Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

SAM sets forth (awfully criminal) vision of a "pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform"

I just today saw this new posting from the folks as Smart Approaches to Marijuana under the heading "SAM Model State Legislation." Here are excerpts:

The criminalization of marijuana has had a negative effect in society, with disproportionate harm to minority and disadvantaged populations. Therefore, we at SAM reject this dichotomy of commercialization and criminalization.  We pursue a middle ground that is aligned with scientific knowledge about the public health harms of marijuana.  

State marijuana laws should discourage the use of marijuana, get those who need help back on their feet, and ensure that those who get help are not penalized for their past mistakes.  Accordingly, SAM staff have put together several key points to be addressed in model legislation.  A pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform should:

⁃ Provide alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses, including citation instead of arrest, diversion programs, and appropriate fines that take into account economic means;

⁃ Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use;

⁃ Expand the use of conditional discharge by requiring its consideration;

⁃ Allow fines and cost of treatment to be waived for those without means;

⁃ Provide automatic expungement for first-time offenders who complete treatment or education program without further violations within one year;

⁃ Model penalties on Hawaii’s HOPE program for non-compliance with court-ordered treatment/recovery plan; and

⁃ Offer community services as an alternative to fines for those with severe financial hardship.

I have a hard time considering this outline a "pro-public health" approach to state marijuana law reform given how heavily it still seems to lean on criminalization. For example, the first point suggesting "alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses" suggests that any and all forms or marijuana distribution still should be subject to punishment in the form of incarceration. Repeated reference to "fines" and "offenders" and "penalties" likewise connotes operationalize this "reform" through the criminal justice system.  Especially because entanglement with the criminal justice system rarely, if ever, advances public health, I am deeply disappointed by the fact that "SAM Model State Legislation" is really pretty close to existing criminal prohibition models and not all reflective of what a true "pro-public health approach" would really seem to involve.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/10/sam-explains-its-awfully-criminal-vision-of-a-pro-public-health-approach-to-state-marijuana-law-refo.html

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