Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Marijuana Enforcement in New York State, 1990-2017"

Logo (1)The title of this post is the headline of this notable new research brief produced by the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  This brief provides lots of interesting data within this research project, and it starts with these four "key findings":

KEY FINDINGS

1.  The number and rate of arrests for marijuana possession were higher in 2017 than in 1990 for the State as a whole and for New York City, Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State but the number and rate of arrests were lower in 2017 than the peaks in New York City and Upstate Cities;

2.  In 2017, in New York City, the vast majority of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests (~93%) were for possession of marijuana in public view or public consumption whereas for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State, significant percentages of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests were for possession of between 25 grams to 8 ounces (~60% and ~30% respectively);

3.  At the state-level, 18-20 year-olds consistently had the highest rates of arrest for marijuana possession, mostly driven by the higher rates of arrest for this group in New York City, but there was more variability by age in Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State; and

4.  Across all three geographic areas, Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to Whites, these racial differences in arrest rates widened over the study period and, in 2017, the racial differences in arrest rates were wider for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State compared to New York City.

February 11, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"Traffic fatalities within US states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales and their neighbours"

Add.v114.2.coverThe title of this post is the title of this new research published in the journal Addiction authored by Tyler Lane and Wayne Hall.   Here is the article's abstract:

Background and aims

A growing body of evidence suggests that cannabis impairs driving ability.  We used mortality data to investigate whether the commercial sale of cannabis for recreational use affected traffic fatality rates both in states that legalized it and in neighbouring jurisdictions.

Design

Interrupted time–series of traffic fatality rates adjusted for seasonality and autocorrelation.  Changes are reported as step and trend effects against a comparator of states that had not implemented medicinal or recreational cannabis during the study period (2009–16).  Sensitivity analyses added a 6‐month ‘phase‐in’ to account for lags in production. Meta‐analyses were used to derive pooled results.

Setting

Three states that legalized recreational cannabis sales [Colorado (January 2014), Washington State (June 2014) and Oregon (October 2015] and nine neighbouring jurisdictions [Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah (Colorado neighbours); British Columbia and Oregon (Washington neighbours); and California and Nevada (Oregon neighbours)].

Measurements

Monthly traffic fatalities rates per million residents using mortality data from CDC WONDER and RoadSafetyBC and census data.

Findings

There was a pooled step increase of 1.08 traffic fatalities per million residents followed by a trend reduction of −0.06 per month (both P < 0.001), although with significant heterogeneity between sites (step: I2 = 73.7%, P < 0.001; trend: I2 = 68.4%; P = 0.001). Effects were similar in both legalizing (step: 0.90, P < 0.001; trend: −0.05, P = 0.007) and neighbouring sites (step: 1.15, P = 0.005; trend: −0.06, P = 0.001).  The 6‐month phase‐in produced similar if larger effects (step: 1.36, P = 0.006; trend: −0.07, P < 0.001).

Conclusions

The combination of step increases and trend reductions suggests that in the year following implementation of recreational cannabis sales, traffic fatalities temporarily increased by an average of one additional traffic fatality per million residents in both legalizing US states of Colorado, Washington and Oregon and in their neighbouring jurisdictions.

February 10, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting (and disappointing?) numbers from Washington after Gov promised to pardon thousands with prior marijuana convictions

As reported in this post last month, Washington Govornor Jay Inslee started 2019 by making much of his plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession charges.  But this new local article, headlined "Inslee pardons 13 marijuana convictions, as lawmakers consider expunging hundreds of thousands more," reports on just a trickle rather than a wave of pardon grants.  Here are the interesting details:

In the month since Gov. Jay Inslee offered pardons to thousands of people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses, just 13 have received the official act of forgiveness. But a more sweeping proposal in the state Legislature may be gaining momentum, offering the potential clearing of criminal records for hundreds of thousands of others.

Inslee, a second-term Democrat who is publicly mulling a presidential run, announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative to fanfare in early January at a cannabis-industry conference, citing the disproportionate impact of drug-law convictions on people of color and lingering harm to employment and housing prospects.

His pardon offer was limited to people with otherwise clean records who had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction between 1998 and Dec. 5, 2012, the effective date of the voter-approved marijuana legalization Initiative 502.

About 3,500 people are estimated to be eligible for pardons under Inslee’s plan. As of Wednesday, 160 had applied, but the vast majority did not meet the eligibility conditions, said Tip Wonhoff, the governor’s deputy general counsel. After an initial rush of interest in the pardons, “it’s been a little slower than I thought,” he said.

For those who have qualified, however, the pardons have come as welcome relief. Taneesa Dunham, of Walla Walla, leapt at the chance to reverse her marijuana conviction from 2005....

Last month, Dunham’s mother saw a newspaper article about Inslee’s pardon offer and called to read the article to her. “I was jumping up and down with joy the entire time she was reading it. I immediately went to the website and filled [the application] out,” she said. A pardon signed by Inslee soon arrived in the mail. Although Dunham’s conviction remains in court records, the pardon is listed, too.

Dunham said her criminal record, while minor, had made it difficult for her to get a job as she’d had to report it on employment applications, and she worried her daughter’s school would exclude her from field trips. A recreational marijuana user in her 20s, she says she now uses cannabis medicinally for help with a back injury that has left her on disability. “I am just really glad it is legal now so nobody has to go through what I had to go through, and the courts and the cops can go after the real drug dealers and leave the potheads alone,” she said.

Chris Tilzer, of Covington, also was pardoned by Inslee for a pot-possession conviction in 2006 after Bellevue police cited him for smoking in a park. He served one day in jail, according to court records. “I was working and it could have caused me problems if they would have found out about it,” he said, adding that the blemish on his record has since complicated some international travel plans.

Tilzer now works in the cannabis industry and said he appreciates Inslee’s effort, but the state should do much more. “The amount of people who meet the qualifications is not going to really help anybody — not that many people,” he said.

Such relief could be on the way. Sponsors of legislation that would allow hundreds of thousands of people with minor marijuana convictions to expunge their records say the proposal could have a better chance this year than in the past. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, has introduced a similar bill every year since 2013 without success, but says this year’s version, House Bill 1500, could break through. “It just seems like there is a lot more momentum this year than any of the past times I have taken a run at it,” he said, noting support from Inslee, the state’s cannabis industry and organized labor.

HB 1500 would allow anyone with prior convictions for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession to apply to courts for a vacation of those convictions. The courts would be required to grant the requests.

The Washington State Patrol has estimated 226,027 misdemeanor marijuana convictions would qualify for vacation under the proposal. Fitzgibbon noted the number of people eligible might be less than that as some have multiple convictions.

The proposal has drawn criticism from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, whose policy director, James McMahan, testified against it during a public hearing Tuesday before the House Public Safety Committee. “It is a relevant and influential point with us that at the time these convictions were imposed it was illegal. It was against our law. And we as a government and as a society said this is not OK,” McMahan said, noting that some of the misdemeanor convictions had been pleaded down from felonies.

But Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, the prime sponsor of an identical companion measure, Senate Bill 5605, said the Legislature needs to repair damage done by decades of marijuana arrests that disproportionately affected minority communities. Before legalization, black people were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite being no more likely to use marijuana, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs cannot get behind trying to forgive and forget hundreds of thousands of low-level past marijuana offense. But I am not sure if I am disappointed to learn that so few past offenses are being addressed by Gov Inslee's pardon plan as perhaps the relative inefficacy of that program is playing a role in the legislative push for a much broader expungement statute.

Some of many prior related posts:

February 10, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Baltimore State’s Attorney says no more prosecutions of marijuana possession offenses

1548786086089As reported in this local article, "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday her office would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana regardless of quantity or criminal history." Here is more:

Calling the move monumental for justice in Baltimore, Mosby also requested the courts vacate convictions in nearly 5,000 cases of marijuana possession. “When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” Mosby said, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”

Mosby follows district attorneys in Manhattan and Philadelphia who have scaled back or outright ended marijuana prosecutions. Maryland lawmakers decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.

But she also stood alone, politically: No police and no other city officials joined her at the announcement. Hours later, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her support for Mosby’s plan.

Mosby aims to formalize marijuana policies already in practice. A report released Tuesday by her office shows city prosecutors dropped 88 percent of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore District Court since 2014 — 1,001 cases. [This report is available at this link.]

Still, convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches, Mosby said. The marijuana arrests have disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore. Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, prosecutors wrote in the report.

Such arrests squander scarce police resources, Mosby said, noting 343 people were killed in Baltimore in 2017. Police closed nearly one-third of those cases. Last year, 309 people were killed and police closed closer to one-quarter. “No one,” Mosby said, “thinks spending resources to jail people for marijuana is a good use of our limited time and resources.”

But it remains unclear how the policy will play out in the streets. Mosby made her announcement at the nonprofit Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore while surrounded by her staff, marijuana advocates and neighborhood activists. Police leaders weren’t there....

The department is run by a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Gary Tuggle; he is interim commissioner. He said his officers wouldn’t quit arresting people for possessing marijuana. “Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” he said in a statement....

Police leaders have long said they are focused on violent crime and marijuana arrests aren’t a priority. But officers routinely use marijuana as reason to search the pockets or car of someone suspected in more serious crimes....

Mosby has pledged to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana. She said her office would take cases to court when police find evidence of drug sales, such as baggies and scales....

In nearby Baltimore County, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he had no plans to quit prosecuting marijuana cases. Most first-time offenders are placed in a treatment program in the county, he said.

Mosby also urged state legislators to support a bill that would empower her office to vacate criminal convictions in everything from corrupt cop cases to marijuana prosecutions. The current procedures require action from both prosecutors and defense attorneys to vacate a conviction.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed papers for marijuana cases dating back to 2011 to be vacated — about 1,000 in Circuit Court and nearly 3,800 in District Court. Judges would rule on the requests.

The press release, titled "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases, Says Prosecutions Provide No Public Safety Value And Undermine Public Trust In Law Enforcement," discusses the essentials of the policy announced by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby,

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG-nominee Bill Barr reiterates (with nuance) commitment to non-enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in reform states

AG-Candidate-William-Barr-Just-Stated-His-Position-on-Marijuana__FocusFillWzExNzAsNjU4LCJ5Iiw2MV0Tom Angell has this effective Forbes report, headlined "Trump Attorney General Pick Puts Marijuana Enforcement Pledge In Writing," spotlighting that the next US Attorney General has made clear his inherent commitment to respecting state-level marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

William Barr, President Trump's nominee to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, made headlines earlier this month when he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws.

Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. He's also calling for the approval of more legal growers of marijuana for research, and is acknowledging that a recent bill legalizing hemp has broad implications for sale of cannabis products.

"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

That said, Barr isn't committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. "I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. "I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana," he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday.

But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn't go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. "An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law," Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."

Nonetheless, legalization advocates were happy to see the nominee reiterating his non-enforcement pledge when it comes to state-legal businesses. "It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

"In the age of luxury cannabis, it’s time to talk about Drug War reparations"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary piece authored by Jenni Avins appearing in Quartz. I recommend the piece in full, here is its powerful start:

Since California legalized recreational cannabis in January 2018, pot enthusiasts in posh sections of Los Angeles can sleep easily with a few drops of CBD oil under the tongue. They can stroll into dispensaries such as MedMen, the chain touted as the “Apple store of weed,” which recently reported quarterly revenues of $20 million. On Venice Boulevard, shiny sedans toting surfboards drive past posters for Dosist vape pens and billboards for delivery services such as Eaze, a San Francisco-based startup that has raised some $52 million in venture capital.

In places like this, weed is chic. But just a few freeway exits away, in largely black and Latino neighborhoods where cannabis was aggressively policed for decades, people saddled with criminal convictions for possessing or selling the plant still fight to clear criminal records standing in the way of basic necessities: employment, a rental apartment, or a loan. Marijuana legalization and the businesses that profit from it are accelerating faster than efforts to expunge criminal records, and help those affected by them participate in the so-called “Green Boom.” And the legal cannabis industry is in danger of becoming one more chapter in a long American tradition of disenfranchising people of color.

Here is more:

As the US teeters at the tipping point for marijuana going mainstream, it’s increasingly apparent that people and communities who were disproportionately punished for its criminalization were wronged. It’s a cruel footnote to the story of the plant’s legalization that punishment for past involvement with cannabis can remain a bar to entry in the lucrative newly legal industry. Now, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, activists, and everyday consumers are asking what reparations for those wrongs might look like.

Here’s one idea that many agree on: Those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs—largely, black and Latino communities—should be first in line to benefit from the Green Boom, whether as business owners or beneficiaries of programs funded by earnings from the business.

The US’s legal weed explosion is an incredible story of de-stigmatization, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. It’s also at risk of becoming a staggering tale of hypocrisy, greed, and erasure. But as a deep-pocketed industry with political momentum, American cannabis is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for what racial reparations could look like.

“This is about harnessing the industry to embody the work of repair,” said Adam Vine, the founder of Cage Free Cannabis, an organization that pushes for “drug war reparations” in the form of criminal record expungement, job fairs, voter registration, health care, and social equity programs. “Otherwise,” he said. “Legalization is just theft.”

Go read the rest.

January 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"It’s High Time: A Common Sense Approach To Marijuana-Impaired Driving"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Reason Foundation authored by by Teri Moore and Adrian Moore. Here is part of its executive summary:

Recent wide-spread legalization of medical marijuana and, in many U.S. states, of recreational use of marijuana also, demands that officials must forge a just, coherent and effective law enforcement and legal response to marijuana-impaired driving. More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, which demands policies toward marijuana-impaired driving that protect public safety without penalizing legal marijuana users who are sober at the time they drive.

Marijuana — or its more technical name, cannabis — and its effects are still quite literally under the microscope.  Cannabis containing high levels of THC is typically used recreationally, but may also have therapeutic applications. Because it is the psychoactive component in cannabis, THC is the cannabinoid that impairs driving, and is therefore the focus of this study.  This analysis examines the evidence on marijuana-impaired driving and lays the groundwork for a regulatory approach that is scientifically grounded, safetyminded and fair.

In the past 10 years, prevalence of alcohol use by drivers has fallen in the U.S., and use of marijuana has increased dramatically.  Alcohol’s composition and effects on drivers have been thoroughly studied over the years and are well understood. It’s tempting to use a similar approach to that used for alcohol — the only other legal intoxicant — and to build policies around per se standards.  But since cannabis body fluid levels don’t parallel impairment, that’s not a fair gauge of impairment as it is with alcohol. Indeed, it’s possible for some cannabis users to register above per se levels when completely sober.  It’s also tempting to use the easy idea of zero tolerance, but that’s not fair to sober drivers who still have measurable cannabis in their systems.

The only fair solution is for police to assess drivers for impairment as we now do for low blood-alcohol-content impaired drivers and drug-impaired drivers, and to conduct toxicology screens to corroborate that cannabis is present, rather than measuring irrelevant levels in body fluids.  Fortunately, screenings are less expensive, quicker and easier to do than measuring body fluid levels. It’s concerning that this means impairment will be assessed entirely by police officers, but that is the most just option currently available.  To address this concern, police should use dash- and bodycams to document impairing behavior — such as driving behavior leading to the traffic stop and impairing behavior on field sobriety tests — when possible.

January 24, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Still more commentary pushing back on efforts to link marijuana, psychosis and violence

In  prior posts, I have noted here and here commentaries by the author of the new book by Alex Berenson, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence," as well as the lengthy Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker essay about the book.   And in this post, I rounded up some of the major commentaries expressing concerns about Berenson's claims that more marijuana use is leading to more mental illness and more violence.  In addition to collecting all these posts via links below, I also wanted to spotlight a few more notable commentaries in this space:

Prior related posts:

January 22, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Rounding up commentary pushing back on efforts to link marijuana, psychosis and violence

Download (1)I have noted the new book by Alex Berenson, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,"  through his recent commentaries spotlighted here and here, as well as through Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker essay about the book.  The core message of Berenson's book, namely that more marijuana use thanks to legal reforms is leading to more mental illness and more violence, is now generating a whole lot of push back.  Here is just a partial round-up of new commentary expressing concerns about Berenson's claims:

The debates over the data and how to respond to what we know and do not know is fascinating. And, helpfully, this morning The Marshall Project has this great new piece headlined "How Dangerous is Marijuana, Really? A Marshall Project virtual roundtable." Here is how the Marshall Project sets up a fascinating discussion:

On Jan. 7, The Marshall Project published an interview with Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and author of "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence," which warns that the rush to legalize the drug has obscured evidence of its dangers.  The interview stirred up a storm on social media, so we decided to enlarge the discussion.

What follows is a conversation, conducted by email and moderated by Bill Keller, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project.  Berenson is joined by three other panelists. Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit that advocates ending the war on drugs, including the "responsible regulation" of marijuana.  Its donors include companies in the legal, for-profit cannabis industry, whose gifts, the group reports, made up less than 1 percent of the alliance’s 2018 revenue. Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor at Stanford University. He has been deeply involved in drug policy as a researcher and White House advisor.  Mark A.R. Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management, where he leads the crime and justice program. He is also chairman of BOTEC Analysis, which advises Washington State and Maine on cannabis regulation.

The discussion has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Marshall Project: This first question is for all of you. Let's start with the core question Alex set out to answer in reporting his book: What do we know about the connection between marijuana and mental illness? What would you say is established medical science, and what is still unresolved?

January 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Washington Gov promises to pardon thousands of past marijuana offenders

As reported in this AP article, "More than six years after the state legalized the adult use of marijuana, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday he plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of small-time possession charges — the latest in a series of moves by states and cities to ease the burdens people face from having minor criminal records for using pot." Here is more about this encouraging news:

The Democrat, who is mulling a 2020 presidential run, made the announcement at a cannabis industry summit in SeaTac, south of Seattle.  Inslee said he was creating an expedited process that would allow about 3,500 people to apply for and receive a pardon without having to hire a lawyer or go to court.

"We have people who have this burden on their shoulders from a simple, one-time marijuana possession from maybe 20 years ago, and that's impeding the ability of people to live their lives," Inslee said in an interview.  "It can damage their ability to get financing for a home; it can damage their ability to get financing for colleges, even simple things like going on a field trip with your kids. "We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal," he said.

Several states allow for expunging or sealing marijuana convictions, but obtaining such relief has typically been onerous, requiring a lawyer or court appearances. As more states have eased marijuana laws or followed the lead of Washington and Colorado in legalizing recreational pot use since 2012, some cities, counties and states have simplified the process of clearing convictions.

Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and some local prosecutors in New York City, where marijuana remains illegal, are clearing old marijuana convictions en masse, and a new law in California requires prosecutors to erase or reduce an estimated 220,000 pot convictions.

Inslee's plan appears to be the first that creates a streamlined process for pardoning misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions statewide, though Michigan's governor-elect, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, has suggested she will consider doing so. In Washington, people will be able to use a simple form on the governor's website to ask for a pardon of a single conviction dating as far back as 1998. To be eligible, people must have been convicted as an adult, and the conviction must be the only one on their record....

Automatically clearing past convictions or making it easy for people to request pardons is a racial justice issue, considering that blacks and other minorities have historically been arrested for marijuana at disproportionate rates, said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The governor is sending a strong message here about the ameliorative steps that must be taken to address those injustices," Clarke said. "I hope there are other states that will follow the governor's lead here."

Inslee cited racial justice as one of his motivations in launching the program, which he called the Marijuana Justice Initiative. He said his office did not have data on how many of the 3,500 people eligible for pardons are minorities, and he said he considered it a good first step to start with clearing a single conviction. "Maybe there will be another step later on," he said.

January 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Highlighting and lamenting how state decriminalization did not diminish racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition

This notable new Baltimore Sun editorial, headlined "More blacks still arrested for marijuana charges," spotlights with new data a point I made in this recent post, namely that decriminalization reforms will not eliminate the harmful and disparate aspects of marijuana prohibition. Here are excerpts:

There were high hopes for decriminalizing marijuana in Maryland.  Most notably, many pushing for change, including The Sun’s editorial board, hoped it would put an end to racial disparities that meant an African-American caught with a small baggy of the drug might see their life ruined, while a white person might not ever get arrested for the same offense.

Yet little has changed on that front since a law went into effect in 2014 that reduced the penalty for possession of fewer than 10 grams of cannabis to a simple citation and fine.  Arrests are way down — but racial disparities in enforcement aren’t. A new analysis of data by Baltimore Fishbowl [available here], in collaboration with the Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and data researcher Andy Friedman, has found that in Baltimore African Americans are still arrested for marijuana possession at much higher rates.  This despite the streams of research finding that neither race uses the drug any more than the other.

In the first three years after the law was instituted, Baltimore police arrested 1,448 adults and 66 juveniles for possession, according to the analysis.  Of those,1,450 — 96 percent — were black. That disparity is actually slightly worse than what the ACLU found in a pre-decriminalization analysis of Baltimore arrest data.  Police filed nearly 3,200 individual charges for misdemeanor possession during that same period, and most of those charged were in predominantly black areas of the city, the data showed.

We could debate whether this means the law didn’t go far enough. Maybe the racial disparities wouldn’t be so dire if the state raised the amount of marijuana — to, say, an ounce — that would result in a fine rather than arrest.  Some will argue marijuana needs to be 100 percent legalized to erase the discriminatory arrest practices. There are good and bad sides to these arguments and ones lawmakers could find themselves debating again in the near future.

Most disturbing about the data, however, is the implication that law enforcement still polices certain neighborhoods and people of a particular hue much tougher than everyone else.  This is no surprise to the people living in these communities who have long complained they receive more attention than they care for from the police....

The disparities shouldn’t be taken lightly. An arrest for marijuana possession can be the start of a downward spiral in a person’s life that begins with a criminal record that can make it hard to find a job.  A conviction can also mean somebody couldn’t get student financial aid, housing or professional licenses, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. On top of that, police officers should be spending their resources and time on more pressing crime issues, such as homicides and shootings.

With the legalization of medicinal marijuana, it is becoming increasingly hypocritical for the state to throw people in jail for marijuana while allowing others to make millions off of the drug.  And let’s not ignore the fact that the the ones prospering are disproportionately white.  A bill in the Maryland General Assembly had sought to add more black firms to the state's regulated medical marijuana industry.  Instead it might end up favoring existing players — nearly all of whom are white-owned companies.

Baltimore isn’t the only jurisdiction facing inequality in policing when it comes to marijuana. The ACLU has found that there are “disproportionate arrest rates” in every state.  In the United States, African Americans are more than 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for possession as whites, the civil rights organization has found.  Arrests for possession in Baltimore increased 15 percent last year, from 471 in 2016 to 544 in 2017, according to the Baltimore Fishbowl analysis.  All but 18 of those 544 arrested people were black.

The issue needs to be addressed, and the most effective way is by changing police culture and arrest tactics.  As we know, marijuana arrests are not the only place where there are disparities. Hopefully, the consent decree will have some impact, and a new police commissioner, whoever that might be, will make it a priority as well.  In the meantime, Maryland hasn’t truly decriminalized marijuana, at least not for African Americans.  The numbers make that clear.

The full report referenced in this editorial is available at this link under the title "Structural Racism and Cannabis: Black Baltimoreans still disproportionately arrested for weed after decriminalization." Among the interesting data points in the report is this telling trend: "The number of cannabis citations in Baltimore has climbed significantly in each full year since decriminalization took effect, going from 44 in 2015 to 200 in 2016 to 429 in 2017."

January 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Flagging concerns about potential links between marijuana, mental illness and violence

Alex Berenson has this notable new Wall Street Journal commentary under the full headline "Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than You Think: As legalization spreads, more Americans are becoming heavy users of cannabis, despite its links to violence and mental illness."  Here are excerpts:

[E]ven as marijuana use has become more socially acceptable, psychiatrists and epidemiologists have reached a consensus that it presents more serious risks than most people realize.

Contrary to the predictions of both advocates and opponents, legalization hasn’t led to a huge increase in people using the drug casually.  About 15% of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2017, up from 10% in 2006, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  By contrast, almost 70% of Americans had an alcoholic drink in the past year.

But the number of Americans who use cannabis heavily is soaring.  In 2006, about 3 million Americans reported using the drug at least 300 times a year, the standard for daily use.  By 2017, that number had increased to 8 million — approaching the 12 million Americans who drank every day.  Put another way, only one in 15 drinkers consumed alcohol daily; about one in five marijuana users used cannabis that often.

And they are consuming cannabis that is far more potent than ever before, as measured by the amount of THC it contains. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects.  In the 1970s, most marijuana contained less than 2% THC.  Today, marijuana routinely contains 20-25% THC, thanks to sophisticated farming and cloning techniques and to the demand of users to get a stronger high more quickly.  In states where cannabis is legal, many users prefer extracts that are nearly pure THC.

Cannabis advocates often argue that the drug can’t be as neurotoxic as studies suggest because otherwise Western countries would have seen population-wide increases in psychosis alongside rising marijuana use. In reality, accurately tracking psychosis cases is impossible in the U.S.  The government carefully tracks diseases such as cancer with central registries, but no such system exists for schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses.

Some population-level data does exist, though.  Research from Finland and Denmark, two countries that track mental illness more accurately, shows a significant increase in psychosis since 2000, following an increase in cannabis use.  And last September, a large survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the U.S. too.  In 2017, 7.5% of young adults met the criteria for serious mental illness, double the rate in 2008.

None of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness, although they do offer suggestive evidence of a link.  What is clear is that, in individual cases, marijuana can cause psychosis, and psychosis is a high risk factor for violence.  What’s more, much of that violence occurs when psychotic people are using drugs.  As long as people with schizophrenia are avoiding recreational drugs, they are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people.  But when they use drugs, their risk of violence skyrockets. The drug they are most likely to use is cannabis....

The link between marijuana and violence doesn’t appear limited to people with pre-existing psychosis.  Researchers have studied alcohol and violence for generations, proving that alcohol is a risk factor for domestic abuse, assault and even murder.  Far less work has been done on marijuana, in part because advocates have stigmatized anyone who raises the issue.  Still, there are studies showing that marijuana use is a significant risk factor for violence.

A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, examining a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents, found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence in the U.S.  A 2017 paper in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, examining drivers of violence among 6,000 British and Chinese men, found that drug use was linked to a fivefold increase in violence, and the drug used was nearly always cannabis.

Before states legalized recreational cannabis, advocates predicted that legalization would let police focus on hardened criminals rather than on marijuana smokers and thus reduce violent crime.  Some advocates even claim that legalization has reduced violent crime: In a 2017 speech calling for federal legalization, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said that “these states are seeing decreases in violent crime.”

But Mr. Booker is wrong.  The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2014 and Alaska and Oregon in 2015.  Combined, those four states had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013.  In 2017, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults — an increase far greater than the national average.

Knowing exactly how much of that increase is related to cannabis is impossible without researching every crime. But for centuries, people all over the world have understood that cannabis causes mental illness and violence — just as they’ve known that opiates cause addiction and overdose.  Hard data on the relationship between marijuana and madness dates back 150 years, to British asylum registers in India.

Yet 20 years ago, the U.S. moved to encourage wider use of cannabis and opiates. In both cases, we decided we could outsmart these drugs — enjoying their benefits without their costs. And in both cases, we were wrong.  Opiates are riskier than cannabis, and the overdose deaths they cause are a more imminent crisis, so public and government attention have focused on them.  Soon, the mental illness and violence that follow cannabis use also may be too widespread to ignore.

January 3, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Two deep dives into health research and social justice in modern age of marijuana reform

NBC News has two new lengthy articles exploring the state of marijuana research and debate over social justice in this era of marijuana reform.   Both pieces are worthwhile reads, and here are links to the pieces with extended headlines and a brief excerpt:

"The year in pot: States embrace legalization, but questions persist; Marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug in the U.S., is winning approval state by state and impressing investors. But researchers still caution against its use."

The wave of legalization is taking place as the latest polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans endorse it, double the rate in 2000. Investors are noticing too, pouring an estimated $10 billion into the industry in North America this year.

Still, medical researchers continue to caution against its use because little is known about its effects on health. Here is a review of what we’ve learned about marijuana and marijuana-based products in 2018.

"Legal marijuana made big promises on racial equity — and fell short; 'Time is really up on selling your business dream as a social justice movement,' said the president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association."

While marijuana arrests have declined and tax revenue has begun to flow in most states that have legalized pot, the gains have accrued most heavily to white residents, even though black Americans paid the drug war’s biggest costs, according to a statistical analysis conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates drug policy reform.

The results in Colorado, the District of Columbia and the nine other states where recreational marijuana became legal from 2012 to 2018 have left some lawmakers and even marijuana legalization advocates skeptical of broad social-justice claims. For that reason, lawmakers in New Jersey and New York — two of the three states expected to legalize marijuana in 2019 — are now pushing for detailed criminal justice and business equity measures as part of any legalization package....

The efforts in New Jersey and New York come as the inequities in other states have grown clearer. In Colorado, the Drug Policy Alliance found, the number of black juveniles arrested on marijuana charges grew after legalization. In 2016, a Colorado Department of Public Safety analysis found that black people living in that state remained three times more likely than white people to be arrested for selling or possessing marijuana. In Washington state, an ACLU analysis found that in 2014, the first year in which marijuana became available in legal retail stores, a black adult remained three times more likely to face low-level marijuana charges than a white adult.

January 1, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Legalized Pot Isn’t Going to Save Us"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times piece by Ginia Bellafante. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would push to make pot smoking — for fun — legal in New York State. It was quite a statement for a governor who had repeatedly questioned the wisdom before, calling it an enabler of more pernicious habits.  The “facts have changed,” he had said several months before, meaning really that the polling had changed — in October of 2017, support for the legalization of marijuana reached its highest point in five decades with nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed by Gallup expressing enthusiasm for the revision.

The governor made his argument deploying the progressive rhetoric he has turned to increasingly as his neoliberal leanings have become less politically expedient.  That rhetoric rightly maintains that legalization of the drug is essential to redressing injustices in a criminal justice system that has overwhelmingly penalized young men of color for carrying or smoking pot.

Two days after Mr. Cuomo made his commitments known, in fact, Brooklyn’s district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, asked a judge to obliterate more than two dozen past marijuana convictions; his office vacated open warrants for more than 1,400 people who had missed court dates for possession cases.  In the absence of such erasures on a broad scale, merely legalizing the drug would do nothing to remediate the damage inflicted on thousands of people ensnared in a legal universe that so severely handicaps them for doing what white people pull off with impunity.  This is why mayor Bill de Blasio followed the governor’s announcement with his own endorsements of legalization — this too a reversal — recommending that convictions for marijuana-related crimes be expunged automatically.

In previous eras, decriminalization had been championed largely by libertarians, who saw a lot of government waste in a system that needlessly locked people up, and by hippies, who just wanted to be left alone to get stoned.  It is only recently that pot has been widely imagined as an almost holy vessel of redemption, a cure-all for a full range of 21st century maladies — social division, chronic pain, chronic distraction, chronic boredom.  Leafly, a journal of cannabis news, describes Cinex, a particular weed strain as providing a “wired euphoria that feeds creativity” while making daily chores less of a “drag.”

Of course, lawmakers in New York are not primarily motivated by the desire to make our daily chores less of a drag.  They quickly suggested that taxing marijuana could fix the transit system, in need of $60 billion worth of repairs.  They invited us to envision a world in which pot really was a gateway — to more efficient infrastructure!

Leaving aside for a moment whether these ambitions are all too utopian, it is easy to see what is problematic about legislators relying on our escapist pleasures to perform some of the most necessary functions of government.  In 1951, for example, the federal excise tax on cigarettes was raised to help finance the Korean War. Given that the previous year had produced five separate epidemiological studies confirming the growing suspicion that smokers were more likely to contract lung cancer than nonsmokers, 1951 might have been a good time to mandate warning labels on cigarette packaging but, as it happened, that would take another 14 years to accomplish.

The enthusiasm for revising the legal status of pot around the country has for the most part obscured any debate about consequences to public health.  That pot is regarded as relatively harmless is troubling, because much of what we know about it is based on studies conducted nearly 50 years ago at a time when what was consumed was much less potent than it is now.

Within the academic community, Jonathan P. Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon, has been a leading voice warning of marijuana’s attendant dangers.  As he has put it, beyond the fact that pot use has been correlated with a wide variety of negative outcomes in terms of physical and mental health, the real issue is that more than half of marijuana is consumed by people who are high more than half of all their waking hours. Pot shouldn’t be dismissed simply because it won’t kill you.

Mr. Caulkins’s research also shows us who is likely to bear these health burdens to a disproportionate degree — and it is not snowboarders in Vail.  Looking at a decade’s worth of federal surveys on drug use, he and a partner determined that Americans with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for close to 30 percent of all marijuana use, even though they make up less than 20 percent of the population.

One fantasy that advocates of legalization have is that changes in the law will energize a redistribution of wealth, not only because tax revenue from pot sales can be funneled to various worthy causes but also because the poor will reap new entrepreneurial opportunities — in every neighborhood a Stringer Bell....

I asked Mark Kleiman, of the Marron Institute at New York University and one of the most sought-after experts on drug policy in the country, what the future looked like. He foresaw a world in which pot, legal in ever more states and eventually at the national level, will get cheaper and cheaper.  The expected tax windfalls would become less likely, unless pot is taxed at the level of potency rather than sale price.  The trend toward vaping means there will be greater demand for oil, and if you can melt everything down for oil, pot will be less expensive to produce, because at that point you can grow it like corn.

“You can produce all the intoxicant used in a year on 40,000 acres,” Mr. Kleiman said. “That’s 20 family farms in Iowa.” Eventually a joint could cost a nickel; Nabisco will take over edibles. “You will have pot grown in Iowa, processed by Cargill and sold by Amazon,” Mr. Kleiman said. “No one will make money except Jeff Bezos, who always makes money.”

December 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

NYC Comptroller advocates for New York to pursue an "Equitable Cannabis Industry"

Hqdefault (1)New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer first caught my attention six months ago when he produced this notable  report titled "Estimated Tax Revenues from Marijuana Legalization in New York." Today, Comptroller Stringer has my attention again with this notable new 15-page report titled "Addressing the Harms of Prohibition: What NYC Can do to Support an Equitable Cannabis Industry." I recommend the document in full, and here is part of its introductory section:

Over the last several decades, the prohibition of cannabis has had devastating impacts on communities in New York City, extending beyond incarceration to often long-lasting economic insecurity: damaged credit, loss of employment, housing, student loans, and more.  Today, thousands of New Yorkers, overwhelmingly Black and Latinx, continue to endure the untold financial and social costs of marijuana-related enforcement, despite steps to decriminalize.

As New York joins neighboring jurisdictions in moving closer to legalizing cannabis for adult use, the State and the City must take action to ensure that the communities who have been most harmed by policies of the past are able to access the revenue, jobs, and opportunities that a regulated adultuse marijuana program would inevitably generate.

While the creation of a legal market brings the promise of new wealth, the uneven enforcement of marijuana policies in New York specifically and the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry generally foreshadow potential inequities in who will benefit — and, indeed, who will profit — from a legal adult-use cannabis industry. In anticipation of future legalization, this report, by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, offers a new neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at cannabis enforcement and charts a roadmap for building equity into the industry....

Together, the report findings show that the neighborhoods most impacted by prohibition are among the most economically insecure and disenfranchised in the city.  It is precisely these New Yorkers then — those to whom the benefits of legalization should be targeted — who are most likely to face barriers to accessing opportunities in the industry, in particular financing. In addition to reinvesting tax revenue from legalization in these disproportionally impacted communities, steps should therefore be taken to equip those impacted by prohibition to secure the funding and other resources needed to become cannabis licensees.  This report recommends that the City, in partnership with the State, develop a robust cannabis equity program to direct capital and technical assistance to impacted communities interested in participating in the adult-use industry.

December 6, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Spotlighting the still-challenging politics that surround the intersection of marijuana reform, criminal justice reform and racial inequities

Today's must-read for both marijuana reform and criminal justice reform fans is this lengthy new Politico article fully headlined "Racial Justice and Legal Pot Are Colliding in Congress: The latest fight over criminal justice reform is over allowing felons access to newly legal aspects of the cannabis industry. Lawmakers are getting woke — slowly." I recommend this piece is full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the [Farm] bill includes an amendment that would permanently remove hemp from the list of federally banned drugs like heroin and cocaine, freeing hemp from the crippling legal stigma that has made it economically unviable for the past four decades.  But that amendment also includes a little-noticed ban on people convicted of drug felonies from participating in the soon-to-be-federally-legal hemp industry.

Added late in the process, apparently to placate a stakeholder close to McConnell, the exception has angered a broad and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, hemp industry insiders and religious groups who see it as a continuing punishment of minorities who were targeted disproportionately during the War on Drugs and now are being denied the chance to profit economically from a product that promises to make millions of dollars for mostly white investors on Wall Street....

[L]awmakers like McConnell, who have discovered the economic benefits of relaxing prohibitions on products such as hemp, have nevertheless quietly found ways, like the Farm Bill felon ban, to satisfy the demands of their anti-legalization constituents, to the chagrin of pro-cannabis lawmakers and activists. After POLITICO Magazine reported on the drug-crime felon ban in August, three senators — Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) — wrote to Senate leadership demanding the removal of the ban, citing its “disparate impact on minorities,” among other concerns.

“I think there’s a growing recognition of the hypocrisy and unfairness of our nation’s drug laws, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are behind bars for something that is now legal in nine states and something that two of the last three Presidents have admitted to doing,” Booker told POLITICO Magazine. “If we truly want to be a just and fair nation, marijuana legalization must be accompanied by record expungement and a focus on restorative justice.”...

[The] once-radical notion that felons ought to gain priority for entry into a newly legal industry — instead of being shut out — has quietly gained bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, albeit not among Republican leadership.  In the House, this mounting opposition to the continuing punishment of felons first cropped up in September when the Judiciary Committee passed its first pro-marijuana bill.  It would expand access to scientific study of the cannabis plant, a notion agreed-upon by marijuana’s supporters and detractors alike.  However, Democrats almost killed the bill because it included language that barred felons (and even people convicted of misdemeanors) from receiving licenses to produce the marijuana.

Felon bans are commonplace in legal marijuana programs.  Every state has some version of it, but most of them have a five- or 10-year limit.  But the felon bans in both the Senate’s Farm Bill and the House’s marijuana research bill are lifetime bans, and the House bill includes misdemeanors, too. “Any restriction on misdemeanors goes in the exact contrary direction of the Second Chance Act,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York), who will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January.  His criticism was echoed by Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), who sought to have the misdemeanor language struck from the bill until its sponsor, Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), promised to address that language when it comes to the House floor.

In the Senate, the movement to protect the legal marijuana trade has taken the form of the proposed bipartisan Gardner-Warren STATES Act, which would maintain the status quo of federal non-interference of state-legal programs that was upended when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that outlined a hands-off approach to state-legal programs.  Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would adopt California-style principles and apply them federally, going far beyond the STATES Act, removing marijuana from Schedule I (defined as having no medical value and a high risk of abuse) and eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana.  But unlike other pro-marijuana bills, it would also deny federal law-enforcement grants to states that don’t legalize marijuana; direct federal courts to expunge marijuana convictions; and establish a grant-making fund through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Booker’s bill has become popular among Senate Democrats.  Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren have signed on as co-sponsors — a list that looks a lot like a lineup of presumed candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.  “For too long, the federal government has propped up failed and outdated drug policies that destroy lives,” Wyden told POLITICO Magazine.  “The War on Drugs is deeply rooted in racism.  We desperately need to not only correct course, but to also ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted. People across America understand and want change. Now, Congress must act.”

Recent polling shows that Americans agree with Wyden — to a point.  There is a widespread acceptance of legalizing marijuana.  Gallup has been tracking this number since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans believed in legalizing it; in October, Gallup put the number at 64 percent, the highest ever number recorded.  Pew says it is 62 percent, also its highest number ever. 

But there is far less acceptance of the idea that the War on Drugs has had an adverse impact on poorer, minority communities, or that there should be some form of compensation in terms of prioritized access to the new industry. A  poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a progressive DC-based polling firm, earlier this year on the “Politics of Marijuana Legalization in 2018 Battleground Districts” found that 62 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed agreed with the idea “we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed War on Drugs.”  However, when the pollsters added a racial component to this message — whether the respondents felt that the marijuana prohibition “unfairly target[s] and destroy[s] minority communities” — only 40 percent found that message to be “very convincing.”...

[M]any members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been slow to support marijuana legalization. But the CBC finally made its position on this issue clear in June when its 48-member caucus voted in an “overwhelming majority” to support policies beyond mere decriminalization: “Some of the same folks who told African Americans ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when it came to marijuana use and distribution, are now in support of decriminalizing the drug and making a profit off of it,” CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat from Louisiana said at the time. “The Congressional Black Caucus supports decriminalizing marijuana and investing in communities that were destroyed by the War on Drugs…” 

Arguments for legalizing marijuana haven’t been entirely persuasive to sway many in the conservative black community, but re-framing it in the context of civil rights has brought many around to this new way of thinking. “What is moving conservative black and brown folks is this idea that we’re on the horizon of marijuana legalization,” according to Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance. “So the idea is in order to do this in a way that is equitable and fair, you have to start on the front end of alleviating racially biased consequences of prohibition while we’re legalizing — and that means expungement, re-sentencing, community re-investment, and looking at where marijuana tax revenue can go, and getting rid of barriers to the industry.”

Now that Democrats have won control of the House, co-founder of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), is poised to implement his blueprint for how the House under Democratic leadership would legalize marijuana at the federal level.  Racial justice is front-and-center in that plan.  The memo he sent to Democratic leadership reads in part, “committees should start marking up bills in their jurisdiction that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws — before the end of the year. These policy issues… should include: Restorative justice measures that address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws.”

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

November 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Michigan's Gov-elect talking up mass marijuana expungements in wake of state's legalization vote

This local article, headlined "Whitmer will consider forgiving marijuana crimes," highlights how there can be a quick connection between marijuana reform and criminal justice reform.  Here are the details as reported from the state up north:

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer will pursue executive action or legislation to free inmates and expunge criminal records for those convicted of marijuana crimes that will become legal under the state's pending recreational marijuana law, she indicated Wednesday.

“I think that the people of Michigan have said that for conduct that would now be legal, no one should bear a lifelong record for that conduct,” Whitmer said in her first press conference since winning election over Republican Bill Schuette on Tuesday night.

Voters approved Proposal 1 to legalize adult marijuana possession and set up a system to license businesses.

Whitmer will replace GOP Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 1 and “will start taking a look at (marijuana crime expungement) and making some decisions and taking some action early next year,” she said.

The East Lansing Democrat supported Proposal 1, which will allow adults over the age of 21 to carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.  Those provisions are set to take effect by early December, while licensing retail shops could take more than a year.

Spokesman Zack Pohl said “a legislative solution is probably the most likely avenue” for expunging low-level marijuana convictions.  Whitmer will work with a Republican-controlled Legislature, and it’s not yet clear whether lawmakers will have any appetite to take up the issue.

“I think it’s a little unclear still in Michigan law what the governor’s authority is to expunge convictions for marijuana crimes, but... she thinks the people have spoken, and people who are serving sentences for a crime that’s now legal deserve some sort of remedy,” Pohl said.

November 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice publishes huge new report on "Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado"

CDPS Banner Image (Grey)As detailed in this press release, on Friday October 26, the "Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Office of Research and Statistics ... released 'Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,' a report that compiles and analyzes data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations and ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more."  Here a partial summary of the 250+ page report via parts of the press release:

DATA HIGHLIGHTS:

CRIME

Data suggests that law enforcement and prosecutors are aggressively pursuing cases against black market activity.  The quantity of cases filed for serious marijuana-related crimes has remained consistent with pre-legalization levels, however organized crime cases have generally increased since 2008.

  • Felony marijuana court case filings (conspiracy, manufacturing, distribution, and possession with intent to sell) declined from 2008 to 2014, but increased from 2015 through 2017.

    • The most recent increase in filings might be in part because legislation changed the legal indoor plant count, providing law enforcement agencies with greater clarity and tools to increase their enforcement of black market activity.

    • Felony filings in 2017 (907) were still below 2008 filings (1,431).

  • Filings in organized-crime cases followed a similar pattern, with a dip in 2012 and 2013 followed by a significant increase since 2014.

    • There were 31 organized crime case filings in 2012 and 119 in 2017.

  • Filings for juveniles under 18 remain at the same level as pre-legalization.

DUI & TRAFFIC FATALITIES
The impact of marijuana consumption on the safety of drivers is a major focus, as any fatality on our roadways is a concern. More data about the impairing effects of marijuana and more consistent testing of drivers for marijuana are needed to truly understand the scope of marijuana impairment and its relation to non-fatal crashes.

  • The number of trained Drug Recognition Experts increased from 129 in 2012 to 214 in 2018, a 66% increase. Thousands of additional officers have been trained in Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection.

  • Colorado State Patrol (CSP) DUI cases overall were down 15% from 2014 to 2017.

  • The percentage of CSP citations with marijuana-only impairment has stayed steady, at around 7%. The percentage of CSP citations with any marijuana nexus rose from 12% in 2012 to 17% in 2016, then dropped to 15% in 2017.

  • About 10% of people in treatment for a DUI self-reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, compared to 86% who report alcohol as their primary drug of abuse.

  • The percent of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for Delta-9 THC at the 5ng/mL level decreased from 11.6% in 2016 to 7.5% in 2017.

  • The number of fatalities where a driver tested positive for any cannabinoid (Delta 9 or any other metabolite) increased from 55 (11% of all fatalities) in 2013 to 139 (21% of all fatalities) in 2017....

HOSPITALIZATIONS & ER VISITS
These are critical data points so we can track harmful exposure to children, inappropriate usage, and other drivers of marijuana-related hospitalizations.These and related data points prompted legislative and regulatory developments between 2014 and 2016, including child-resistant packaging requirements, requirements for edibles to be marked with a universal symbol so they can be identified even outside their packaging, limitations on the total amount of active THC in an individual retail marijuana edible, and prohibitions on the manufacturing and sales of edibles in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.

  • Rates of hospitalization with possible marijuana exposures increased steadily from 2000 through 2015.

  • Human marijuana exposures reported to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center increased significantly from pre-legalization to 2014, then flattened out from 2014-2017.

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE & ACHIEVEMENT
New data points are helping us gain a better understanding of school discipline; overall the state is not seeing an impact of recreational marijuana use on high school graduation and drop-out rates.

  • The total number of suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement referrals for any reason has remained consistent post-legalization.

  • Marijuana was the most common single reason for school expulsions (22%) and law enforcement referrals (24%) in the 2016-17 school year, the first full year where marijuana was reported separately as a reason for disciplinary action.

  • Graduation rates are up and drop-out rates are down since 2012.  The Graduation rate rose steadily from a 10-year low point of 72 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 79 percent in the 2016-2017 school year. Over that same time period, the drop-out rate decreased from 3.1 percent to 2.3 percent.

YOUTH USAGE & ATTITUDES (12-17 years)
Surveys show Colorado is not experiencing an increase in youth usage of marijuana. Preventing negative impacts on youth has been a focus of various state efforts, including public education campaigns that raise awareness about the health and legal consequences of teen marijuana use. The Marijuana Impacts report compiles and analyzes data previously released in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) to examine trends related to youth usage and impacts.

  • The youth marijuana rate reported via NSDUH for the 2015/16 school year (9.1%) was the lowest it’s been since 2007/08 (9.1%).

  • According to HKCS, the proportion of high school students reporting using marijuana ever in their lifetime or reporting past 30-day use remained statistically unchanged from 2005 to 2017.

  • According to HKCS, the proportion of students trying marijuana before age 13 went down from 9.2% in 2015 to 6.5% in 2017.

  • Alcohol was the most common substance students reported using at any point in their lives (59%) followed by e-cigarettes (44%) and then marijuana (35%).

October 29, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Effective "2018 midterm report" with visuals on modern politics and policy of marijuana reform

The folks at PoliFact have this lengthy new piece under the headline "Marijuana legalization in 5 charts: A 2018 midterm report" that is worth reading in full. This infographic under the title "Potential $7 Billion Recreational Marijuana Tax Revenue, By State," highlighting revenue from marijuana reform is alone worth the click-through, and here are excerpts from the piece providing a glimpse at what the "5 charts" cover:

About two in three Americans now favor marijuana legalization, a record-high measure of public support for a drug the federal government still puts in the same category as LSD and heroin.

With a majority of states now permitting legal use in some form, and several states poised to relax their laws this November, we decided to take a graphical look at the country’s most popular illicit drug.

Changing attitudes

Experts pointed to a number of reasons to explain the dramatic shift in Americans’ opinion of marijuana legalization over a relatively short timespan....

State marijuana laws

American laws around marijuana are complicated....

State tax revenue

Taxing marijuana can yield a large pot of money for states. The data is still somewhat scarce given that legalization is still in its infancy....

Criminal justice

The country’s decades-long crackdown on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on minorities....

Social impact

Some experts said the pros of legalization far outweighed the cons, while others said it’s too early to tell....

October 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Marijuana midterms: Why legal weed advocates think 'all the pieces are coming together' this year"

Images (16)The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new NBC News article, which carries this summary subhead: "Four states have marijuana measures on the ballot in November, and a Democratic Congress could make it easier for more states to relax drug laws." With exactly two weeks until Election Day 2018, I like the phrase "marijuana midterms," and here are excerpts from the lengthy press piece:

As polls show record support for marijuana legalization, advocates say the midterm elections could mark the point of no return for a movement that has been gathering steam for years. "The train has left the station," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a leading marijuana reform advocate in Congress. "I see all the pieces coming together... It's the same arc we saw two generations ago with the prohibitions of alcohol."

Voters in four states will weigh in on ballot initiatives to legalize weed for recreational or medical use next month, while voters everywhere will consider giving more power to Democrats, who have increasingly campaigned on marijuana legalization and are likely to advance legislation on the issue if they win back power in Congress and state capitals.... Politically, the issue has gone from a risible sideshow to a mainstream plank with implications for racial justice and billions of dollars in tax revenue. "Politicians embraced it because it's actually good politics,” said Blumenauer. “They can read the polls.”...

But opponents say advocates are ignoring the backlash that rapid legalization has created, including from some surprising corners, like the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, which is set to announce Tuesday its opposition to a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in Michigan, the most significant of this year's referendums. Michigan already has a robust medical marijuana industry, but voters could decide to fully legalize the drug for recreational use on Nov. 6. A recent survey commissioned by The Detroit Free Press found 55 percent of voters supported the measure, compared to 41 percent who opposed it.

Meanwhile, North Dakota voters will also have a chance to legalize recreational marijuana in one of the most conservative states in the country, two years after 64 percent of voters approved its medical use during the 2016 election. Advocates are less hopeful about their prospects this year, though a pro-legalization group released a poll this weekend claiming a narrow 51 percent of likely voters approve of the measure.

Utah, a deep red state with some of the strictest alcohol rules in the country, is considering a medical marijuana initiative, which polls suggest is favored to succeed, even though most of the state’s political and religious leaders oppose it.

At the same time, Missouri voters will consider three separate and competing medical marijuana ballot initiatives. The situation has frustrated advocates and could confuse voters, especially because it's unclear what will happen if they approve more than one next month.

Meanwhile, Vermont's state legislature earlier this year legalized cannabis, though not for commercial sale, and New York and New Jersey could be next, as lawmakers in both states are actively considering the issue....

Progressive Democrats like Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, have adopted marijuana legalization as a central plank of their campaigns by tying the issue to criminal justice reform, citing the disproportionate number of African-Americans arrested for the drug even though usage is common among whites.  In one of the biggest applause lines of his stump speech, O’Rourke — a longtime advocate of marijuana reform dating back to his days on the El Paso City Council — asks supporters who will be the last person of color incarcerated for possessing something that is now legal for medical use in a majority of states.

But a growing number of more mainstream Democrats have adopted the policy too, like J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire hotel magnate running for governor of Illinois, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, who beat a progressive Bernie Sanders-style challenger in the Democratic primary.  “Democrats have really jumped on this as a way of galvanizing their voters,” said Michael Collins, the interim director of the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Action. “If you're on the more moderate side of the party and you want to show your progressive bona fides, you go to marijuana, because it's not as controversial an issue as, say eliminating ICE,” the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency....

But Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration on drug policy who runs a group that opposes marijuana legalization, says advocates are overstating the inevitability of their side.  “I don't think this is a done deal at all,” he said, noting that his group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has raised more money this year than any year in its history.  “Ironically, the more legalization rolls out, as recklessly as it is, the more support we get.”  Polls showing sky-high support for legalization can be misleading, Sabet argues, because they use vague wording that can lead respondents to conflate decriminalization with a full-blown recreational system that allows for storefront dispensaries.

Some of the most vocal opposition, he said, has come from African-American organizations, who express concern that the commercialization of the marijuana industry has primarily benefited white entrepreneurs even though communities of color have borne the brunt of the drug war.  "This really isn't about social justice, it's about a few rich white guys getting rich," Sabet said, noting that the black caucus in the New Jersey state legislature has helped stall Murphy's legalization effort in New Jersey.

Proponents acknowledge the racial disparities in the marijuana industry, and some, like Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, has advocated a legalization regime that would benefit black and brown weed entrepreneurs.

Either way, if Democrats win back the House, advocates say Congress could advance a number of reform bills that have been blocked by the Republican majority. Some, like a bill to exempt states that have legalized marijuana from federal restrictions and another to allow marijuana businesses to use banks, have numerous Republican co-sponsors and could pass both chambers of Congress today — if only leaders allowed lawmakers to vote on them, advocates say.

October 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)