentivize people with convictions for selling or possessing marijuana to return to the drug trade — why not help them enter other businesses instead?

To be sure, people with nonviolent drug convictions shouldn’t be barred from owning marijuana businesses or from working in them.  But they shouldn’t be pushed to the front of the line either.

November 4, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Unpacking marijuana arrest data in Massachusetts for the year the state voted for recreational reform

20170927_weedThis recent Boston Globe article canvasses some interesting data on marijuana arrests in Massachusetts under the headlined "Marijuana arrests plunge in 2016, but racial disparity remains."  Here are some of the details:

Police officers in Massachusetts, which in 1911 became the first US state to make cannabis illegal, arrested fewer people for marijuana-related offenses last year than they have in decades. But look at the people who were arrested in 2016, and there’s a clear pattern: They’re disproportionately black. That’s the upshot of new data collected by the FBI from most of Massachusetts’ municipal and statewide law enforcement agencies for an annual compendium of crime statistics.

While Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana in a statewide referendum last November, that law only took effect in mid-December. The arrest numbers, therefore, mostly reflect the earlier legal landscape in which possession of less than one ounce was decriminalized but growing and selling the drug were illegal. That means arrests for possession concerned larger amounts.

The FBI sorts arrests into two somewhat broad categories: those for possession, and those for “sale/manufacture,” which in the case of marijuana includes growing it. Also, because of the way the federal government defines race, a portion of the “white” category includes Latinos. With that in mind, here are the findings:

- 545 people were arrested in Massachusetts in 2016 for selling or growing marijuana. That’s down from 1,031 in 2013, and roughly 1,500 each year from 2006 to 2012, according to the ACLU.

- 308 people were arrested in Massachusetts in 2016 for marijuana possession, down 96.5 percent from the 8,695 marijuana-related arrests made in 2008, the year before decriminalization took effect. It’s also half of the 616 arrests in 2014. The law didn’t change between 2014 and 2016, but thousands of people in Massachusetts during that period signed up for medical marijuana cards that make it legal to possess more cannabis and, in some cases, grow it.

- 28.9 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in 2016 were black, in a state whose population was 8.6 percent black last year.

- The arrest rate of black people for marijuana possession offenses in 2016 was 15.19 per 100,000, about four times that of white people (3.79 per 100,000).

-42.2% of those arrested for growing or selling marijuana in 2016 were black. That’s up a tick from 2014, when 41 percent of those arrested for dealing were black.

- The arrest rate of black people for marijuana sale or cultivation was 39.3 per 100,000, seven times higher than the rate at which whites were arrested for the same offenses (5.35 per 100,000). Still, that’s lower than in 2014, when according to the ACLU the figure stood at 70.73. In 2008, it was ever higher: 106.58.

On one hand, the numbers suggest that campaigners for liberalizing marijuana laws (and the corresponding decrease in enforcement) are accomplishing one of their key goals, however slowly: reducing the impact of drug arrests on minority communities. However, even as fewer and fewer black people are sent to prison for marijuana offenses, the FBI data show they are still arrested at significantly higher rates than white people.

Meanwhile, it seems likely that black and white residents of Massachusetts use marijuana at similar rates. According to some admittedly stale federal data collected between 2002 and 2009, about 16.6 percent of black Massachusetts residents reported using marijuana once a year or more, while 14.4 percent of white residents said the same. It’s a modest gap, one that hardly accounts for the disparities among arrests.

Shaleen Title, a former marijuana activist who earlier this month was appointed to the new Cannabis Control Commission, said the findings were consistent with what happened in other states when marijuana laws were liberalized. “Arrests decline dramatically, but the racial disparities in the remaining arrests don’t necessarily disappear,” she said. “As our state law specifically acknowledges and addresses, the war on drugs has been disproportionately waged against certain communities. This new data confirms that legalization alone does not solve the disparity.”

October 3, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Al Sharpton makes the case for "decriminalization of marijuana [as] a civil rights cause"

2017-06-18T12-33-13-3Z--1280x720_video_512x342The controversial former Prez candidate Al Sharpton has this notable new commentary in The Guardian under the (anglicized) headline "Why the decriminalisation of marijuana is a civil rights cause." Here are excerpts:

There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right.  Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.

This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana.  It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.

For Democrats and progressives, the arguments have always been clear: generations of Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, have been imprisoned and starved of access to higher education, housing, and economic opportunities, and stripped of their inalienable right to vote thanks to non-violent acts.  Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.

But in truth, the conservative case for marijuana decriminalization is no less resonant. Archaic drug laws have fueled wasteful government spending, and made millions of Americans who dream, achingly, of being their family’s breadwinner dependent on the charity of others. And they have given rise of the epidemic of opiate drugs – often legally manufactured and prescribed – devastating communities that pundits have taken to calling the ‘white working class.’

The often-repeated reference to the ‘white working class’ has grown counterproductive as it focuses on a narrowly defined group instead of using more broader, inclusive categories. It also stifles the creative thinking and organizing needed to guide our efforts for the remainder of this presidency.  On the issue of medical marijuana, a more accurate term for the residents of these hard-hit towns and regions – many of whom voted for President Trump – would be natural allies to the movement to decriminalize marijuana.

In the coming weeks, I will be joining Decode Cannabis, a powerful new alliance of faith leaders, criminal justice reformers, healthcare practitioners, medical marijuana industry leaders and labor unions.  For years, these groups have labored toward shared goals, but have too often done so in their respective silos.  This initial coalition is impressive, but it is not enough to succeed.  At least not on its own.

To notch proactive policy wins in the Trump era, we must not retreat to the comfort of those of share our viewpoints.  We must enter the lion’s den – even uninvited – to confront and cultivate the prospective allies who will mutually benefit from this cause.  We must not allow the unique opportunities resulting from the intensifying rift between the White House and conventional Republicans to be squandered.

September 28, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Interesting perspectives on the (not-so?) inclusive marijuana movement and industry

I noticed this morning these two very different articles looking at issues of inclusiveness in the marijuana reform space in two very  different ways:

From Slate here, "By Excluding LGBTQ People, the Growing Cannabis Industry Is Betraying Its Roots"

An excerpt:

The burgeoning industry has one glaring problem: The gatekeepers of cannabis’ culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male — not to mention downright bro-y. White-appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley — a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.

Thankfully, there is an ongoing push for diversity of color and gender, to varying degrees of success. Women now make up 36 percent of leadership roles in the cannabis industry (compared to just 5 percent in the rest of the business world) and municipalities across the country are attempting to build reparations into their practices and policies for the communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by the criminalization of cannabis. This includes the city of Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which reserves a portion of permits for people of color and those convicted of marijuana-related crime; Washington, D.C.’s, local effort to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses; and the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s plan to create template legislation that addresses issues of inclusion to distribute to states and local municipalities.

But there’s another marginalized group that has largely been left out of the diversity conversation, and stigmatized in the cannabis industry: the LGBTQ community. Brewing within the bro culture of mainstream weed is a big dose of homophobia, and no one knows this better than Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, the choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis activist best known for competing in the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. As suggested by the name, Laganja Estranja is a pro-weed queen who often dons marijuana-leaf prints and pendants and speaks about the need for gay visibility within the cannabis community

From Leafy here, "Can an Inclusive Cannabis Industry Include Roger Stone?"

An excerpt:

Whatever Roger Stone’s personal beliefs, he’s very clearly made a career out of delivering the “hateful little shit” vote to guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — who both loved nothing more than busting hippies and minorities for weed. In fact, Stone’s done his job so well that the hateful little shits of the world now feel like they own the place.

Keep in mind, there’s long been a conservative wing of the marijuana legalization movement (Limited Government! Free Enterprise! Personal Liberty!), identified with principled voices like William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on up to Gary Johnson and Grover Norquist.  There are currently bipartisan cannabis bills in Congress, sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus.  So this rift at the expo isn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it isn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention....

And therein lies Roger Stone’s true political genius.  Through long practice, he’s perfected a signature blend of hyper-partisan politics, spectacle-grade entertainment and absolute gutter fighting that’s really hard to ignore.  His persona comes across like an evil wisecracking Pro Wrestling manager in a fancy suit who’s forever throwing sand in your eyes and smiling.

September 27, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Interesting look at women of color in the marijuana industry

This new Pacific Standard piece, with the sub-headline "Women across the country are working to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color," covers topics I consider quite important for those who are deeply interested in the social justice aspects of marijuana reform. Here are snippets:

The legal marijuana industry made $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016, according to a January report in Business Insider. This is up from $5.4 billion in 2015, and $4.6 billion in 2014, as reported by CNBC. And while marijuana is slowly but surely becoming a legal industry in America, the wait for federal legality hasn't stopped the creation of culture surrounding the drug. But largely neglected in the stories about the thriving marijuana industry and its corresponding culture are the women of color who are doing the difficult work of advocacy, accurate reporting, and community creation for users of a long-maligned substance....

It's the racial disparities in sentencing and the war on drugs that brought Shaleen Title, an Indian-American woman, to the cannabis industry. While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Title met a representative from the ACLU who taught her about the starkly different incarceration rates between white and black men for marijuana charges. After that, she got involved with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

These days, Title is a lawyer who co-founded the THC Staffing Group, a recruitment firm for jobs within the cannabis industry. Title considers herself, first and foremost, an activist. Her arena for change is figuring out how to build economic empowerment in the fledgling legal marijuana industry for people of color. "As important as it is to work on policy, it felt more direct [for me] to help people get into the industry because it was such a rare opportunity to see an industry start from scratch," Title says....

That idea of a ground floor was also stuck in the minds of Brooklyn residents Tahirah Hairston and Ashley Brooke. The 27-year-old friends both enjoyed smoking marijuana, but never saw themselves, or anyone who looked remotely like them, represented in weed culture. They hoped to find communities for liked-minded young professional women, but didn't find anything appealing to them. "There were very few," Brooke says. "And there were absolutely none for black women."

The pair realized the Google chats they had been sending, wishing for an online community for women of color who smoke, still hadn't materialized. So this year they launched The High Ends to create, as their website says, "a community of like-minded women who like to roll-up. We want to hear our stories told with nuance and wit from our perspectives." The High Ends is explicitly for and by women of color. The launch included a series of short videos of women of color explaining why they smoked—for physical or mental health, for focus, for creativity. Bringing the stories of very disparate women together was critical. "There's Moms Who Smoke and Nuns Who Smoke, which is amazing, but I'm 27 and want a community the same way I can go and find out a skincare routine," Hairston explains.

The High Ends is geared toward women with regular jobs, who don't want to hide the fact that they smoke weed. Brooke and Hairston want to reach women who don't see themselves represented in mainstream coverage of cannabis or in popular culture. Hairston puts it best: "It's about passing the L, and also passing knowledge."

September 22, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Buzz Kill for Pot Farmers: Lower Prices"

BF-AT618_POTFAR_16U_20170830162105The title of this post is the headline of this Wall Street Journal article reporting on the modern economic realities of the marijuana marketplace moving from black to gray. Here are excerpts:

From Washington to Colorado, wholesale cannabis prices have tumbled as dozens of states legalized the drug for recreational and medicinal uses, seeding a boom in marijuana production. The market is still tiny compared with the U.S. tobacco industry’s $119 billion in annual retail sales, but the nascent cannabis business has grown to more than $6 billion a year at retail, according to data from Euromonitor International Ltd. and Cowen & Co..

For marijuana smokers, the price drop is sweet news. Recreational users and those prescribed cannabis for health reasons have seen prices decline as wholesale prices have fallen, though some retailers have pocketed part of the difference, according to New Leaf Data Services LLC, which researches the U.S. cannabis market....

But for growers—ranging from high-tech warehouse operations to back-country pot farmers gone legit—the price drop has been painful. Since peaking in September 2015 at about $2,133 a pound, average U.S. wholesale cannabis prices fell to $1,614 in July, according to New Leaf. That is the sort of market decline that hit Midwestern corn and soybean growers in recent years after a string of record-breaking crops. “There is an increasing recognition, on the part of the industry and those that grow and dispense, that this market is a commodity,” said Jonathan Rubin, New Leaf’s chief executive.

In response, some producers are taking a page from the food industry, where farmers and food companies increasingly appeal to health- and environment-conscious consumers. Growth in organic food products for years has outpaced conventional grocery sales, and products made without genetically modified crops, gluten and artificial flavorings can command premium pricing and shelf space....

Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, growers can’t get their crops certified as organic, a label that can only be bestowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cannabis farmers instead have turned to alternative labels such as SunGrown Certified, which requires that growers use sunlight and water-conservation practices. They hope such labels will entice smokers and secure shelf space in the 29 states where marijuana is legal in some form....

That push to differentiate is splitting pot farmers into rival camps. Indoor-grown cannabis, where climate controls and high-powered lights allow several crops per year, typically is of a more consistent quality, industry officials say. Its dense, often bright-green buds catch consumers’ eyes, often fetch a higher price and can be costlier to produce.

Proponents of marijuana grown outdoors and in greenhouses say indoor facilities rely on synthetic fertilizers and heavily consume electricity. They point to a 2012 paper by University of California Senior Scientist Evan Mills, which estimated that indoor cannabis production accounted for 1% of national electricity use, though some growers have been adopting LED lights, which consume less electricity.

Jeremy Moberg, owner of Riverside, Wash.-based CannaSol Farms and head of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, says marijuana smokers will come to care about the environmental cost of their high. “The socially conscious, premium customer is going to want us because we’re sustainable,” he said. “It only takes me 30 seconds to convert somebody wearing Patagonia and driving a Prius that they should never smoke indoor weed again.”

At Hashtag Cannabis in Seattle, Ms. Pillert said customers occasionally ask for pesticide-free or sun-grown varieties. Smokers’ main fixation, she said, is the potency rating for the key active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC: “They want to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck.”

Many in the emergent industry expect marijuana to eventually resemble the beer business, where pricier craft brews have built followings in the shadow of cheaper mass-market beers like Budweiser and Busch. While high-quality strains and specialty brands may secure premium prices, more low-quality marijuana will be processed into oil used in vaporizer cartridges or adult-oriented baked goods like brownies and cookies, growers and retailers said.

August 31, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Why a Drug Policy Organization Needs to Speak Out Against White Supremacy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and provocative little commentary authored by Megan Farrington, who is the director of digital communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here is what Megan has to say: 

The drug war is a tool of racial oppression.  We see this in racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates for drug offenses that exist even though white people and people of color use and sell drugs at about the same rates.

We see it in the way stop-and-frisk policies have been used to target communities of color.  We see it in the way allegations of drug use were raised as cover for the police killings of Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin.

And we see it in the legal marijuana industry now taking shape, which risks excluding the communities that have been most subjected to drug war enforcement by making people with past drug law convictions ineligible for licenses.

Sometimes the racial implications of drug war policies are overt, and sometimes they are more insidious.  But the bottom line is that when we work to dismantle the drug war, we are working to end a tool of oppression.

So when white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out.  If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.

We saw this when the drug war replaced Jim Crow last century, and must fight to keep it from happening again. The only way to ensure that our drug policy reforms truly end the harms of drug prohibition is to support the fight against white supremacy wherever it is taking place.

August 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Legalizing Pot Is a Bad Way to Promote Racial Equality"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Jason Riley in response to Senator Cory Booker's new federal marijuana reform bill. Here are excerpts:

Cory Booker, New Jersey’s ambitious junior senator, has gone to pot. Last week the Democrat introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level while withholding funds from states that don’t legalize it and that disproportionately incarcerate “low-income individuals and people of color for marijuana-related offenses.”

The legislation may help Mr. Booker burnish his image with progressives if he runs for president in 2020, but it almost certainly is going nowhere. Republicans control Congress, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a drug warrior, which is one reason President Trump put him in charge of the Justice Department.  Nevertheless, Mr. Booker’s arguments for drug legalization are worth considering because they represent a large and growing consensus. Support for marijuana legalization has nearly doubled to 60% since 2000, according to a 2016 Gallup survey. Even 42% of Republicans support legalization.

In his Facebook posts promoting the bill, Mr. Booker cites some of the more common rationales put forward by proponents of pot legalization, including racial disparities in drug arrests and prisons teeming with “nonviolent” offenders that drain state budgets. “In the United States today, black people are almost four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana use or possession,” writes the senator. “This is the right thing to do for public safety, and will help reduce our overflowing prison population.”

Mr. Booker believes drug legalization would address these racial disparities, but don’t bet on it. Violent offenses, not drug offenses, drive incarceration rates, and blacks commit violent crimes at seven to 10 times the rate whites do. Data from 2015, the most recent available, show that about 53% of people in state prisons (which house nearly 90% of the nation’s inmates) were imprisoned for violent crimes, 19% for property crimes and just 16% for drug crimes. Given that blacks are also overrepresented among those arrested for property and other nonviolent offenses, merely altering U.S. drug laws would effect little change in the racial makeup of people behind bars.

Much is made of studies that show blacks and whites use drugs at similar rates.  But a large majority of drug arrests are for trafficking, not possession, so we shouldn’t expect usage rates and arrest rates to be identical.  Anyway, marijuana offenders of any race occupy relatively few jail and prison cells, and the ones who do tend to be dealers. “As a percentage of our nation’s incarcerated population, those possessing small amounts of marijuana barely register,” writes James Forman, a former District of Columbia public defender, in his new book, “Locking Up Our Own.”  He continues: “For every ten thousand people behind bars in America, only six are there because of marijuana possession.”...

But if the goal is more racial parity in our penal system, drug legalization seems like an odd place to start.  Citizens of Washington state and Colorado voted to make recreational pot legal in 2012.  A 2016 study from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice found that while pot arrests overall were down in Washington, large racial discrepancies remained.  In fact, blacks were still twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses.  And Jeff Hunt of Colorado Christian University reports that the illegal market for weed in the Rocky Mountain State is still thriving and seems to have exacerbated racial inequities.  “According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests in Colorado of black and Latino youth for [underage] marijuana possession have increased 58% and 29% respectively after legalization,” Mr. Hunt wrote in USA Today recently.  “This means that Black and Latino youth are being arrested more for marijuana possession after it became legal.”

Astute observers of US criminal justice systems might well predict that we could see worsening racial disparities if and when there are fewer arrests and prosecutions for marijuana activity. Data on incarceration in US states generally show that the states with smaller prison populations actually have greater disparities within these smaller numbers. And it does create an interesting and important normative question for those especially concerned with racial equality whether they should celebrate a big decrease in marijuana arrests and prosecutions if only certain favored groups get a disproportionate benefit from such a change.

August 12, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New report highlights persistent racial skew in marijuana arrests in New York City

Earlier this week, as reported in this press release, a new report focused on New York City was released "by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, [which] shows that marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio continue to be marked by extremely high racial disparities, as was the case under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations." Here is more about the report from the press release:

The report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues to make large numbers of unjust and racially-targeted marijuana arrests.  The report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Despite Mayor de Blasio’s campaign promise to end racially-biased policing, in 2016 marijuana possession was New York City’s fourth most commonly charged criminal offense.  Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 85 percent of the more than 60,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch.  Most people arrested are young Blacks and Latinos – even though studies consistently show young whites use marijuana at higher rates....

Key findings include the following:

  • In the first three years of the de Blasio administration, the NYPD made over 60,000 criminal arrests for the lowest-level marijuana possession offense, an average of 20,000 marijuana arrests a year.

  • The NYPD’s marijuana arrests under de Blasio suffer from the same overwhelming racial disparities as under Bloomberg – about 86% of the arrests for marijuana possession are of Blacks and Latinos.

  • As in previous years, in 2016 and in the first four months of 2017, 81% of the people arrested for marijuana were age 16 to 34, 58% were 16 to 25 and 27% were age 16 to 20.

  • Residents of New York City’s public housing developments constitute the single largest group of people arrested.  In 2016, NYPD housing police made 21% of the city’s total of 18,121 arrests for marijuana possession and 92% of those arrested were Blacks and Latinos.

  • Of New York City’s 76 neighborhood police precincts, 37 neighborhoods have a majority of Black and Latino residents.  They have about half the city’s population but provide 66% of the marijuana possession arrests and 92% of the people arrested are Blacks and Latinos.

  • Police in New York also target neighborhoods in midtown and lower Manhattan with active nightlife. Although pedestrians in those areas are predominately white, police arrest Blacks and Latinos at very high rates.

  • In 2016, in Greenwich Village, 69% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos.  In Chelsea, 77% were Blacks and Latinos.  In Soho-Tribeca-Wall St. 73% were Blacks and Latinos. In tourist-heavy Little Italy and Chinatown, 66% of the people arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos.

  • In 2016, police enforcement targeted people of color, especially Blacks, everywhere in New York City.  In Manhattan, Blacks are 13% of the residents but 45% of the people arrested for marijuana possession.  In Queens, Blacks are 18% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana.  And in Staten Island, Blacks are 10% of the residents but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana possession.

  • The rates of NYPD arrests for marijuana possession per 100,000 of the population are extremely skewed. In Queens, police arrest Blacks at seven times the rate of whites.  In Manhattan they arrest Blacks at 10 times the rate of whites.  And in Staten Island the NYPD arrests Blacks at 15 times the rate of whites.

July 13, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Another accounting of the big drop in traffic stops after marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington

Wa_b9a991a80a9f2dbe4e216f8a9e0cdfc4.nbcnews-ux-600-480In this recent post I noted The Marshall Project article discussing data showing many fewer traffic stops after marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.   This new NBC News article, headlined "Police Searches Drop Dramatically in States that Legalized Marijuana," covers similar ground. Here are excerpts of this reporting of fascinating data:

Traffic searches by highway patrols in Colorado and Washington dropped by nearly half after the two states legalized marijuana in 2012.  That also reduced the racial disparities in the stops, according to a new analysis of police data, but not by much.  Blacks and Hispanics are still searched at higher rates than whites.  Highway stops have long been a tool in the war on drugs, and remain a charged issue amid a furious national debate about police treatment of minorities....

The overuse of traffic stops can damage the public trust in police, particularly when searches disproportionately involve black and Hispanic drivers.  “Searches where you don’t find something are really negative towards a community," said Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice in Boston.  "Have a police officer search your car is really like, 'Why are they doing this to me?' And you get more pissed off. If you’re trying to do relationship building, it’s not a good thing to do a lot of searches.”

The analysis comes from data crunched by the Stanford Open Policing Project....  The data compiled by the Stanford group is limited in that it is not uniform across states. Each of the country's law enforcement agencies track traffic stops differently, and some don't release the data publicly.  In the end, the group compiled data from 20 states that was deep enough to allow a rigorous analysis.  Colorado and Washington were compared against 12 of these states to arrive at the conclusion that marijuana legalization likely had an effect on search rates.

In both states, marijuana legalization eliminated one of the major justifications used by police officers to stop motorists, cutting searches by more than 40 percent after legalization. In Colorado, the change occurred gradually, with searches dropping initially by 30 percent, and then flatting out to a more than 50-percent drop within a year.  In Washington, there was a drop of more than 50 percent in searches within three months of legalization.  The search rate remained low thereafter.  The 12 states in the Stanford study that did not pass marijuana decriminalization legislation during the period did not experience significant drops.

The biggest finding ─ and one that mirrors the results of investigations in individual states and jurisdictions ─ is that minorities are still stopped and searched at higher rates than white drivers.  The threshold before a search is performed is also lower for minority drivers than it is for whites, according to the researchers at Stanford behind the Open Policing Project.  Those differences remained in Colorado and Washington even after searchers dropped following pot legalization.

Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said that although the disparities persisted, the overall drop in searches means that fewer minorities would be unfairly targeted. "As long as police officers (like the rest of us) hold implicit or explicit stereotypes associating minorities with crime, they will perceive minorities as more suspicious," Glaser wrote in an email.

Prior related post:

"How to Cut Down on Traffic Stops: Legalize Pot"

June 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)