Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"Alabama’s War on Marijuana: Assessing the Fiscal and Human Toll of Criminalization"

Cover-page-228x300The title of this post is the title of this impressive new report released this past week by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  This posting provides an overview of the 50+-page report, and here are portions of the executive summary:

In Alabama, a person caught with only a few grams of marijuana can face incarceration and thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.  They can lose their driver’s license and have difficulty finding a job or getting financial aid for college. 
This war on marijuana is one whose often life-altering consequences fall most heavily on black people – a population still living in the shadow of Jim Crow. Alabama’s laws are not only overly harsh, they also place enormous discretion in the hands of law enforcement, creating an uneven system of justice and leaving plenty of room for abuse.
This year in Etowah County, for example, law enforcement officials charged a man with drug trafficking after adding the total weight of marijuana-infused butter to the few grams of marijuana he possessed, so they could reach the 2.2-pound threshold for a trafficking charge.
Marijuana prohibition also has tremendous economic and public safety costs. The state is simply shooting itself in the pocketbook, wasting valuable taxpayer dollars and adding a tremendous burden to the courts and public safety resources.
This report is the first to analyze data on marijuana-related arrests in Alabama, broken down by race, age, gender and location. It includes a thorough fiscal analysis of the state’s enforcement costs. It also exposes how the administrative burden of enforcing marijuana laws leaves vital state agencies without the resources necessary to quickly test evidence related to violent crimes with serious public safety implications, such as sexual assault.  The study finds that in Alabama:
The overwhelming majority of people arrested for marijuana offenses from 2012 to 2016 – 89 percent – were arrested for possession. In 2016, 92 percent of all people arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for possession.
Alabama spent an estimated $22 million enforcing the prohibition against marijuana possession in 2016 – enough to fund 191 additional preschool classrooms, 571 more K-12 teachers or 628 more Alabama Department of Corrections officers. 
Black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession.  These racial disparities exist despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.2
• In at least seven law enforcement jurisdictions, black people were 10 or more times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In 2016, police made more arrests for marijuana possession (2,351) than for robbery, for which they made 1,314 arrests – despite the fact that there were 4,557 reported robberies that year.
The enforcement of marijuana possession laws creates a crippling backlog at the state agency tasked with analyzing forensic evidence in all criminal cases, including violent crimes. As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 “crimes against persons” cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery....
And, as the human toll discussed throughout this report falls disproportionately on black people, legalization offers an opportunity to begin to address the disproportionate harms that Alabama’s criminal justice system causes to its African-American population.  It’s time for Alabama to join an increasing number of states in taking a commonsense, fiscally responsible approach to marijuana policy. 

October 20, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms

As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:

The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....

The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.

Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

October 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

ImagesAs reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Landmark California marijuana legislation gives residents chance to 'reclaim their lives'," last night finalized some exciting news for those eager to see marijuana reform greatly impact criminal justice reform. Here are details:

Hailed by advocates as a chance for people to “reclaim their lives,” a new California law will soon make it easier for people with past marijuana convictions to get their records expunged completely, or their sentences significantly reduced.  Assembly Bill 1793 – passed by overwhelming majority in the California state Legislature and signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Jerry Brown – will streamline a previously tedious process that made it difficult for residents with a prior cannabis-related conviction to clear their names.

“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

California is not the first state to retroactively allow those with cannabis convictions a chance to reduce or completely remove their past; that distinction goes to Oregon, which legalized recreational weed in 2014.  Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, plus the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, have laws similar to Oregon’s, where individuals convicted of some marijuana-related crimes – like possession, cultivation or manufacturing – can work to get their records sealed or expunged.

But California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing and jobs because of their criminal records.  The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law.  “The failed war on drugs has, in so many ways, wreaked havoc, damage, pain and anguish on so many Californians,” said Assemblymember Ron Bonta, D-Oakland, who proposed the measure. “This is where government can step in and make it better.”

Pot convictions disproportionately affect communities of color, according to a 2016 study from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.  That study found that while white people consume marijuana at similar rates to black people – and more than Latinos – communities of color are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions.  In 2010, for example, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people nationwide.

The measure is California's latest effort to help those with marijuana charges move on with their lives.  Two years ago, Californians passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over and allowed for those with criminal convictions to request to have their records erased.  But the process was lengthy and convoluted, requiring people to petition the courts to reduce their sentence for prior convictions, back when cannabis was illegal.  It could also be an expensive process, with costs spanning court fees, hiring a lawyer (to walk people through paragraphs of confusing legal jargon) and time spent away from work and home....

The Drug Policy Alliance tries to educate the public on what it calls “collateral consequences,” the side effects that stem from a sometimes decades-old conviction, Holcombe said.  Those collateral consequences can include not being able to acquire student loans, find meaningful employment or access good housing, among other issues.

Under the new law, the state will do the work to clean up people's records – even if they didn’t know they were eligible.  Some individuals will be able to completely clear their record, while others will see their crimes significantly reduced.  Possession with the intent to sell, for example, will now be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's how it will work: Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys.  DAs will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents' marijuana-related convictions.  Priority will be given to those currently serving time.  “Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Bonta said.  “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”...

Holcombe and the DPA are hopeful that if California's landmark law is successful, other states could adopt similar measures.  “Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that.”

Regular readers likely know of my affinity for this kind of reform based on my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

October 1, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Criminal Conviction Restrictions for Marijuana Licensing"

Download (21)The title of this post is the title of this interesting "policy brief" authored by Allie Howell at the Reason Foundation.  This web discussion provides this summary of the document's coverage: 

Criminal conviction restrictions are justified as one way to ensure that the legal marijuana market will not be used to divert drugs out of state, to minors, or to fund criminal enterprises.  But using past behavior as a predictor for future actions is an imperfect measure.  It is impossible to determine how exactly these restrictions contribute to public safety since they are always coupled with other regulations.  We do know, however, that there are other ways to facilitate a functioning legal market using regulations that are not subject to prediction error.  Security requirements, marijuana tracking systems, and bookkeeping requirements deter criminal behavior without using an applicant’s past to make assumptions.

In addition to uncertainties that criminal conviction restrictions are the best way to ensure a functioning legal market, it is also important to consider the costs of these restrictions.  Criminal conviction restrictions reduce entry into the legal marijuana industry.  By excluding drug criminals, conviction restrictions may fundamentally undermine the goals of marijuana legalization by forcing some to stay in the black market.  Having a safe legal market is useless if the black market is still the primary supplier of marijuana.

Given the hypocrisy of these criminal conviction regulations, it is not surprising that some states and localities have adopted policies to help those negatively impacted by previous drug policies enter the marijuana industry.  Equity programs, however, will only help a chosen few priority applicants.  Fundamentally opening up employment opportunities in the marijuana industry by reducing conviction restrictions has the potential to help many people who have been impacted by the drug war.

September 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Interesting new data from the FBI concerning marijuana (and other drug) arrests in 2017

Over at Forbes, Tom Angell has already mined the latest new FBI crime data to focus on marijuana arrests via this piece headlined "Marijuana Arrests Are Increasing Despite Legalization, New FBI Data Shows." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana arrests are rising in the U.S., even as more states legalize cannabis. There is now an average of one marijuana bust roughly every 48 seconds, according to a new FBI report released on Monday.

The increase in marijuana arrests — 659,700 in 2017, compared to 653,249 in 2016 — is driven by enforcement against people merely possessing the drug as opposed to selling or growing it, the data shows.

Last year, there were 599,282 marijuana possession arrests in the country, up from 587,516 in 2016.  Meanwhile, busts for cannabis sales and manufacturing dropped, from 65,734 in 2016 to 60,418 in 2017.

The increase in cannabis possession arrests comes despite the fact that four additional states legalized marijuana on Election Day 2016. While among those states, legal recreational sales were only in effect in Nevada by the end of 2017, the prohibition on possession for adults was lifted soon after the successful votes there as well as in California, Maine and Massachusetts....

Overall, marijuana arrests made up 40.4% of the nation's 1,632,921 drug arrests in 2017.  Drug arrests as a whole also increased last year, up from 1,572,579 in 2016. There is now a drug bust every 19 seconds in the U.S.

As with all data, there are lots of stories and possible spins within. Though overall marijuana arrests went up, this was because possession arrests went up (only) 2% while arrests for more serious marijuana offenses went down 8%. Given the reality that a lot more people had access to "legal" marijuana but were still not allowed to use it in public spaces and a lot more people were involved in marijuana manufacturing and sales under state laws, these national data probably can and should be seen as evidence that marijuana reform is "working" to some extent to reduce the criminal justice footprint of marijuana prohibition.

September 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top court in South Africa rules that privacy rights protects adult use of marijuana in private places

ImagesAs reported in this BBC article, "South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places." Here is more about a major ruling for marijuana reform:

In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.

South Africa's government had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding.

Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres".

In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it....

This judgement is a reminder that South Africa's hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government's concerns about public health and public order.

The Constitutional Court's ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person's right to do as they please in their own home. The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable - particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.

It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.

The court has not approved - in any form - the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.

In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa's constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy's other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.

The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling. Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.

The court did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private. Parliament would have to decide on this, it said.

The full opinion in this case, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Gareth Prince, is available at this link, and here is a key paragraph from its introduction:

It is declared that, with effect from the date of the handing down of this judgment, the provisions of section 5(b) of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 read with Part III of Schedule 2 of that Act and with the definition of the phrase “deal in” in section 1 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 are inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, are, therefore, constitutionally invalid to the extent that they prohibit the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private

September 18, 2018 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

California legislature passes bill to require state to proactively identify marijuana cases eligible for relief under Prop 64

Regular readers know that I regularly spotlight my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," because I am so very eager to encourage states to couple marijuana reform with sustained efforts to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with past criminal convictions.  In that article, I praise  California for standing out among marijuana reform states for its robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  And, as reported in this new NPR piece, headlined "California Measure Would Expunge Many Marijuana-Related Crimes," the California legislature merits some more praise:

California lawmakers have approved a measure requiring prosecutors to expunge convictions or reduce sentences for many marijuana-related convictions dating back decades. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, passed by the state Senate on Wednesday by a 22-8 vote, would require the state's Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975 until 2016 to determine their eligibility.

Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters in 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, as The Associated Press notes, "When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors."

If it becomes law, it would put the burden for cleaning up those records on the state. If the bill goes into effect, state DOJ officials will have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are eligible for review and turn them over to the district attorney's office, which will have another year to make any objections....

NPR reported in December that more than 4,000 people had already petitioned the courts regarding their marijuana-related crimes. However, there are still many people who are unaware that they are eligible to petition for a review of their conviction. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in February on the subject. San Francisco took measures to expunge and reduce the convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975 because only 23 people in the city started the process themselves.

"The problem is that if you go through that process, you have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It's a very expensive and very cumbersome process," Gascon said in the interview. "[The] reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney," he said....

State law gives Brown 12 days from Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law without his signature.

August 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Up in Smoke: Removing Marijuana From Schedule I"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by David Katner now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

With over 600,000 marijuana arrests nationwide, and more Americans being incarcerated than for any other crime in the nation's history, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 should be amended to eliminate the inclusion of cannabis or marijuana from Schedule I.   Americans spent nearly $6 billion on "legal" cannabis last year alone, and the trend among states has been to legalize the use of cannabis for both medicinal purposes and recreational purposes.   The initial prohibition, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937  was largely influenced by racially charged propaganda and a lack of any scientific studies of the substance.  By removing the substance altogether from federal regulatory control, states would be allowed to determine for themselves how to regulate the use and dissemination of the substance.  The adoption of state laws recognizing the various medical benefits of the marijuana plant will not have full force until the federal regulatory scheme has been altered.

August 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New executive director for MPP, Steve Hawkins, spotlights how marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice are interconnected

Steve_Hawkins_Headshot-1-258x300Long-time readers know that my interest in marijuana law and policy is based in my work and research concerning the criminal justice system.  Stated differently, I think the marijuana reform movement is fundamentally a criminal justice reform movement.  This new press release from Marijuana Policy Project announcing the hiring of Steve Hawkins as is new Executive Director serves, thought a personnel move, to highlight ways in which marijuana reform and criminal justice and racial justice can and should be connected. Here is a little from the press release:

The nation’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to marijuana policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Tuesday it has hired Steve Hawkins to serve as its next executive director. The announcement comes after a months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates.

“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Hawkins as the new executive director of MPP,” said Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors. “Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change. We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”

Hawkins has been at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement for three decades as an advocate, policy strategist, nonprofit leader, and foundation executive. He has extensive experience overseeing campaigns to advance policy change through public education, stakeholder mobilization, engagement with government officials, and development of strategic alliances with business leaders, law enforcement officials, scholars, faith leaders, victims’ advocates, and other key voices. “The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dayton said. “Steve is the perfect choice to oversee that work and lead MPP into the future.”

Hawkins began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He later served as executive vice president of the NAACP, spearheading its efforts to end the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization. He also previously served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, as a program executive for the Atlantic Philanthropies, and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation, where he directed early investments of substantial resources into advocacy efforts to end mass incarceration, including groups working to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Most recently, Hawkins was president of the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels. A more detailed biography of Hawkins is available on the MPP website.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed the counterproductive effects of the war on marijuana and its especially devastating impact on communities of color,” Hawkins said. “MPP has been at the vanguard of changing public perceptions and public policies surrounding marijuana, and I am proud to join this incredible team of advocates at such a critical moment in the movement to end marijuana prohibition.”

August 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Catching up with recent state marijuana reform news and research via Marijuana Moment

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lots of new reports on lots of new research on lots of marijuana topics

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New data from Washington state shows dramatic drop in felony marijuana cases after legalization

Download (18)It should not be surprising to see a significant drop in felony marijuana prosecutions after a jurisdiction legalizes the drug.  But this new local article reporting on data from Washington highlights how dramatic the drop has been in one state.  The article is headlined "After Legalization, A Nearly 90 Percent Drop In Marijuana Felony Convictions," and here are excerpts (with a few sentences emphasized):

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state in 2012 resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of people sentenced for marijuana-related felonies, according to an analysis conducted for public radio by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council.

Between June 2008 and December 2009, the analysis showed, there were 1,312 offenses committed that resulted in felony sentences for the manufacture, delivery or possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. By contrast, during an 18 month period following the opening of recreational marijuana stores in 2014, there were just 147 marijuana-related crimes that resulted in felony level sentences--a nearly 90 percent decrease....

The sharp drop in felony-level marijuana sentences in Washington is not a surprise to Tom McBride, the executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. In an email, McBride said a decline in prosecutions was "expected" and "desired" by the public. He added that legalization had also made it more difficult to establish probable cause in delivery to minors or black market marijuana-related cases "because presence, odor, etc of marijuana can be legal or not."

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also said the reduction in prosecutions was to be expected. But he added that a de-emphasis on marijuana enforcement, in part because of the rise in heroin and fentanyl cases, was resulting in more black market marijuana grows with ties to organized crime. “We need to direct more resources to the illicit [marijuana] grows that we are seeing across the state,” Strachan said in an email.

Of the 1,312 felony marijuana sentences that stemmed from offenses committed between June 2008 and December 2009, the vast majority, 1,217, were for first-time offenses, 76 were for subsequent offenses, 17 were for marijuana-related felonies in a school zone and two were for delivery or possession in a correctional facility.

By contrast, between December 2014 and June 2016, after marijuana stores opened, the number of marijuana crimes resulting in felony sentences for a first offense dropped to 145, there were no sentences for subsequent offenses or for selling marijuana in a school zone, and just one felony sentence related to marijuana in a correctional facility.

The Caseload Forecast Council, which helps the state plan for growth in entitlements, picked those particular date ranges to account for several factors including: the time lapse between the date of an offense and the date of the sentencing, and the length of time between when I-502 passed and the start of retail sales.

Data showing sentences for misdemeanor level marijuana crimes was not immediately available.

I think it especially notable that this data reveals how many first offenders were being brought into the criminal justice system prior to marijuana reform for felony offenses. But I would love to also see (a) what kinds of sentences felony offenders were getting both before and after legalization, as well as (b) prosecutions and sentences for misdemeanor marijuana offenses both before and after legalization. These felony data provides one snapshot of how marijuana reform impacts the criminal justice footprint of one part of the war on drugs, but a lot more data (and time) is needed to fully take stock of what a difference legalization laws can make.

July 25, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Jersey AG calls for municipal prosecutors to halt marijuana prosecutions amidst work on statewide enforcement policies

Grewal_110x135pxAs reported in this local article, "New Jersey's attorney general has announced an immediate adjournment of all marijuana cases in municipal courts statewide until at least September." Here is the context:

The decision was included in a letter state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent Tuesday to municipal prosecutors in the state. It asked them to seek an adjournment until September 4 — or later — of any matter "involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," a move that will allow the attorney general's office time to develop "appropriate guidance" for prosecutors.

Grewal said he plans to convene a working group of criminal justice stakeholders to study the issue and advise him on possible solutions. He intends to issue a statewide directive by the end of next month concerning the scope and "appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion" in marijuana-related offenses in municipal court....

[This letter] came just days after Jake Hudnut, the newly installed municipal prosecutor in Jersey City, announced that his office would seek to downgrade some marijuana charges to noncriminal offenses, seek the outright dismissal of low-level marijuana charges and divert those defendants with prior drug arrests and signs of addiction to the city's community court.

The attorney general's office quickly notified Hudnut that he lacked the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute marijuana-related offenses, noting that only the state Legislature could take such action.

The letter from the NJ AG is available at this link, and this press statement further explains what prompted the latter.

July 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reviewing efforts to ensure marijuana reform is focused on criminal justice and social justice issues

Download (19)As long-time readers should know, much of my interest in modern marijuana reform emerged from my interest in criminal justice reform,  as well as from my frustration that many "traditional" approaches to criminal justice reform seem to move much more slowly than have many modern marijuana reforms.  Given this background, I have always been eager to see, and been most supportive of, proposals for marijuana reform that focus on criminal justice issues.  And this recent Stateline article, headlined "Marijuana Bills Increasingly Focus on Social Justice," effectively reports on encouraging developments in this arena. Here are excerpts from an extended article that should be read in full:

State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana this year aren’t just touting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of the government’s war on drugs.

The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters — most of whom, polls consistently show, support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups also have raised their voices in legalization discussions.

Now social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people....

Many state lawmakers say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Buffalo and has put forward a bill to legalize weed....

California’s 2016 ballot initiative, which filled more than 60 pages and covered everything from rules for marijuana testing laboratories to expungement of marijuana crimes from criminal records.

The California initiative allowed people with drug convictions to obtain marijuana licenses. It set aside $10 million a year to pay for services such as job placement, legal help, and mental health and addiction treatment for residents of communities hit hard by former drug laws. Passed by 57 percent, the initiative’s success showed that voters support justice and equity provisions — or at least aren’t dissuaded by them...

Missouri has four pot legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall; three focus on allowing medical use of the drug and the fourth on recreational use. The recreational use initiative by Total Legalization, a volunteer operation that isn’t backed by national pro-weed groups, also would require prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes to be released within 30 days and would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related criminal records. Becca Loane, a member of the board of directors for the campaign committee backing the initiative, said her team wants to legalize marijuana completely without waiting for the Legislature to work out the details. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

In North Dakota, a legalization ballot measure also would expunge the records of people with some marijuana-related convictions automatically. And in Michigan, a legalization ballot measure would require state lawmakers to encourage people in communities impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the marijuana industry....

The argument that marijuana legalization will help poor black and Latino people has been made vociferously in New York and New Jersey, where national groups that back legalization, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have teamed up with clergy and civil rights groups.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called marijuana legalization a social justice issue during his campaign last year. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, also a Democrat, has said she supports legalization because “we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”...

Nearly two-thirds of black, Hispanic and multiracial people supported marijuana legalization, according to a Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults this spring. That was a higher share than support among white adults, according to a breakdown by race and ethnicity shared with Stateline.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)