Tuesday, August 14, 2018
New executive director for MPP, Steve Hawkins, spotlights how marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice are interconnected
Long-time readers know that my interest in marijuana law and policy is based in my work and research concerning the criminal justice system. Stated differently, I think the marijuana reform movement is fundamentally a criminal justice reform movement. This new press release from Marijuana Policy Project announcing the hiring of Steve Hawkins as is new Executive Director serves, thought a personnel move, to highlight ways in which marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice can and should be connected. Here is a little from the press release:
The nation’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to marijuana policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Tuesday it has hired Steve Hawkins to serve as its next executive director. The announcement comes after a months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates.
“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Hawkins as the new executive director of MPP,” said Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors. “Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change. We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”
Hawkins has been at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement for three decades as an advocate, policy strategist, nonprofit leader, and foundation executive. He has extensive experience overseeing campaigns to advance policy change through public education, stakeholder mobilization, engagement with government officials, and development of strategic alliances with business leaders, law enforcement officials, scholars, faith leaders, victims’ advocates, and other key voices. “The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dayton said. “Steve is the perfect choice to oversee that work and lead MPP into the future.”
Hawkins began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He later served as executive vice president of the NAACP, spearheading its efforts to end the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization. He also previously served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, as a program executive for the Atlantic Philanthropies, and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation, where he directed early investments of substantial resources into advocacy efforts to end mass incarceration, including groups working to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Most recently, Hawkins was president of the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels. A more detailed biography of Hawkins is available on the MPP website.
“Throughout my career, I have witnessed the counterproductive effects of the war on marijuana and its especially devastating impact on communities of color,” Hawkins said. “MPP has been at the vanguard of changing public perceptions and public policies surrounding marijuana, and I am proud to join this incredible team of advocates at such a critical moment in the movement to end marijuana prohibition.”
Monday, July 23, 2018
Reviewing efforts to ensure marijuana reform is focused on criminal justice and social justice issues
As long-time readers should know, much of my interest in modern marijuana reform emerged from my interest in criminal justice reform, as well as from my frustration that many "traditional" approaches to criminal justice reform seem to move much more slowly than have many modern marijuana reforms. Given this background, I have always been eager to see, and been most supportive of, proposals for marijuana reform that focus on criminal justice issues. And this recent Stateline article, headlined "Marijuana Bills Increasingly Focus on Social Justice," effectively reports on encouraging developments in this arena. Here are excerpts from an extended article that should be read in full:
State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana this year aren’t just touting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of the government’s war on drugs.
The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters — most of whom, polls consistently show, support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups also have raised their voices in legalization discussions.
Now social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people....
Many state lawmakers say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Buffalo and has put forward a bill to legalize weed....
California’s 2016 ballot initiative, which filled more than 60 pages and covered everything from rules for marijuana testing laboratories to expungement of marijuana crimes from criminal records.
The California initiative allowed people with drug convictions to obtain marijuana licenses. It set aside $10 million a year to pay for services such as job placement, legal help, and mental health and addiction treatment for residents of communities hit hard by former drug laws. Passed by 57 percent, the initiative’s success showed that voters support justice and equity provisions — or at least aren’t dissuaded by them...
Missouri has four pot legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall; three focus on allowing medical use of the drug and the fourth on recreational use. The recreational use initiative by Total Legalization, a volunteer operation that isn’t backed by national pro-weed groups, also would require prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes to be released within 30 days and would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related criminal records. Becca Loane, a member of the board of directors for the campaign committee backing the initiative, said her team wants to legalize marijuana completely without waiting for the Legislature to work out the details. “It’s something that needs to be done.”
In North Dakota, a legalization ballot measure also would expunge the records of people with some marijuana-related convictions automatically. And in Michigan, a legalization ballot measure would require state lawmakers to encourage people in communities impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the marijuana industry....
The argument that marijuana legalization will help poor black and Latino people has been made vociferously in New York and New Jersey, where national groups that back legalization, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have teamed up with clergy and civil rights groups.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called marijuana legalization a social justice issue during his campaign last year. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, also a Democrat, has said she supports legalization because “we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”...
Nearly two-thirds of black, Hispanic and multiracial people supported marijuana legalization, according to a Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults this spring. That was a higher share than support among white adults, according to a breakdown by race and ethnicity shared with Stateline.
July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 16, 2018
The Chicago Sun-Times in this article reports on its analysis of marijuana enforcement in the Wind City under the headline "Marijuana enforcement in Chicago falls but still lands heaviest on blacks." Here is how it gets started:
Since the city of Chicago and state of Illinois moved to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the number of arrests in the city for such petty crimes has plummeted.
But even as the Chicago Police Department has pulled back on its enforcement efforts over the past seven years, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately targeted, accounting for the vast majority of the dwindling number of arrests, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.
Last year, Chicago police officers made 129 arrests and wrote fewer than 300 tickets for possession of small amounts of cannabis, and even fewer arrests and tickets are expected this year. By comparison, there were more than 21,000 such arrests in 2011, according to arrest data examined by the Sun-Times.
The number of arrests began dropping after the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 giving police officers the option of writing tickets to people for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana. Four years later, a new state law put additional limits on such arrests. Police in Illinois no longer could arrest anyone for having less than 10 grams of marijuana. Instead, the law made possession of small amounts of weed a civil offense, rather than a crime, with fines as the penalty, not jail.
Before the city council decriminalized possession of “personal-use” quantities of marijuana, African-Americans were arrested on such charges more than members of other racial groups. That hasn’t changed, the Sun-Times found, even though academic studies have found that marijuana usage is similar across racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In 2017 and the first four months of 2018, 94 people were busted in Chicago for petty marijuana possession. Seventy-six of them were black. Sixteen were Hispanic. Two were white.
“I’m pleased to see the police are arresting fewer people,” says Kathie Kane-Willis, a drug policy researcher who is director of policy and advocacy for the Chicago Urban League. “It’s unfortunate that African-Americans remain criminalized for these activities out of proportion to their population.”
Friday, June 8, 2018
The Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, became the city's first African-American "top cop" last year. But, as reported in this new local story, the city still has been involved in a remarkable form of disparate policing in its marijuana enforcement. The piece is headlined "Minneapolis cops halt low-level marijuana stings after racial disparity revealed: All charges dropped after reports show 46 of 47 arrested were black," and here are the details:
Minneapolis police abruptly ended the practice of targeting small-scale marijuana sellers downtown after revelations that nearly every one arrested was black. In a series of rushed announcements Thursday, authorities said that police would no longer conduct sting operations targeting low-level marijuana sales, and charges against 47 people arrested in the first five months of 2018 would be dismissed.
The extraordinary turnaround came after Hennepin County's chief public defender contacted Mayor Jacob Frey to complain about what looked like blatant racial profiling. Frey then directed Chief Medaria Arradondo to stop the stings. "I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said in a statement Thursday. "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."...
[I]n recent years, Minneapolis police have stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about safety downtown. Using undercover officers posing as buyers, they arrested 47 people for selling marijuana on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.
The Hennepin County Public Defender's office determined that 46 of those arrested were black. All were charged as felonies. Some were put in diversion programs, some were convicted and at least one man went to prison. "Almost all of those cases involve a sale of 1-2 grams of marijuana for a total of $10-$20," assistant county public defender Jess Braverman wrote in a May 31 court document....
Arradondo announced Thursday in a 12:30 p.m. news conference that he had discontinued stings targeting low-level marijuana sales at the request of Frey. "While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence," he said. He said that during the downtown police effort, officers arrested other people who were in possession of illegal guns and other drugs such as opioids, although that was separate from the marijuana arrests.
Arradondo defended his officers, saying they were acting professionally and not targeting black people because of their race. A police spokesman said that while the undercover stings were being stopped, police would still make arrests for marijuana sales.
At 3 p.m., Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a news release that said he had informed Arradondo that he would not charge any more people arrested in the stings and that he was reviewing the remaining cases. An hour later, his office notified [Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary] Moriarty that all the cases were being dismissed. "These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge," Freeman said in a statement. "Because they occurred over a period of months and were distributed to about a half-dozen of our attorneys for prosecution, we did not detect any pattern."...
In a court document, Braverman wrote that the arrests "have resulted in felony convictions for numerous black defendants who had been targeted, and all the devastating collateral consequences that go along with such convictions: jail time, prison time, and even deportation proceedings."
Details about the stings were described in a case involving the arrest of one suspect, Shauntez Palmer, who was charged with fifth degree sale of 1.6 grams of marijuana. An undercover officer stated in her report that she purchased marijuana from another person, Ameir Davis on Hennepin Avenue between N. 5th Street and N. 6th Street, while Palmer acted as a lookout. Both men were arrested and brought to jail....
"On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals and groups, and asking to buy drugs," Braverman wrote. "Officers have directly asked black men to facilitate drug deals with other black men, and have then requested that the facilitator be charged with sale. They are submitting the cases for felony charges." Moriarty said that the only white person arrested was not approached by police, but had himself approached an undercover officer about selling some marijuana.
In a letter to Arradondo on May 29, Moriarty wrote, "A review of the cases received by our office strongly suggests a trend of racial profiling under the guise of a 'livability' detail."
Mel Reeves, a human rights activist who lives in Minneapolis, said he was cheered by the decision to halt the stings. "It's not news that black people are targeted by law enforcement on marijuana charges," he said. "It's good news they are recognizing the disparities and doing something about it."
Monday, May 14, 2018
The front page of this morning's New York Times give attention to marijuana arrests via this extended article with this full headline summarizing its coverage: "Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic: The police explanation that more black and Hispanic people are arrested on marijuana charges because complaints are high in their neighborhoods doesn’t hold up to scrutiny." Here is for the piece starts and some data reported:
They sit in courtroom pews, almost all of them young black men, waiting their turn before a New York City judge to face a charge that no longer exists in some states: possessing marijuana. They tell of smoking in a housing project hallway, or of being in a car with a friend who was smoking, or of lighting up a Black & Mild cigar the police mistake for a blunt.
There are many ways to be arrested on marijuana charges, but one pattern has remained true through years of piecemeal policy changes in New York: The primary targets are black and Hispanic people.
Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years, The New York Times found. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.
With crime dropping and the Police Department under pressure to justify the number of low-level arrests it makes, a senior police official recently testified to lawmakers that there was a simple reason for the racial imbalance: More residents in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods were calling to complain about marijuana.
An analysis by The Times found that fact did not fully explain the racial disparity. Instead, among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents, The Times found.
In Brooklyn, officers in the precinct covering Canarsie arrested people on marijuana possession charges at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint, despite residents calling 311, the city’s help line, and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show. The Canarsie precinct is 85 percent black. The Greenpoint precinct is 4 percent black.
In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Both got marijuana complaints at the same rate, but the Queens Village precinct is just over half black, while the one covering Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.
And in Manhattan, officers in a precinct covering a stretch of western Harlem make marijuana arrests at double the rate of their counterparts in a precinct covering the northern part of the Upper West Side. Both received complaints at the same rate, but the precinct covering western Harlem has double the percentage of black residents as the one that serves the Upper West Side....
Mayor Bill de Blasio said in late 2014 that the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Since then, the police have arrested 17,500 people for marijuana possession on average a year, down from about 26,000 people in 2014, and issued thousands of additional summonses. Overall, arrests have dropped sharply from their recent peak of more than 50,000 during some years under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. About 87 percent of those arrested in recent years have been black or Hispanic, a proportion that has remained roughly the same for decades, according to research led by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College....
The city’s 77 precincts, led by commanders with their own enforcement priorities, show erratic arrest patterns. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, the police made more than twice as many marijuana arrests last year as in 2016, despite receiving roughly the same number of annual complaints. And in a precinct covering a section of northwestern Harlem, arrests dropped to 90 last year from almost 700 a year earlier, even though complaints fell only slightly from one year to the next.
The NY Times also has this companion article headlined "Using Data to Make Sense of a Racial Disparity in NYC Marijuana Arrests." Here is how it ends:
What we discovered was that when two precincts had the same rate of marijuana calls, the one with a higher arrest rate was almost always home to more black people. The police said that had to do with violent crime rates being higher in those precincts, which commanders often react to by deploying more officers.
More scrutiny is in store for the department’s low-level arrest tactics. A recently passed local law requires the police to post data about the race of people arrested for fare evasion and the subway stations where they are arrested, but the police have yet to comply.
When it comes to marijuana, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he’s still making up his mind about where he stands on legalization. In the first three months of this year, 89 percent of the roughly 4,000 people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were black or Hispanic.
Monday, May 7, 2018
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Boston Globe article. (At the risk of getting redundant, I will again note ow this press piece is related in theme to my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices.") Here are excerpts from the Globe piece:
Last month, Massachusetts rolled out the country’s first statewide marijuana industry “equity” program, giving preferential treatment to people who are typically marginalized by the business world.
One key to the effort: giving a head start in the rush for cannabis licenses to companies that are led by or employ minorities, to people with past marijuana convictions, or to residents of low-income neighborhoods with high arrest rates for drug crimes. All other companies that grow, process, or sell pot, meanwhile, are required to help those communities, and are limited in the size of their operations. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will also launch a training program for inexperienced pot entrepreneurs.
The provisions spring from a simple premise: People of color were disproportionately prosecuted and jailed amid the nation’s “war on drugs,” even though whites had similar rates for using or selling marijuana. It would be unfair, proponents argued, to allow the windfall of a now-legal cannabis industry to flow only to the already privileged, while those who suffered the most under pot prohibition remain frozen out. “We’re going to use this moment to try to rebalance the scales — or, at the very least, to stop creating new unbalanced scales,’’ said state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped to write the so-called equity provisions into state law.
While it may seem radical to give previously incarcerated people the right to sell a product that was illegal until recently, the equity provisions so far haven’t been particularly controversial. Even Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a fierce critic of legal marijuana, is on board. “It’s going to open the door for people who just wouldn’t otherwise have the ability and financial background to break in,” Carmichael said. “We have to give them a chance.”
As the commission developed its regulations this year, county prosecutors asked the agency to bar people convicted of trafficking certain still-illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl from even working at a cannabis company. “This is not an area for permissiveness,” the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association warned in a letter. The cannabis commission partially acquiesced, restricting such people to administrative positions that don’t involving handling marijuana products.
For owners of cannabis businesses, the bar is higher than for their employees. People convicted of serious crimes, including nonmarijuana drug felonies, firearm violations, and sex offenses, cannot own licensed pot companies. However, businesses can hire people with records for possessing opioids, for example, and receive preferential treatment if they employ enough people with criminal records. People convicted of large-scale marijuana trafficking may qualify under the rules, though some might have related convictions that would automatically disqualify them anyway. The commission also has discretion to reject any applicant.
Marijuana equity programs elsewhere operate only on the local level, and have a limited track record. Oakland, Calif., for example, this year adopted a policy that reserves more than half of the city’s licenses for equity applicants, and most of the rest for large companies that agree to host and mentor them. The system has indeed helped people of color break into the business — but it’s also drawn sharp backlash from smaller companies that do not qualify.
Massachusetts has taken a less restrictive approach. The primary initiative underway provides expedited review to applications from companies that meet certain criteria — those owned by people from places with high rates of poverty and drug arrests, for example, or that employ mostly people with drug-related convictions. It’s an important benefit, as many Massachusetts communities limit the number and locations of pot businesses, giving a big advantage to the first stores.
Later this year, the commission will work with community groups to develop a crash course in business planning and fund-raising for entrepreneurs who were arrested or live in so-called communities of disproportionate impact. Those entrepreneurs will also be exempt from many state fees and will be allowed to open pot-delivery services and lounges ahead of other companies if the commission decides to issue those licenses....
Entrepreneurs who do not have drug convictions or arrests can still qualify if they show their business will benefit poorer communities with high arrest rates. For example, Dishon Laing dreams of opening an alternative health center in his native Dorchester that would offer yoga, vegan food, and cannabis. He, too, wants to hire people with criminal records, and also plans to run drug education programs for teenagers. “Everything we do is connected to giving back,” said Laing, a city public health worker. “I know my partners and I will face stigma based on being people of color and the industry we’re in, but we want to show that we’re actually improving our communities.”
Another requirement is intended to recruit marijuana companies that don’t qualify for the equity program to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford. Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.
The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging. State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.
All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses. Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.
“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”
Cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title, who championed the equity initiatives, acknowledged they are hardly a cure-all. But Title is heartened by the early numbers: 68 applicants have cleared a first hurdle in the process for licensing, and more than 100 more under review. Those people would have their applications reviewed ahead of others. “We’ll never be able to repair the damage caused by drug prohibition, but these programs at least begin to help provide a fair shot,” Title said. “Think about having a conviction that was based on unfair enforcement, and how that holds you back in so many different ways — we want to make that right.”
May 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The sports website SBNation has this big new series of articles under the banner "Sports in the age of cannabis." Here is how the site sets up its coverage along with links to more than a half-dozen article of note:
We, as a nation, are changing the way we feel about cannabis.
Gone are the days of Reefer Madness, the hysteria of the War on Drugs. As more and more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, we are seeing a new American attitude that views it as much a business opportunity as something to be feared or banned.
These attitudes are making their way into the sporting world as well. Some professional leagues still test for weed, though how eager they are to actually bust athletes is a matter of debate. And athletes are now seriously turning toward cannabis as a pain-management solution — as we learn more about the dangers of opioid abuse, weed appears more and more like a safer option.
While the changing stigmas around cannabis present exciting opportunities for some, it’s not all that simple. We still live in a country where people, too often people of color, are being arrested for selling and using a product that is already making entrepreneurs, in the sporting world and outside of it, tons of money.
We wanted to look at it all, from the mountains of Colorado to the streets of Atlanta, THC and CBD, oils and smoke, and all the rest. This is sports in the age of cannabis.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
One of many great lines in the great musical Hamilton is "Everything is legal in New Jersey." But that is not quite right with respect to marijuana yet, though the recent election of a Governor who ran advocating for marijuana reform led to many reform advocates thinking the Garden State could become the next big legalization state. But, as is often the case, legislative reform is full of complications, and this New York Times article highlights how completing views on racial justice is shaping the debate in New Jersey. The piece is headlined "Racial Justice Drives Fight for, and Against, Legal Pot in New Jersey," and here are excerpts:
During his campaign for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, telling Democrats at a party conference last year in Atlantic City that creating a new tax revenue was not what was motivating him.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you sure you can generate $300 million from the legalization of marijuana?” Mr. Murphy said, citing a figure that his campaign had trumpeted. “I say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure, but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars. We’re doing it for social justice.’”
Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers.
But now that Mr. Murphy occupies the governor’s office, a major legislative obstacle is emerging: Ronald L. Rice, the state’s longest-serving black senator and the leader of its Black Caucus. “It’s always been said the issue is not money, the issue is social justice,” said Mr. Rice, a Democrat and a former Newark police officer. “But, it’s being sold on the backs of black folk and brown people. It’s clear there is big, big money pushing special interests to sell this to our communities.”
Medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey under former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, but his successor, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, rejected proposals to make recreational cannabis use legal.
The growing and selling of marijuana has already generated billions of dollars in the nine states where it is legal — but it is an industry that is overwhelmingly white. Mr. Rice fears the consequences would be dire in cities like Newark, which is already wrestling with a variety of problems, including widespread heroin addiction and a foreclosure crisis. Cannabis stores, he believes, would proliferate in black communities, much like liquor stores, and would produce a new generation of drug abusers....
His position on cannabis legalization not only puts him at odds with the governor and members of his party, but also with many African-Americans.
In New Jersey, African-Americans are three times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, even though both populations use the drug at similar rates. That has galvanized civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to support legalization. “All the collateral consequences that come with an arrest — jail time, losing your job, losing your housing — are disproportionately falling on communities of color,” said Dianna Houenou, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey. “Through legalization we can begin to address the harms that have been inflicted.”
A statewide coalition of black pastors, the N.A.A.C.P. and the New Jersey chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance is pushing for legalization as a social justice issue, but only if it is linked to some type of compensation for the harm they say was done to black and brown families whose sons were incarcerated. The pastors said they wanted to make sure members of their communities were able to participate in the billion-dollar cannabis industry as growers and sellers, not just workers. They are frustrated that the wealth being generated in the other states where marijuana is legal is not reaching people of color.
Researchers at Marijuana Business Daily, an industry news site based in Denver, found that 81 percent of cannabis business owners were white, while less than 4 percent were black....
At a marijuana legalization forum held recently at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, the Rev. Charles Boyer of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury said the worst thing that could happen was for communities most harmed by the prohibition to not have a say about legalization. “Do we want to be the ones responsible for playing a part in a system that will make tons of young white millionaires after years of making hundreds of thousands of poor black felons?” Pastor Boyer said.
The Drug Policy Alliance is lobbying for a bill that includes the automatic and retroactive expungement of criminal records for possession, making permits for cannabis shops affordable so that the market is accessible to lower-income entrepreneurs, and a commitment that a portion of the revenue from marijuana sales be used to provide education and job training for people of color. Some social justice activists are also calling for allowing people to grow their own cannabis plants.
State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, is the author of a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for anyone over 21 and would establish a state Division of Marijuana Enforcement. But it does not include any language discussing compensation. Mr. Scutari agrees that arrests for marijuana possession are disproportionately higher for blacks and Latinos and says his bill addresses the issue of social justice. “The individuals that are previously convicted of marijuana possession will no longer be subject to prosecution,” Mr. Scutari said....
For his part, Mr. Rice has proposed his own marijuana bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, and make carrying more a disorderly persons charge that would impose only a fine. It would also expunge criminal records and release incarcerated people serving sentences for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But Mr. Scutari said that decriminalization would simply create an open-air drug market that would allow drug dealers to get richer without creating any kind of regulatory system to control how marijuana is sold.
Ultimately, any effort to promote civil rights could depend on what kind of bill Mr. Murphy is willing to sign. In a statement, Daniel Bryan, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Murphy was committed to “the goal of building a stronger and fairer New Jersey, and supports the legalization of marijuana to advance the cause of social justice and combat the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”
March 13, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
The Leafly folks are doing a three-part series on cannabis in New York City, and this first part looks at arrests under the headline "Racial Disparities in NYC Cannabis Arrests Are Getting Worse." (The discussion in the piece builds off this Politico article last month headlined "Racial disparities persist in New York City marijuana arrests.) I recommend both pieces in full, and here are portions of the Leafly piece:
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, cannabis arrests in New York City are significantly down relative to cannabis arrests during the terms of his precedessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. But they’re still an order of magnitude higher than cannabis arrests during the 1980s and early 1990s — and the racial disparities in those arrest figures aren’t getting any better. In fact, the disparities in white, black, and hispanic cannabis arrests were worse in 2017 than they were in the previous year.
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Michael Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. How can the rest of the country continue to make progress — decriminalizing in big cities, legalizing in more and more states — while New York City actually goes backwards?
That’s what members of New York’s City Council wanted to know last week. In a joint meeting of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on the Justice System, councilmembers questioned leaders of the New York Police Department about racial disparities in the enforcement of the city’s cannabis laws. It was not a congenial affair. Councilmembers repeatedly took the NYPD to task for withholding critically important arrest data, and for the glaring racial disparities in the little data that was offered up for public scrutiny.
Councilmember Donovan Richards, head of the public safety committee, started off the session by airing data on marijuana arrests, per New York City mayor, during their first three years in office:
Mayor Koch – 6,000 arrests, with an average of 2,000 per year
Mayor Dinkins – 3,000 arrests, with an average of 1,000 per year
Mayor Gulliani 18,000 arrests, with an average of 6,000 per year
Mayor Bloomberg 112,000 arrests with an average of 37,000 per year
Mayor Di Blasio 61,000 arrests, with an average of 20,000 per year...
Noting those figures, Councilman Richards, who is black, asked: “Are blacks the only ones using marijuana in New York City? It’s pretty even across the spectrum of marijuana use. So why is so much enforcement happening in communities of color?”
Chief Shea dodged the question. He said that in 2014, the city made a legal differentiation between ‘using marijuana’ and ‘burning marijuana.’ Since then, he said, 90% of arrests for marijuana are for ‘burning.’
That didn’t mollify Richards. “Communities of color are not the only ones ‘burning,’” he said.
Under Mayor de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Mayor Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. “If the administration is serious about changing the racial disparity of arrests,” said Richards, “we are not seeing that.”
Chief Shea defended the NYPD’s arrest statistics. “We are following specific complaints from the public, regarding marijuana burned in public view.” He added, “We are probably the most transparent we have ever been as a department, as an administration.”
This seemed hard for Council members to believe, because no data was presented by the department to corroborate their claims, despite repeated prior requests for said data to be presented before the hearing.
Friday, March 2, 2018
The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy Atlantic piece, with the subheadline: "In states where weed is legal, new mild cannabis products are catching on with parents." Here is how it gets started:
Many a meme has been made about “wine moms”—mothers who joke online about their love for a relaxing glass of cabernet, or three. But a new drug is gaining popularity with the playgroup circuit. As it becomes more socially acceptable, more moms are using marijuana and its various incarnations to deal with everything from the daily aches and stresses of motherhood, to postpartum depression and anxiety, to menstrual cramps. And forget the simple bongs and pipes of the past; as the industry expands, it’s creating a whole new world of sprays, drinks, drops, and oils. The needs of this market of marijuana-friendly mothers have inspired a new crop of cannabis products.
In her recent High Times article, Jessica Delfino discusses the changing social attitudes toward motherhood and marijuana: “Mothers and women who use medical marijuana…are often put into a position in which they feel they have to explain themselves and what their condition is, and then steel themselves for the judgment that will inevitably follow,” she writes.
But also, Delfino tells me: “I think cannabis use in moms is becoming more widespread because it’s becoming more legal, and so people feel more willing and able to discuss it.”
Adam Grossman, the CEO of the cannabis company Papa and Barkley, has also noticed a burgeoning interest in marijuana from moms. “In the last month alone, we have seen the emergence of cannabis-and-parenthood workshops, new ‘parenting and cannabis’ publications like Splimm, and Facebook groups," he says. “More and more parents are starting to have the conversation about cannabis and breastfeeding, cannabis and pregnancy, and cannabis and parenting.”
But according to those in the pot industry, one new product in particular is spreading fast in mom circles: sublingual spray, a convenient, THC-infused ingestible liquid.
Once you spritz the liquid under your tongue, it activates quickly (within 60 seconds), it’s hard to overdo, and the high doesn't last very long, says Leslie Siu, the CMO and cofounder of cannabis company Mother and Clone. “After a minute you’ll start to feel this uplifting euphoric feeling, almost like a gentle rush,” Siu says of her sublingual nano-sprays. (Nano-sprays are a form of microdosing — Mother and Clone bottles deliver a metered dose of the drug.) By the five-minute mark, she says, you’ll know just how strong the effects will be for the next hour and you can decide to re-up and spray some more — in the industry this is called “stacking.”
Siu was moved to start Mother and Clone after she experienced postpartum depression. “Everything felt dark,” she recalls of that first “ominous” year after having her daughter Veda. Siu started searching for ways to ease the overwhelming, stressful feelings she was having. “Then a few things happened that got me back on track,” Siu says. "Time, therapy, running, and weed.”
Siu wanted to create a cannabis product that would be easy and safe for mothers in similar situations to use, and she landed on sublingual sprays. Because it’s easier to control the dose with sublingual spray, Siu says that it’s ideal for parents (her products also have child-resistant bottles). The sprays can also help with sleep, she says. “A lot of [postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety] sufferers develop terrible insomnia even if the baby starts to sleep through the night.”
Sunday, February 25, 2018
In this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.
Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:
As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.
Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.
I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.
LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?
It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.
We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.
With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?
There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.
We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities. So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.
February 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 22, 2018
New report from SAM and affiliate assembles data to highlight problems in Colorado after legalization
The Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), launched a new report today examining marijuana legalization in Colorado, joining Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute in an open press event. SAM honorary advisor, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also delivered the report to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran earlier today. MAC is an affiliate of SAM Action, SAM's 501 c-4 organization, started by former Obama and Bush Administration advisors.
"We will continue to investigate, expose, challenge, and hold the marijuana industry accountable," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of MAC. "We will not remain silent anymore as we see our state overtaken by special marijuana interests." The report also comes with a two-page report card synopsis giving Colorado an "F" on many key public health and safety indicators. Future MAC initiatives include an effort to expose politicians taking marijuana industry money, and exposing the harms of 4/20 celebrations....
The new report card discussed the following impacts in the state:
- Colorado currently holds the top ranking for first-time marijuana use among youth, representing a 65% increase in the years since legalization (NSDUH, 2006-2016). Young adult use (youth aged 18-25) in Colorado is rapidly increasing (NSDUH, 2006-2016).
- Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).
- Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety [CDPS], 2016).
- The gallons of alcohol consumed in Colorado since marijuana legalization has increased by 8% (Colorado Department of Revenue [CDR], Colorado Liquor Excise Tax, 2017).
- In Colorado, calls to poison control centers have risen 210% between the four-year averages before and after recreational legalization (Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center [RMPCD], 2017 and Wang, et al., 2017)....
Other data highlighted in the report include:
- In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 35% between the years 2011 and 2015 (CDPHE, 2017).
- Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas in the state (Stewart, 2017).
- In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states (RMHIDTA, 2017).
- The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in marijuana seizures (RMHIDTA, 2017).
- The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization (Mitchell, 2017), with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reporting an 8.3% increase in property crimes and an 18.6% increase in violent crimes (Colorado Bureau of Investigation [CBI], 2017).
- The Boulder Police Department reported a 54% increase in public consumption of marijuana citations since legalization (Boulder Police Department [BPD], 2017).
- Marijuana urine test results in Colorado are now double the national average (Quest Diagnostics, 2016).
- Insurance claims have become a growing concern among companies in legalized states (Hlavac & Easterly, 2016).
- The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013 to 2015 (Migoya, 2017). Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017).
- Driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) have also risen in Colorado, with 76% of statewide DUIDs involving marijuana (Colorado State Patrol [CSP], 2017).
Because I recently saw SAM fudging how it reported some arrest data in order to advance its advocacy agenda, folks interested in these data may want also to check this list of citations.
Monday, January 29, 2018
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.
Friday, January 26, 2018
The 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
The 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.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
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."
Thursday, January 18, 2018
New Maryland report details basis for marijuana measures to "remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses"
As 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.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
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.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
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
This 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.