Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

"The Cannabis Effect on Crime: Time-Series Analysis of Crime in Colorado and Washington State"

Justice_quarterly_front_and_The title of this post is the title of this notable new research by multiple authors just now published in the journal Justice Quarterly.  Here is its abstract and part of its conclusions:

Abstract

Previous studies based on relatively weak analytical designs lacking contextualization and appropriate comparisons have reported that the legalization of marijuana has either increased or decreased crime.  Recognizing the importance for public policy making of more robust research designs in this area during a period of continuing reform of state marijuana laws, this study uses a quasi-experimental, multi-group interrupted time-series design to determine if, and how, UCR crime rates in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana, were influenced by it.  Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington.  We observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states....

Conclusions

Authors of previous studies (Berenson, 2019; NHIDTA, 2016; Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (2018) argue that legalization is associated with an increase in crime.  Our results suggest that cannabis laws more broadly, and the legalization of recreational marijuana more specifically, have had minimal effect on major crime in Colorado or Washington State.  We observed virtually no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational marijuana legalization or retail sales on violent or property crime rates, except for a significant decline of burglary rates in Washington.  There were some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, but these did not result in long-term effects.  It is difficult to study trends for less serious crimes, as the UCR only includes arrest data for these offenses and not offenses known.  Though NIBRS data presents an attractive alternative, not all of Washington is NIBRS compliant and many of the agencies that are reporting NIBRS data have not done so for a long enough period of time pre-legalization for time series modeling to be examined.  Still, the results related to serious crime are quite clear: the legalization of marijuana has not resulted in a significant upward trend in crime rates.  Our results are robust in that we examined the first two states to legalize marijuana and compared them to states with no marijuana laws at all.  Moreover, we estimated our models in a variety of manners, including models with different interruption points, single-group interrupted time series analyses, and as a set of pooled cross-sectional models. None of our models revealed long term effects of marijuana legalization on serious crime rates.

In concert with recent research results from Makin et al. (2019), our results from Colorado and Washington suggest that legalization has not had major detrimental effects on public safety.  Having said this we would caution that it would also be premature to suggest that legalization renders substantial increases in public safety, as the rates of most crimes remained steady in this study in the post-legalization period and because crime is not the only measure of public safety.  Additional work is needed to examine the effect of legalization on other public safety outcomes, including public and mental health measures.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Measuring the Criminal Justice System Impacts of Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Using State Data"

Thanks to this posting at Marijuana Moment, I just now saw a study with the same title as the title of this post.   This study, which was authored by Erin Farley and Stan Orchowsky and was supported "using funding from the National Institute of Justice, between the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Justice Research and Statistics Association," sought "to address three research questions: (1) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on criminal justice resources in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon?; (2) What are the impacts on criminal justice resources in states that border those that have legalized marijuana? This includes Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas; and (3) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on drug trafficking through northern and southwest border states?  This includes Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington."

Notably, the paper highlights that state Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) "were unable to provide the requested information" to answer these questions as a result of the fact that the requested data "did not exist because they were not being tracked or they were being tracked/collected but were not readily available because they were not being reported in any systematic way to a centralized agency." Data limitations notwithstanding and subject to other caveats about analytical challenges, the report ends noting "some general conclusions can be offered based on the analyses of the quantitative and qualitative data presented here."  Here are excerpts from these conclusions:

First, it indeed seems to be the case that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana results in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases.  Whether we look at arrests or court case filings for possession or distribution, marijuana related offenses seem to have decreased in Oregon and Washington since legalization of recreational use. In most cases, these decreases appear to have started well before legislation was enacted, perhaps reflecting changes in law enforcement policies and practices in anticipation of the coming policy changes.

Interviews with law enforcement officials, though based on the perceptions of only a small number of respondents, provided insight into a number of concerns with regard to legalization of marijuana, including the potency of marijuana products, increased marijuana use among youth, and increases in incidents of drugged driving.  All of these anecdotal “findings” may potentially be verified empirically, provided that law enforcement agencies collect the requisite data and make it available for analysis. It should also be noted that several of the law enforcement officers interviewed indicated that methamphetamine and heroin were much larger problems for their agencies than was marijuana.

Our efforts to address the second question, regarding border states, were limited by the lack of availability of data in these states.  Nevertheless, for the data we examined, we saw no evidence that marijuana legalization had an impact on indicators in border states. Marijuana-related arrests and charges did not increase in either the state as a whole or, in the case of Nebraska, in counties that directly border the state that legalized marijuana, after legalization. It is possible that additional indicators or a longer follow-up time period might reveal impacts in these states and localities.  The few interviews we conducted in one border state (Nebraska) suggested increases in the potency of marijuana and in incidents of driving under the influence of marijuana. Again, these are perceptions that should be verified by future research.

The third question, related to drug trafficking, was particularly challenging to address.  Relatively few individuals were charged with trafficking in the data we examined, and it is difficult to identify other indicators of trafficking in state and local data.  However, in the data we did examine we found no indications of increases in arrests related to transportation/trafficking offenses.  Interview results suggested that drug trafficking had indeed increased in some states, including border states. Again, it is possible that different indicators, examined over a longer period of time, might reveal impacts of marijuana legalization on drug trafficking.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

Mitch-mcon-weedIn prior posts here and here I have highlighted ways in which hemp and other cannabis reforms have made marijuana enforcement ever more challenging for law enforcement. Politico has this new lengthy article covering these realities with a spotlight on Senator Mitch McConnell's central role in hemp reform under the headline "Marijuana Mitch? How McConnell’s hemp push has made pot busts harder." Here are excerpts:

Mitch McConnell’s big victory for his home state hemp industry may have made it easier for people busted for marijuana to get off the hook.

Last year, McConnell pushed to get a provision legalizing hemp into the farm bill.  His goal was to spur hemp farming across the country and boost farmers in his home state of Kentucky who have been battered by a loss in federal tobacco subsidies.

But here’s the catch: Hemp and marijuana products both come from the same plant, cannabis, which makes it nearly impossible for the average cop to tell the difference.  As states rushed to change their hemp laws to capitalize on the federal changes, many municipalities are giving up on small-time pot busts because of a lack of reliable testing.  Under federal and most state laws, hemp can’t be more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that triggers a high.  Before hemp was legal, police only had tests that could detect the presence of THC, not how much.

Now that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC is legal, a growing number of prosecutors are requiring lab tests to bring charges. The mere presence of THC is no longer enough.

For example, in Texas, prosecutors were shocked by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s embrace of a hemp bill in June, said Paul Fortenberry, the narcotics division chief in the Harris County district attorney’s office.  The new law led to several district attorney’s offices to set policies requiring lab testing in marijuana cases.  Hundreds of people across the state happily had their cases dismissed.

Prosecutors in Florida, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere have announced similar policies following hemp legalization laws. Five states legalized hemp this year and others expanded existing hemp programs because of the farm bill.

In Ohio, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office announced in August that it would stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases entirely after Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s hemp legalization bill.  “I was not opposed to the law because of what it meant for Ohio farmers,” Klein said.  “Our farmers have been particularly hit by President [Donald] Trump’s trade war with China so it’s a positive thing for our state … but it still doesn’t mean there aren’t unintended consequences of this law.”

The localities where changes have already been made are likely just the first of many.  “It is a national issue.  This is not anything that is limited to just a few states,” said Duffie Stone, a South Carolina prosecutor and president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Hemp backers including McConnell, especially in conservative-leaning states, frame the hemp legalization issue as an agricultural one.  The crop cannot be consumed as an intoxicating drug, and it can help otherwise struggling farmers access a booming global market worth $3.7 billion in 2018.

But the issue of hemp cuts across several issues.  It’s exactly this focus on agriculture that caught prosecutors off guard in the first place — the hemp bill in Texas went through the agriculture committee.  “Typically when we have a criminal justice bill, it will come through the criminal justice committee,” Fortenberry said.  “Legislatures are seeing that other states have hemp programs worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don’t want farmers in their state to get left behind,” he said.  “But in the process of doing that, I don’t think that they foresaw this unintended consequence.”

Earlier this year, South Dakota’s legislature passed a hemp legalization bill that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem promptly vetoed, arguing that it would undermine marijuana enforcement.  While lawmakers fell a few votes short of overriding her veto, they have vowed to try again in 2020.

“I find hard to believe [McConnell] would have moved [hemp legalization] in the same way had he been thinking about all these different implications,” said Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that aims to reduce criminalization in drug policies.  McConnell has previously opposed efforts to liberalize marijuana laws and didn’t return requests for comment for this report.

The farm bill essentially legalized hemp by removing it from the definition of marijuana under federal drug laws. Regulatory agencies haven’t finalized rules for the newly legal industry, however, leaving the nearly $2 billion industry built on the hemp derivative CBD in a regulatory limbo. CBD is a trendy cannabis compound used for relieving anxiety, pain, inflammation and more, though research on its efficacy is slim.  Hemp cultivars generally contain higher amounts of CBD and trace amounts of THC.  Its industrial applications abound: Hemp is gaining attention for its environmental friendliness and can be used in textiles, construction, biofuels, and more....

CBD-rich hemp flowers often look and smell the same as marijuana flowers that are high in THC. “Testing before didn’t distinguish the quantity of THC,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot.  Without some sort of lab results showing that the substance had more than the legal limit of THC, “it just didn’t make any sense to accept the case.”

Texas lawmakers were so dismayed by marijuana cases being tossed out that they wrote a letter to local prosecutors arguing that lab tests aren’t required in every case.  “Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried and true use of circumstantial evidence,” read the letter signed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and state attorney general.

Some smaller DA offices in the state agree. A spokesperson for the El Paso DA’s office sent a statement pointing to a provision of the Texas Health and Safety Code for its decision to continue prosecuting marijuana cases without lab results. But prosecutors in the state’s more populous counties have a different view. “In this day and age, when you have the actual ability to determine whether something is a certain substance, juries expect you to bring you that evidence,” Fortenberry said.

But the lack of testing equipment to differentiate between hemp and marijuana has overwhelmed state crime labs and using private labs can be pricey for local authorities.  Some local police departments are exploring a roadside test from Switzerland, where cannabis under 1 percent THC is legal.  In Florida, more sophisticated testing is coming soon to law enforcement agencies in the Sunshine State: An agriculture official told the Industrial Hemp Advisory Council that a new THC field test will cost $6.50 per test.

Stone said local prosecutors in South Carolina are sending samples to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which hired additional chemists and bought additional mass spectrometry machines that each cost about $100,000.

Like Texas, South Carolina hemp laws followed last year’s farm bill. But unlike other states that have seen prosecutions move away from marijuana cases, South Carolina prosecutors can still move forward with the cases because there is no statute of limitations for any criminal offense in the state.  In Texas, the statute of limitations for marijuana offenses is two years. That’s why prosecutors’ offices are tossing cases, said Creuzot, the Dallas County district attorney.  There’s such a “tremendous backlog” at state crime labs that the suspected marijuana samples can’t be tested before the statute of limitations runs up.

Ohio bought equipment that isn’t yet online, said Klein, but it will eventually allow the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to test suspected marijuana samples.  When testing becomes available, prosecutors in the state also will have a two-year statute of limitations to contend with....

Proponents of marijuana legalization, however, caution that a lack of enforcement does not solve the issues that legalization and regulation would address.  “Certain individuals will avoid prosecution, but the only way to truly end the arrest of adults for marijuana is to fully legalize it at the state level,” said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, an organization that advocates for marijuana legalization.

Creuzot said police officers often file marijuana cases anyways, despite knowing that his office won’t pursue the charges. “They arrest the person [and] take them to jail....  I don’t have any control over that if that’s what they want to do,” he said.  “An arrest in and of itself, even if the case is dismissed, can still have life-altering effects for somebody,” said Moore, of the Drug Policy Alliance, listing the potential consequences: barriers to employment opportunities, loans for higher education, affordable housing, and family law and immigration implications.

Recent related posts:

September 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Achieving Diversity in the Marijuana Industry: Should States Implement Social Equity into Their Regimes?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jared Kriwinsky, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the twelveth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The eleven prior papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

As states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, in medical or recreational form, a new legal market is forming. As more and more companies begin to profit off the legalization of marijuana it begs the question: who is reaping the economic benefits of legalization?  Following decades of the War of Drugs, minority communities have been particularly devastated.  Consequently, states who have legalized marijuana both recreationally and medically have a duty to ensure equal access for the minority communities who were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. 

This paper examines social equity regimes throughout the country and how states have attempted to induce minority participation in the marijuana industry.  It analyzes the arguments for and against social equity regimes.  The primary goal of this article is to address the arguments against social equity regimes in the marijuana industry, and induce states to implement common sense, economical regimes that give equal and just opportunities to those in the minority community.

Prior student papers in this series:

September 24, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases sixth annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." The Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform in Colorado, and it has produced regular annual reports around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume six of that report, which runs around 70 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here are excerpts from the report's executive summary highlighting some of coverage:

Section I: Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving

  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 31 percent.
  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018....

Section II: Marijuana Use

Since recreational marijuana was legalized:

  • Past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older increased 58 percent and is 78 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • Adult marijuana use increased 94 percent and is 96 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • College age marijuana use increased 18 percent and is 48 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.
  • Youth marijuana use decreased 14 percent and is 40 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.

Section III: Public Health

  • The yearly number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).
  • The yearly number of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).

As I have noted before, the these RMHIDTA "Impact" reports are clearly exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado while deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts. This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report highlights only what a small portion of the overall state tax revenue is represented by marijuana taxes.

But, as I have also said before, despite these reporting biases, this report still usefully assembles lots of data and usefully represents the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment.  Serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying, while also keeping in mind what data is not here assembled.

September 18, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advocacy groups urge House leaders not to move forward with banking bill that "does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition"

As noted in this prior post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reportedly planning to put a marijuana banking bill on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote in the  coming weeks.  But yesterday a set of advocacy groups sent this short and significant letter to House leaders urging a postponement of the floor vote because the SAFE Banking Act fails to address any criminal justice reform issues.  Here are excerpts from the letter:  

The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is equal between whites and Blacks, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite many states legalizing marijuana, arrests have increased, with one arrest every 48 seconds.  Against this backdrop, we urge Congress to address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively, with timely Committee and Floor consideration of H.R.3884 – the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  Marijuana legislation must first address the equity and criminal justice reform consequences of prohibition.

The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.  To be clear, we recognize the challenges facing marijuana businesses that lack access to financial services.  However, we believe it is a mistake to move this issue forward while many of the other consequences of marijuana prohibition remain unresolved.  The banking bill does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition – namely, that many people of color have been saddled with criminal records for a substance that is now legal in many states, and that communities have been shut out of the emerging and booming marijuana industry....

Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform.  Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.

We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform.

September 18, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Exploring the intersection of police work and marijuana (and marijuana reform)

This past week bought two notable news pieces on the ever-important and ever-dynamic intersection of policing and marijuana.  Here are headlines, links and small excerpts:

From the AP, "In era of legal pot, can police search cars based on odor?":

Sniff and search is no longer the default for police in some of the 33 states that have legalized marijuana.  Traditionally, an officer could use the merest whiff of weed to justify a warrantless vehicle search, and whatever turned up — pot, other kinds of illegal drugs, something else the motorist wasn’t allowed to have — could be used as evidence in court.

That’s still true in the minority of states where marijuana remains verboten.  But the legal analysis is more complicated in places where pot has been approved for medical or adult use, and courts are beginning to weigh in.  The result is that, in some states, a police officer who sniffs out pot isn’t necessarily allowed to go through someone’s automobile — because the odor by itself is no longer considered evidence of a crime.

From the New York Times, "Officers Said They Smelled Pot. The Judge Called Them Liars.":

Police officers can often justify a search with six words: “I smelled an odor of marijuana.” Courts in New York have long ruled if a car smells like marijuana smoke, the police can search it — and, according to some judges, even the occupants — without a warrant.

But in late July, a judge in the Bronx said in a scathing opinion that officers claim to smell marijuana so often that it strains credulity, and she called on judges across the state to stop letting police officers get away with lying about it. “The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop,” Judge April Newbauer wrote in a decision in a case involving a gun the police discovered in car they had searched after claiming to have smelled marijuana.

September 16, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 2, 2019

How could and should we track and assess the impact of many thousands of marijuana conviction expungements?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent New York Times article headlined "About 160,000 People in New York to See Their Marijuana Convictions Disappear."  The article come on the heels of news of significant expungements in other big  states like California and Illinois.  Here are some excerpts from this piece:

Even as states across the country have legalized marijuana, potentially opening the door to a multibillion dollar industry, the impact of marijuana criminalization is still being felt by people — mostly black and Hispanic — whose records are marked by low-level convictions related to the drug.

But on Wednesday, New York began the process of expunging many of those records, as part of a new state law to reduce penalties associated with marijuana-related crimes, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed. “For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.

Under the new law, which was passed in June and took effect on Wednesday, about 160,000 people with marijuana convictions in the state will have those convictions cleared from their record, according to a spokeswoman for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Of those people, 10,872 people with convictions in New York City will have no criminal records in the state, the spokeswoman said.  In the rest of the state, an additional 13,537 people will have no criminal records in New York once these convictions are wiped from their record, the spokeswoman said.

Sealing these records would ensure that a person’s marijuana-related conviction would not come up in most background checks, state officials said.  A method for expunging the records, which has never been done in New York, is still being developed, the officials said.  The process could take up to a year, a spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration, Lucian Chalfen, said.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group, said the number of people who would have their records cleared could be many times higher than the number cited by the state; the alliance cited figures showing that between 1990 and 2018, 867,701 arrests were made in New York State for low-level marijuana offenses....

The move to reduce fines and clear people’s records has been embraced by advocates of criminal justice reform, many of whom said criminal penalties for using marijuana fell disproportionately on black and Hispanic residents....

In February, a study from John Jay College found that “blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to whites.”

Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an advocacy group, said he embraced expunging low-level offenses, but not full legalization.... Mr. Sabet said he wanted to see marijuana possession likened to driving over the speed limit. “It’s something discouraged,” he said, “but it’s not something that is going to destroy your life if you’re caught doing it.”

The data in this article indicates that the vast majority of New Yorkers who will benefit from marijuana expungement will still have criminal records because of other convictions. I cannot help but wonder if and how expungement of marijuana convictions for these individuals will prove as beneficial as it might to the smaller number of persons who will have an entirely clean record following expungement of marijuana convictions.  In addition, the Drug Policy Alliance here spotlights that the number of persons with marijuana arrest records is much higher than the number of persons with marijuana convictions.  It is unclear whether and how arrest records will be addressed and whether and how the arrest/conviction difference may shape the impact of a expungement.  Put another way, this article indirectly highlights how many questions necessarily arise in conjunction with bold expungement efforts.

In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.   I believe something like a "Commission on Justice Restoration" is so badly needed because it is essential for expungement efforts and other like reforms to be followed by research to assess exactly which policies and practices are most effective at minimizing and ameliorating the undue collateral consequences too often faced by people with criminal convictions.  To date, there is very little empirical research on expungement programs and their impact (though the leading research is generally encouraging).  With so much activity now in this space thanks to marijuana reform, I think we really need a research program that tries to keep up with policy developments so that we can best identify and replicate best practices.

September 2, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 30, 2019

"Harm Reduction Policing: From Drug Law Enforcement to Protection"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article just published via the journal Contemporary Drug Problems and authored by Tobias Kammersgaard.  Here is its abstract:

Several drug policy researchers have noted that the concept of harm reduction could be applied to the field of drug policing in order to assess the negative consequences and potential benefits of policing in this area.  However, the application of harm reduction principles to drug policing has only been realized to a limited extent in the current responses to drug use and markets.  Accordingly, studies that empirically investigate already existing policing practices, which might be described as operating within such a harm reduction framework, are relatively scarce.

In order to address this gap, this article provides an investigation of how policing of an open drug scene has been organized in Denmark since drug possession has been partly decriminalized, following the introduction of drug consumption rooms in Copenhagen.  The policing of this open drug scene was investigated through document analysis, interviews, and observations with a patrolling police officer.  The article argues that decriminalization has resulted in a shift in the “logics” of policing by enabling the production of an alternative “governable identity” for the drug-using subject, where people who use drugs could more readily be perceived as citizens with rights rather than just as offenders.  Accordingly, in this new logic, the violence and victimization experienced by marginalized people who use drugs could more readily be identified as proper objects for police action.  The study contributes to our knowledge of how the police can become potential allies rather than adversaries in harm reduction initiatives and broader public health concerns.

August 30, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Code for America helping with automatic marijuana expungement efforts in Illinois

6a00d8341bfae553ef0224e03a3680200d-320wiAs previously noted in posts here and here, the folks at Code for America have been putting their tech expertise to good use in California to aid that state with its marijuana offense expungement efforts.  Now, as reported in this local article from Chicago, the Code folks are going to be doing the same in Illinois.  The article is headlined "Thousands of weed convictions will be automatically expunged in Cook County: ‘We are righting the wrongs of the past’." Here are excerpts:

Tens of thousands of cannabis convictions will be automatically expunged under a partnership between a tech nonprofit and Cook County prosecutors, part of an effort State’s Attorney Kim Foxx characterized as “righting the wrongs of the past.”  Foxx said the collaboration with Code for America would help atone for prosecutors’ role in an overzealous “war on drugs.”

“It is prosecutors who were part of the war on drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” Foxx said at a news conference Tuesday.  “In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the war on drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”...

Under its partnership with the county, the California-based Code for America will automate the process for Cook County convictions involving amounts smaller than 30 grams.  Such offenses include misdemeanors as well as Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony in Illinois.  Code for America’s program will sift through state and county data to identify which records are eligible for the expungement, then complete paperwork for prosecutors to submit to judges, who can formally throw out the convictions.  Code for America is a not-for-profit that will begin the work at no cost to the county, said Jennifer Pahlka, the group’s founder and executive director.

The county hopes to begin the automated process as soon as possible, even ahead of Jan. 1 when marijuana legalization takes effect.  Foxx wants the automatic expungements to apply to as many convictions as far back as possible, though she acknowledged the process may be difficult for older, nondigitized records.  Foxx said she has been in talks with other county authorities to prepare for the anticipated flood of expungements, including the possibility of setting up a separate court call for judges to formally vacate the convictions en masse....

Expunged records will not appear on routine background checks, potentially making it easier for affected people to find jobs and housing.  The expunged marijuana convictions also will not appear in law enforcement databases.  The automatic expungements will require no work on the part of the affected citizens, who will get a letter from the Circuit Court clerk’s office informing them their conviction has been tossed out.

Marijuana cases that were charged along with other offenses will not be eligible for the automated program.  Anyone hoping to expunge those convictions would have to go through the normal process.

Code for America has previously worked with prosecutors in San Francisco, where a pilot program helped them “clear” thousands of convictions dating back to 1974, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón told the Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday.  More than 9,000 convictions were affected, with Code for America handling about 8,000.  Misdemeanors were thrown out and felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, Gascón said. 

The biggest hurdle for Cook County will likely be getting conviction data in a form that Code for America can use, Gascón said.  But once that is done, “literally, you will be clearing out hundreds and hundreds of records per minute.”

Expunging convictions frees people from what Gascón called a “paper prison” that affects people’s lives after they have fulfilled their sentences.  “That marginalizes people in so many different ways,” he said.  “Going through this process will begin to repair the harm that we as a society have been doing to people for so long.”

August 27, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 23, 2019

"Restorative justice must begin with America’s pot POWs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Peter Maguire.  Here are excerpts: 

Last month, American lawmakers, marijuana policymakers and industry leaders held a hearing on Capitol Hill about the future of marijuana legalization.  While there was clear bipartisan support and even discussion of “restorative justice” for minorities adversely affected by the war on drugs, conspicuously absent was any discussion of sentence relief for those Americans still serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

If lawmakers and the leaders of this fledgling industry who hope to profit from legalization do not support retroactive sentence relief for these pot prisoners of war, the legal cannabis industry will have neither integrity nor credibility.  True restorative justice can only begin with clemency for those Americans serving life sentences for marijuana.  There were no allegations of violence in the cases of the white, black and Latino men serving life for marijuana, yet all will likely die in prison.

Leopoldo Hernandez-Miranda, a 78-year-old Cuban fisherman, has served 26 years while Anthony Kelly, 46, has served 20 years (for barely an ounce of pot).  Less than two months ago, wheelchair-bound 62-year-old Michael Pelletier, who served 12 years, was denied compassionate release by the Bureau of Prisons. Kenny Kubinski, 72, a decorated Vietnam veteran with three purple hearts and a bronze star, has served 27 years for marijuana conspiracy and a cocaine charge that he vehemently denies.

Claude DuBoc and Albert Madrid, both over 70 years old, have served over 20 years. Marijuana smuggler John Knock was extradited from France in January 1999 and charged with an unproven conspiracy that was concocted by a U.S. attorney in Florida.  After Knock’s co-conspirators, also facing life sentences, testified against him in exchange for immunity, he was sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years.  DuBoc, Knock’s co-conspirator pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.  DuBoc cooperated with the government and surrendered approximately $100 million in cash and assets. The smuggler received a life sentence and lawyer Bailey went to prison rather than surrender $20 million of his client’s stock....

On the other hand, co-conspirator Julie Roberts surrendered through a high-profile lawyer, shrewdly negotiated a plea deal, testified against all of her former compatriots and helped the government recover assets.  Although she too was facing a life sentence, Roberts did not spend a single night in prison....

The United States declared a war on drugs in 1973, and it has been fraught with contradictions and crippled by hypocrisy and unrealistic policy objectives.  Forty-plus years and massive expenditure later, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and a racially imbalanced, two-tiered judicial system under which black teens caught with a handful of crack rocks do hard time in state prisons while the bankers who launder Mexican cocaine cartels’ blood-stained billions simply pay fines.

This month, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for marijuana and hashish smuggling, terminally ill Calvin Robinson was granted a compassionate release from prison.  While this is a step in the right direction, it still falls far short of justice.  Vietnam veteran Kubinski put it best: “Now I am a POW of another war with no clear mission. This time I am the enemy of the country I love and had sacrificed for.”

August 23, 2019 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)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hemp reforms causing headaches for criminal marijuana enforcement

This local piece from Ohio reports on the interesting criminal justice echoes from hemp reforms playing out this summer in a number of states.  The piece is fully headlined "No, Ohio did not accidentally legalize marijuana. But a new hemp legalization law is causing problems for prosecutors."  Here are excerpts:

Ohio prosecutors are holding off on pursuing marijuana charges or are even throwing them out altogether after Ohio decriminalized hemp.

Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants; what sets them apart is the amount of THC, an intoxicating compound, each contains. The problem: Crime labs at the local and state level are equipped with technology that measures the presence of THC -- but not the amount.

Hemp, by legal definition, is cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC. Anything more, and it's considered marijuana and illegal outside the confines of Ohio's highly regulated medical marijuana program.  “At least for the next several months, it’s the de facto legalization of marijuana because there’s no way for law enforcement to tell what’s legal and what’s not legal,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent prosecutors a letter last week suggesting they hold off on marijuana crime indictments until the cannabis can be tested.  The state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation labs are in the process of buying and setting up testing equipment.  Yost's office suggested several out-of-state labs where law enforcement could send material until Ohio labs could run the test.  The state's three medical marijuana testing labs can perform the test, but need to first notify the Ohio Department of Commerce.  None had done so as of Friday.

Because of the new hemp law, signed last week, Columbus won't prosecute misdemeanor marijuana crimes and are dismissing pending cases.  The law could permanently change how the city handles misdemeanor marijuana crimes due to the cost of new equipment and testing and the city's newly reduced penalties for marijuana misdemeanors.

The holdup doesn't mean Ohioans found with marijuana have a "get out of jail free card."  Columbus city attorney Zach Klein noted that marijuana remains illegal and can still be a legal reason to stop and search someone.  Klein said driving under the influence of marijuana will still be prosecuted....

A wave of states, including Ohio, passed bills decriminalizing hemp this year following federal legalization by the 2018 Farm Bill. Law enforcement in several states are grappling with the same issue as Ohio.

Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been told to cite and release instead of arrest individuals suspected of misdemeanor marijuana crime, The Texas Tribune reported in July. Prosecutors in some parts of the state have dropped marijuana cases citing the inability to test for THC levels.

A prosecutor in Georgia's second largest county dismissed more than 100 marijuana cases this week after reaching a similar conclusion. Florida prosecutors are taking a mixed approach, with some dismissing all marijuana charges and other waiting for lab tests before filing charges in the first place.

August 12, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans.  Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

August 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

Download (5)I was pleased to hear reports about, and then see an email describing, a notable new federal marijuana reform bill being proposed by notable federal officials.   The email from the House Judiciary Democratic Press was titled "Nadler & Harris Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation."  Here are excerpts:

Today, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)  introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I want to acknowledge the partnership in developing this legislation with my colleagues, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well as the contributions of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.”

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions.  This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.  Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

Along with Nadler and Harris, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); in the U.S. House of Representatives, cosponsors Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), were particularly instrumental in developing this bill.  Other House cosponsors include Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The full text of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is available at this link, and I especially what to note that Section 5 of the bill includes a provision for establishing within the federal "Office of Justice Programs a Cannabis Justice Office." In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am really excited to see any major reform bill focus on creating a justice infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

July 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Two notable new stories of marijuana's still notable criminal justice footprint

Throughout most of the Unites States, millions of Americans are able to "legally" buy and sell marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.  (Of course, I put "legally" in quotes because all these activities are violations of federal law, but the laws and practices of states and localities define enforcement realities.)  Given all the "legal" marijuana activity, it can be dangerously easy to forget that the criminalization of marijuana is still a significant criminal justice reality for a significant number of individuals.  But these two new stories about arrests in two states provides an important reminder of this reality:

From the Washington Post, "Marijuana arrests in Va. reach highest level in at least 20 years, spurring calls for reform."  An excerpt: 

Nearly 29,000 arrests were made for marijuana offenses in Virginia last year, a number that has tripled since 1999, according to an annual crime report compiled by the Virginia State Police. Marijuana busts account for nearly 60 percent of drug arrests across Virginia and more than half of them were among people who were under 24, according to the data. The vast majority of cases involved simple possession of marijuana....

The Virginia Crime Commission found that 46 percent of those arrested for a first offense for possession of marijuana between 2007 and 2016 were African Americans, who represent about only 20 percent of Virginia’s population....

In Virginia, a first conviction for possessing marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Subsequent arrests can result in up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. A defendant’s driver’s license is also revoked for six months for a drug conviction. The Virginia Crime Commission study found that only 31 people were in jail in July 2017 solely for a conviction of possessing marijuana in the state. The libertarian Cato Institute estimated Virginia spent $81 million on marijuana enforcement in 2016.

From Wisconsin Watch, "Blacks arrested for pot possession at four times the rate of whites in Wisconsin." An excerpt:

Almost 15,000 adults in Wisconsin were arrested in 2018 for marijuana possession, a 3% increase from 2017, according to data from the state Department of Justice.  Prison admissions in Wisconsin for marijuana also were higher in 2016 for black individuals than for whites, according to the state Department of Corrections. Some experts believe this disparity can be attributed to policing practices in low-income neighborhoods that tend to have more residents of color....

Under state law, possession of marijuana of any amount for a first-time offense can lead to up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Any offense after that is classified as a felony and can result in a sentence of three and a half years in prison with a maximum fine of $10,000. 

I want to believe that recently increases in marijuana arrests are mostly a product of increased marijuana activity and not an extra focus on marijuana enforcement. But whatever the reason, I sincerely wonder if anyone sincerely believes that all of the time, money and energy expended for all these marijuana arrests serves to enhance justice or safety in these jurisdictions.

Cross-posed at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

July 20, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Holiday week news and notes, with an emphasis on freedom from marijuana convictions

I have seen a number of notable marijuana-related stories this past week, and regular readers know my eye is always drawn to the criminal justice pieces in this space.  So, as we wind down an Independence Day holiday week, I figured I would do a wrap-up of worthwhile reading with an emphasis of freedom-enhancing news at the end:

A few general interest pieces of note:

From The Hill, "Marijuana policies are changing, but they are not always based on scientific knowledge"

From the New York Times, "Marijuana, Reefer, Weed: How Language Keeps Evolving for the Devil’s Lettuce"

From Vice, "How a Bogus Anti-Weed Stat Seeped into the Mainstream"

A few criminal justice pieces of note:

From California, "Monterey Co. DA to determine whether 1,415 marijuana convictions qualify for clemency"

From Illinois, "Illinois set to expunge nearly 800,000 marijuana convictions"

From New York, "DA reducing low-level marijuana charges ahead of governor's signature"  AND "More than 5,000 Capital Region marijuana convictions to be sealed"

From Texas, "This year, Texas passed a law legalizing hemp. It also has prosecutors dropping hundreds of marijuana cases."

July 5, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Spotlighting (and following) the social equity and justice provisions in new Illinois "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act"

As everyone likely knows by now, Illinois this week became the eleventh state to fully legalize adult use of marijuana and the first state to do so with regulated sales through the regular legislative process.  But what I did not full realize until reading this local press article, headlined "Countdown begins to Jan. 1 after Pritzker signs bill making marijuana legal in Illinois," are all the particulars of the major social equity and justice provisions in the new law.  Here are the basics:

The most unusual and far-reaching aspect of the bill is its “social equity” component.  It calls for 25% of tax money for grants to fund neighborhood improvement projects in poor minority areas.  Proposals are to be chosen by a board led by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton.

In addition, anyone with a marijuana arrest for under 30 grams would have the case automatically cleared, while the governor will pardon convictions for up to 30 grams. Prosecutors and individuals may petition the courts to expunge convictions for amounts between 30 and 500 grams.

The state will also provide lower licensing fees, low-interest loans and preference in awarding licenses to social equity applicants, defined as those from areas most affected by the war on drugs, or having criminal records eligible for expungement.

“What we are doing here is about reparations,” state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, said. “Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy.”

Regular readers know that I think marijuana reform can and should be an impactful form of criminal justice reform, and I have authored an article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," which urges jurisdictions to earmark a portion of marijuana revenues to devote to improving the criminal justice system.  In my article, I specifically advocate for the creation of a new criminal justice institution, which I call a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for all people with past criminal convictions.  Though Illinois has not quite created a new criminal justice infrastructure through its "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act," it merits a good star in my book for achieving more on this front than any other jurisdiction to date.

But, as wise folks say in a variety of settings, effective implementation of the law can often be even more important than its initial reform.  Anyone and everyone seriously interesting in social equity and justice should be seriously interested in following how this law plays out in the months and years ahead.

Prior related posts:

June 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"The State of Marijuana in The Buckeye State and Fiscal Policy Considerations of Legalized Recreational Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Finley Newman-James, who is a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the sixth of an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first five papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

In 1975, Ohio’s 63rd Governor James A. Rhodes joined the growing trend of marijuana decriminalization by signing a bill passed by the legislature that supported amending the Ohio Revised Code to remove criminal penalties for use of marijuana.  This was the first big change to marijuana laws in Ohio.  Despite Ohio being one of the most conservative states in the country at the time, Rhodes brought Ohio to become the 6th state to relax punishments on marijuana use.  Since that time, a lot has changed regarding the status of cannabis in the Buckeye State.

This paper will first describe the past legal framework for marijuana along with current developments and proposed changes in the future, including a citizen’s ballot initiative that will appear on the November 2019 ballot that could potentially make sweeping changes to Ohio’s Constitution and marijuana law in Ohio.   This is then followed by an analysis of the potential benefits that recreational marijuana could have in respect to key fiscal budgetary issues facing the state of Ohio. 

Prior student papers in this series:

June 11, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Interesting CRS report on "Marijuana Use and Highway Safety"

Last month, the Congressional Research Service released this interesting short report titled simply "Marijuana Use and Highway Safety." Here is its introduction:

A growing number of Americans report that they use marijuana.  As more states decriminalize the use of marijuana, the question of what impact marijuana usage has on the risk of a driver being involved in a motor vehicle crash has become more pertinent.  In a survey, the majority of state highway safety offices rated drugged driving an issue at least as important as driving while impaired by alcohol.

When faced with the issue of driver impairment due to marijuana, some stakeholders tend to approach the issue using the analogy of driver impairment due to alcohol. However, there are important differences between the two substances.  The fact that alcohol reduces a user’s ability to think clearly and to perform physical tasks has been known for decades.  Extensive research has established correlations between the extent of alcohol consumption and impairment, including drivers’ reaction times. Much less research has been done on marijuana.  Marijuana is a more complex substance than alcohol.  It is absorbed in the body differently from alcohol; it affects the body in different ways from alcohol; tests for its presence in the body produce more complicated results than tests for the presence of alcohol; and correlating its effects with its levels in the body is much more complicated than for alcohol.

That marijuana usage increases a driver’s risk of crashing is not clearly established.  Studies of marijuana’s impact on a driver’s performance have thus far found that, while marijuana usage can measurably affect a driver’s performance in a laboratory setting, that effect may not translate into an increased likelihood of the driver being involved in a motor vehicle crash in a real-world setting, where many other variables affect the risk of a crash.  Some studies of actual crashes have estimated a small increase in the risk of crash involvement as a result of marijuana usage, while others have estimated little or no increase in the likelihood of a crash from using marijuana.

This CRS report addresses various aspects of the issue of marijuana-impaired driving, including patterns of marijuana use, the relationship and detection of marijuana use and driver impairment, and related state law and law enforcement challenges.  The report also references the congressionally required July 2017 report by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Marijuana-Impaired Driving: A Report to Congress (hereinafter referred to as NHTSA’s 2017 Marijuana-Impaired Driving Report to Congress), as well as other studies and research.

June 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Split Colorado Supreme Court gives notable new interpretation of limits on drug-sniffing searches due to marijuana legalization

ImgLast week, the Colorado Supreme issued a lengthy split ruling in Colorado v. McKnight, 2019 CO 36 (Col. May 20, 2019) (available here) which concludes that the state's marijuana reform initiative impacted criminal procedure rules related to drug-detection dog sniffs.  The court's ruling is summarized this way before the lengthy majority and dissenting opinions begins:

In this opinion, the supreme court considers the impact of the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for adults who are at least twenty-one years old on law enforcement’s use of drug-detection dogs that alert to marijuana when conducting an exploratory sniff of an item or area.

The supreme court holds that a sniff from a drug-detection dog that is trained to alert to marijuana constitutes a search under the Colorado Constitution because that sniff can detect lawful activity, namely the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults twenty-one and older.  The supreme court further holds that, in Colorado, law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that an item or area contains a drug in violation of state law before deploying a drug-detection dog that alerts to marijuana for an exploratory sniff.

The supreme court concludes by determining that there was no probable cause in this case to justify the sniff of the defendant’s truck by a drug-detection dog trained to alert to marijuana, and thus, the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress.  The supreme court further concludes that the appropriate remedy for this violation of the Colorado Constitution is the exclusion of the evidence at issue.  Thus, the supreme court affirms the court of appeals’ decision to reverse McKnight’s judgment of conviction.

This lengthy local press report about the ruling provides lots of context about how much is contested about this ruling. The extended headline of the press piece highlights its themes: "Did the Colorado Supreme Court just throw the state’s marijuana-legalization regime into question? The chief justice seems to think so. A case about drug-sniffing dogs could turn into a watershed moment in Colorado marijuana law. Or not. Legal experts are split."

May 28, 2019 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)