Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Why the Marijuana Business Is Appealing to Female Entrepreneurs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic piece.  Here is how it gets started:

In this mountain town, which began allowing the recreational sale of marijuana in 2014, businesswomen and female entrepreneurs say they are launching marijuana-centric companies with the hope that they can avoid the glass ceiling some say prevented them from reaching board rooms and corner offices in other industries.

In the past several years, women have become a driving force in the growth of the cannabis industry here and across the United States. As one magazine cover proclaimed recently, “Legal marijuana could be the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men.”

Numbers would seem to bear those sentiments out. According to Marijuana Business Daily, women make up about 36 percent of executives in the legal-marijuana industry, compared to about 22 percent of senior managers in other industries. Women hold just 4.2 percent of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. At tech companies like Google and Twitter, disproportionately few executives and engineers are women.

“It’s a new chance for many women who have been in the corporate world who couldn’t get to the next level,” said Becca Foster, an independent consultant with Healthy Headie, an in-home cannabis shop co-founded by Holly Alberti-Evans that goes by the tagline “the Mary Kay of Mary J.” A young mother of four, Foster worked as a senior implementation manager at Bank of America before going the cannabis consulting route. “It stalled out,” she said of her finance care; there was no clear way to balance both family and work.

June 28, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2016

DC Department of Health issues big new report: "MARIJUANA in the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA"

Cl14w03WYAAlJOCThe District of Columbia is a unique locale with unique laws and practices in many arenas. But, as highilighted by a big new report issued by the DC's Deprtment of Health, the District's relationship with marijuana law, policy and reform has much in common with a number of other jurisdictions.  This big new report, available here, is titled "Marijuana in the District of Columbia," and here is the report's executive summary:

In recent years, marijuana related policies have gone through many transformations throughout the United States, with the District of Columbia being no exception.  This report provides insight through current research and data that outlines the disadvantage, benefits and societal ramifications that accompany decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.  Factors that have been analyzed include short-term and long-term health consequences, public safety issues like driving while under the influence of the substance, marijuana’s co-use relationship with other drugs, and effects on fetal, infant, and adolescent development.

Highlights

• 53.8% of adults in the District have ever tried marijuana and 17.8% currently use it.

• Marijuana was the second most commonly detected drug in traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities, District of Columbia in 2012.

• Medical marijuana has demonstrated promising results for various ailments, including neuropathic pain, nausea due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms.

• Short term marijuana-related effects can include cyclic vomiting, disorientation, impaired body movement, increased heart rate, and difficulty thinking or problem-solving.

• There is some evidence that marijuana use may increase cancer risk.

• Among individuals at risk for mental illness, marijuana use may worsen symptoms.

• 8.9% of marijuana users will transition from casual use to dependence.

• Cigarette use and binge drinking are significantly higher among marijuana users than nonusers.

• Marijuana use among expecting mothers has demonstrated various adverse effects, including low birth weight and pre-term delivery.

• Marijuana use has been associated with a decline in IQ when regularly used among individuals under the age of 18.

• Throughout the U.S., marijuana possession arrests tend to occur significantly more among African Americans than any other race/ ethnicity despite rates of use are fairly similar across all categories.

June 27, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Some good hard questions in Ohio following passage of its medical marijuana reform

These two recent newspaper article raise two good and challenging questions concerning the policies and practicalities soon now to become reality when Ohio's medical marijuana reforms formally become law in the coming months:

June 23, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Effective coverage of impact of marijuana reform on migration of poor and homeless to Colorado

Joel Warner has penned these two interesting and important new lengthy pieces about homelessness in Colorado and its intersection with marijuana reform:

Marijuana Legalization In Colorado: How Recreational Weed Is Attracting People, But Spiking The State’s Homeless Rate

Marijuana Legalization: Pot Brings Poor People To Colorado, But What’s Being Done To Help Them?

Here are brief excerpts from both articles (which ought to be read in full):

While much has been made of the tourists, entrepreneurs and investors lured to Colorado’s blossoming marijuana industry, very little attention has been paid to another population drawn to the state’s cannabis experiment: marijuana migrants moving to the state who wind up on the streets. Interviews with people at homeless shelters in Denver and other Colorado cities like Pueblo suggest that since Colorado launched its legalized cannabis system in 2014, the percentage of newcomers to the facilities who are there in part because of the lure of marijuana has swollen to 20 to 30 percent.

All told, several hundred marijuana migrants struggling with poverty appear to be arriving in Colorado each month. Some of them, like Butts, come to use cannabis recreationally or medically without the fear of arrest. Others are hoping to get jobs in the new industry. But many arrive to find homeless services stretched to the breaking point, local housing costs increasingly prohibitive and cannabis use laws that penalize those without private residences....

Homelessness experts point out that there’s no proof that marijuana leads to homelessness, or that cannabis is the main culprit behind the growing numbers. Study after study has concluded that the major factors leading to homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, inability to find work and family crises. “There is very little safety when you are homeless,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter in Aurora, near Denver. “How many people want to trade their safety for access to something like marijuana or any other substance?”

But there is evidence that people who were already struggling to get by in other states are relocating to Colorado in part because of marijuana. So far, however, research on the phenomenon has been limited. A survey of Denver shelter workers by Metropolitan State University in the fall of 2014 found that eight of the 11 shelters said they were seeing client increases due in part to marijuana, said lead researcher Rebecca Trammell, but the study did not examine what, exactly those increases looked like. Plus some shelters actively avoid asking about marijuana use....

Marty Otañez, a University of Colorado Denver anthropology professor who’s been studying the state’s marijuana industry, said he’s met multiple cannabis workers who are on their way to becoming homeless. It’s left him convinced that it’s time for people in charge of the industry to address the problem. “The flow of ‘trimmigrants’ and other cannabis workers into Colorado and the added pressure on homeless shelters and social services for unemployed or poorly paid cannabis workers is a symptom of the broader problem of cannabis capitalism gone awry,” said Otañez. “Nominal efforts to fund corporate social responsibility schemes demonstrate the lack of seriousness on the part of cannabis business people to address in any genuine way the social ills associated with green gold.”

With nearly a billion dollars in revenue and more than $135 million in statewide taxes and fees generated by Colorado marijuana sales last year, some shelter managers would like to see a portion of the proceeds devoted to homeless services. “If some of those dollars can go to serving those folks, it could really help people,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter. “We are not saying we want to become rich; we just want to help these people because Colorado is doing something good and it’s bringing people here.”

So far, none of Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues have gone to homeless programs. That will soon change. In Aurora, the city council recently voted to earmark $1.5 million of marijuana tax proceeds for homeless services annually for the next three years. According to Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood services department, the decision wasn’t based on concerns that marijuana was increasing local homeless numbers; it’s simply a matter of allocating resources to high-priority issues.

Whatever the reason, homeless advocates celebrated the move. “It’s a brilliant move by Aurora,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the city's Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter. “It’s not every day that a municipality gets a new funding stream. To reinvest that to meet the needs of struggling families is a good moral imperative stand.”

June 22, 2016 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Women in Maryland marijuana industry savoring absence of a glass ceiling in new industry

WG_New_Logo_rgbRegular readers know that one  aspect of the burgeoning marijuana industry that I find especially interesting is the role that women can and will play within a new modern industry that has little legitimate business history and thus has little history of traditional gender discrimination in its businesses.  Against this backdrop, this lengthy new article from the Baltimore Sun caught my attention this weekend.  The piece is headlined "Women see no ceiling in Maryland medical marijuana industry," and here are excerpts:

Maryland's long-promised medical marijuana industry doesn't exist yet, and that's precisely why more than 60 women, mostly dressed like a PTA crowd, banded together there — to rise to the top before anyone gets in their way. "How vital are women to the success of the cannabis business in Maryland? If you're asking, I probably don't want to talk to you," said Megan Rogers, a co-founder of the Baltimore chapter of Women Grow and an applicant to open a dispensary. "We're here to ensure that the cannabis industry has no glass ceiling."

As the state considers hundreds of pending medical marijuana licenses, the women gathered to network, celebrating the opportunity to create an industry from scratch. Dozens of the organization's members have applied to grow marijuana or open dispensaries or processing businesses. Others plan to sell specialized marijuana containers, offer legal services, do product testing or provide event planning for women who secure a coveted license.

There is more collaboration than competition, the women say. There's no snatching of ideas or secretive cloaking of business plans, no assumptions that they need to get in line behind men to get ahead. "We have an opportunity to take an industry, from the ground up, and insert women in the upper echelons," said Carissa Cartalemi, a co-founder of the group and a holistic therapist who applied for a dispensary license with Rogers. "I do think there's something very feminine to that spirit of collaboration."

Women's marijuana business groups have grown by leaps and bounds as 25 states across the country have legalized some form of medical marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational cannabis.

Women Grow began in Denver two years ago and now includes more than 45 chapters in the United States and Canada. Its conference in February attracted 1,300 people and was headlined by singer and marijuana activist Melissa Etheridge.

Women are much less likely to become entrepreneurs than men. In Maryland, women are half as likely as men to own their own businesses, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, which tracks business activity across the country. A survey released this month showed women hold 91 of the 630 board seats of Maryland companies that trade on one of the three stock exchanges — less than 14 percent of board seats and well under the national average. Other new industries — including the booming tech field — have largely been dominated by men, who worked disproportionately in the academic fields that fed those industries.

But women in Maryland and across the country see a different landscape in the emerging cannabis industry, which was born out of the advocacy community that persuaded legislatures to legalize it. "This is an industry that was led by a movement, by both women and men," said Giadha Aguirre DeCarcer, a former venture capitalist who launched a Washington-based cannabis market research company. DeCarcer is familiar with Women Grow but not active in the Baltimore chapter.

"There are no barriers to entry, but also no glass ceiling," said DeCarcer, CEO and founder of New Frontier Financials. "There hasn't been time for a good-ol'-boys club to develop. … The culture is very different because it stems from a movement."

Jessica White, 48, runs a holistic health center in White Marsh and applied for four dispensary licenses and a kosher processing license — she can hold only one, but was trying to increase her chances of being selected from among the 811 applications for just 94 licenses. "My market is 65-plus, chronic pain, not candidates for surgeries," White said. "We're talking little old church ladies."

White attends meetings of several other medical cannabis organizations, too, but said the vibe is different with the Women Grow crowd. "In a lot of the other groups I'm friendly with, it's a bunch of old white guys," White said. "A lot of the men in the industry keep things to themselves. Here, it's 'I'm Jessica. I want to open a dispensary. What about you?'"...

Elkridge-based Cannaline sponsored a season's worth of Women Grow events, which allows its saleswoman, Carrie Kirk, to hand out free samples of the company's marijuana packaging options as attendees clink glasses of house wine. Kirk worked for 17 years in pharmaceutical sales and management but now works up and down the East Coast selling Cannaline's marketing products, custom odor-proof bags and child-resistant packaging.

Even though more states east of the Mississippi are launching medical marijuana markets, she said, it's very tightly regulated and the industry here feels very different than that on the West Coast. "We have to do things more conservatively here," she said. A Women Grow event allows her to reach a lot of potential customers in an industry that lacks access to traditional advertising.

In a back corner of the Women Grow event, former regulatory lawyer Leah Heise was holding court at the center of a ring two people deep, enthusiastically connecting people. An illness that would have been more easily treated with medical marijuana than opioids took her out of the workforce for more than a decade, she said. Now that a surgery alleviated the underlying cause of her debilitating pain from chronic pancreatitis, she's rejoined the working world and fashioned a new career as a mentor and attorney for companies trying to navigate Maryland's newest industry.

She's president of Chesapeake Integrated Health Institute, and says Women Grow offers not only camaraderie but also a resource she can't find elsewhere. "This is the only place where someone can come to learn anything. Anything!" she said. She turned her attention to a woman who spent her career working at spas but was looking for a way into the medical marijuana industry. Heise enthusiastically took her card. "Someone like her would be incredible as a dispensary manager," she said. "It's a whole new era, and the industry will be huge."

Some prior related posts:

June 18, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Marijuana Enforcement Disparities In California: A Racial Injustice"

The title of this post is the title of this new short new data reprt/analysis released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this little report:

Effective January 1, 2011, California reduced the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction.  Subsequently, misdemeanor marijuana arrests plummeted by 86 percent.  Although the penalty does not include jail, the offense is still punishable by up to a $100 fine plus fees, making the actual cost of an infraction much higher.  This can be a substantial burden for young and low-income people.  According to original research presented here, enforcement of marijuana possession — and the economic burden it entails — falls disproportionately on black and Latino people. The disparity is particularly acute for black people and young men and boys....

Infraction data are hard to come by in California.  The demographic profile of people issued marijuana possession infractions in Fresno and Los Angeles, however, demonstrates that enforcement continues to fall disproportionately on black and Latino people, particularly young men and boys.  In Los Angeles and Fresno 90% and 86% of marijuana possession infractions respectively were issued to men or boys.

These findings demonstrate that reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana does not go far enough.  There are still substantial costs associated with an infraction, such as legal fees, court costs, and lost time at school or at work — and the burden of these costs most heavily impact young black men and boys.  While reducing marijuana possession to an infraction has dramatically decreased the number of marijuana arrests in the state, it has not sufficiently reduced the disparate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced.

May 31, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)