Saturday, November 16, 2013
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent New York Times commentary by Jim Dwyer headlined "A Marijuana Stash That Carried Little Risk." The piece is, I think, designed to complain about the impact and import of NYC stop-and-frisk policies, but my take-away is a bit distinct. Here are excerpts from the piece:
Walking down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet, discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few pinches of what was described as “herb.”
The innovations of Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor are legion, but his enforcement of marijuana laws has broken all records. More people have been arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From 2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot.
I wasn’t sure about the weight of my stash — although a digital scale was used in the transaction, I didn’t see the display — but it didn’t feel too heavy. Still, I wasn’t about to openly display or burn it.
It turns out that there was little to fret over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys. Or at least they aren’t enforced against us.
“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” said Professor Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who has documented marijuana arrests in New York and across the country. “If you were a 56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”
About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 — although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it.
These drug busts were the No. 1 harvest of the city’s stop, question and frisk policing from 2009 through 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. Marijuana possession was the most common charge of those arrested during those stops. The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50 percent more likely than blacks to have the case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the report showed.
Now, having a little bit of pot, like a joint, is not a crime as long as you don’t burn or openly display it. Having it in my backpack was a violation of law, meaning that it is an offense that is lower than a misdemeanor. Pot in the backpack is approximately the same as making an illegal turn in a car. Taking it out and waving it in the face of a police officer or lighting up a joint on the street would drive it up to the lowest-level misdemeanor.
How was it that all the black and Latino males were displaying or burning pot where it could be seen by the police? The answer is that many of them were asked during the stops to empty their pockets. What had been a concealed joint and the merest violation of the law was transformed into a misdemeanor by being “openly displayed.” If these were illegal searches — and they very well could have been — good luck trying to prove it....
Michael A. Cardozo, the chief lawyer for the city, is eager to get an appeals court to throw out the findings of fact by a judge who ruled against the city in a lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk tactics. Mr. Cardozo appears to believe, mistakenly, that losing a lawsuit is going to damage the legacy of his patron, Mayor Bloomberg. Undoing a lawsuit will not unstain this history.
As for me, the pot got to a couple of people who might need it to get through some medical storms. It’s too risky for me to use: I already have a hard enough time keeping my backpack zipped.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Nation talks up "Dope and Change" and explains "Why It’s Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana"
If magazine covers serve as a marker of some kind of tipping point, then November 2013 should be marked as the month when these covers went to pot. As noted in this prior post, the November 2013 issue of Reason magazine has lots of terrific coverage of modern marijuana realities and a lengthy cover story titled "Pot Goes Legit." Now I see that the November 18, 2013 issue of The Nation is covering marijuana mania with a cover picture of President Obama's high-school "Choom Gang" under the headline "Dope and Change" and this editorial headlined "Why It’s Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana." Here is how the editorial gets started:
“Marijuana is indeed a gateway drug,” quips Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s a gateway drug to the Oval Office!” Indeed. From Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale it” through George W. Bush’s “I was young and foolish” to Barack Obama’s teen years in the Choom Gang (“I inhaled frequently—that was the point”), the last three presidents have more or less owned up to breaking America’s drug laws.
All of them were elected. Then re-elected.
This raises obvious questions: If Clinton, Bush and Obama, ex–pot smokers all, were deemed responsible enough to lead the world’s most powerful nation, largest economy and strongest military (with thousands of nukes), why are we still arresting young men and women — especially young African-Americans and Latinos — for doing what these men did? Why do countless people languish behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes? And why is pot still classified as a dangerous drug?
This is especially astonishing when you consider that almost half of all Americans — myself included — admit to having at least tried pot. As a parent who has had the substance use-and-abuse talks with my 22-year-old daughter, I’ve had a hard time explaining why she can freely purchase cigarettes, which can certainly kill her, but not marijuana, which will surely not.
When the Eighteenth Amendment banned alcohol in 1920, it took thirteen years to admit failure and enact the Twenty-first, which ended Prohibition. By contrast, it has now been almost eighty years since the Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched the “reefer madness” era. The ensuing decades have been a debacle, from Nixon’s “war on drugs” to the creation, by Joe Biden, of a national “drug czar.”
So much failure. So many lives ruined. So much time wasted. Enough. It’s time to end pot prohibition. It’s time to legalize marijuana.
In addition to this editorial, The Nation has in both its print edition and on-line an extraordinary amount of insightful commentary about modern marijuana realities past, present and future. Here are links to all the coverage, cut and pasted straight from the end of the editorial:
Also In This Issue
Mike Riggs: “Obama’s War on Pot”
Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem”
Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?”
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian: “Baking Bad: A Potted History of High Times”
Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back”
And only online…
J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned”
Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze”
Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?”
November 3, 2013 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)
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Did Louisiana really give Corey Ladd "20 years hard labor" for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana?
While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.
Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”
Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”...
Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans. Over 84 percent were for possession only. While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide. In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.
In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years....
Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana. Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice. Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”
Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.
The Louisiana Supreme Court case referenced in this commentary is Louisiana v. Noble, No. 12-K-1923 (La. April 19, 2013) (available here), and the Noble court did in fact rule that Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law demanded imposition of a mandatory prison term of 13.3 years for a defendant who "was convicted of a fourth offense possession of marijuana and adjudicated as a third felony offender based on two prior guilty pleas to possession of cocaine" and even though "defendant supports seven children, two of whom have significant medical problems, and ... all of the defendant’s offenses have been non-violent ... and all involved the possession of small quantities of narcotics."
The Noble case documents that at least some defendants are, despite claims by supporters of the modern drug war, that nobody really serves long terms of imprisonment merely for possessing marijuana. But the opinion in Noble does not reveal just how much much marijuana the defendant in that case possessed, and perhaps the possession offense there involved a significant quantity.
This case involving Corey Ladd surely also involves application of Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law because subsection 4(a) of that law provides a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the "fourth or subsequent felony." And I suspect the sentencing court felt obligated to give the 20-year term because the Noble court reversed another sentencing court for trying to go below the applicable mandatory minimum. But I am still gobsmacked that possessing such a small amount of marijuana in the Bayou could be a felony and in turn require the imposition of a 20-year prison term for a habitual offender.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Perhaps like many others today, I have been thinking about (as well as listening again to) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed "I Have A Dream" speech from the famous March on Washington five centuries ago. In so doing, I noticed this posting from The Crime Report, which is headlined "50th Anniversary March on Washington Will Emphasize Criminal Justice Issues" (and has links to the full speeches of August 1963 speeches of both MLK and John Lewis). Here is an excerpt from the post:
Half a century after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the often-parallel topics of racism and criminal justice have been thrust into the spotlight.
[Today] and on August 28 civil rights leaders will demand reforms to such racially-tinged criminal justice issues as police “Stop-and-Frisk” tactics, “Stand Your Ground” laws and mass incarceration at the Lincoln Memorial where King made his impassioned plea so many years before.
These policies, among others, have added to the increasingly heavy cost of incarceration of African-Americans effectively decimating the fabric of many communities. The numbers are startling: one in three black men can expect to be in jail during their lifetime. African-Americans are arrested at nearly six times more than whites and almost one million of the United States 2.3 million prison population are black.
But in the last month some strides have been giving leaders attending the march more urgency.
Perhaps at no time since King’s famed speech have the often-parallel topics of racism and criminal justice been so intertwined and in the spotlight. On August 12, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the "Smart on Crime" program, a sweeping initiative by the Justice Department that pivots away from decades of tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation. That same day, Judge Shira Scheindlin of U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan, declared the New York Police Department’s use of “Stop-and-Frisk” unconstitutional. The tactic is used to search individuals — predominantly minorities — for drug paraphernalia and guns....
Among those speaking will be Congressman John Lewis, whose speech at the original March on Washington cited “the constant fear of a police state.”
"We are tired of being beat by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again,” Lewis said at the time. ...
The week of events will culminate on August 28, when President Barack Obama will give a speech in which he is expected to emphasize the “dreams” of King that remain unfulfilled.
I have long believed and long contended that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were he still alive today, would be a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform and that he would consider such advocacy a continuation of his civil rights work. But, as the question in the title of this post suggests, I wonder if some folks (especially those working toward ending marijuana prohibition) think that MLK would be a vocal advocate for marijauana legalization were he alive today. In other words, do folks think it is proper or at least plausible for advocates of marijuana reform to be considered civil rights activists?
Obviously, to the extent MLK stressed the theme of freedom in his famous Dream speech, it is relatively easy for marijuana reform advocates to contend they are working in the MLK tradition when advocating for all people to be able to freely and legally use marijuana. But, as the graphic above notes, the March on Washington 50 years ago was for jobs and freedom. When I think of my own criminal justice reform advocacy, it has a lot to do with freedom but very little to do with jobs. Marijuana reform advocates, however, often can and sometimes do speak of the job-creation possibilities of a fully legalized and regulated marijuana industry. In this way, I do think marijuana reform advocates can arguably claim to be even more in harmony with the DC marchers 50 years ago than even today's criminal justice reform advocates.