Thursday, December 31, 2020
The title of this post is the headline of this new Marijuana Moment piece, which I thought must include a typo because how could there be "half a million" arrests or convictions to eliminate. But then I remembered how many people bear scars from marijuana prohibition, and sp here is the story:
The governor of Illinois on Thursday announced more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records. The massive clemency and records clearing sweep comes about one year after the state’s legal cannabis market launched. Prior to its implementation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) granted an earlier round of more than 11,000 pardons for marijuana-related convictions.
The new effort saw slightly fewer gubernatorial pardons (9,219), but an additional 492,129 expungements for people convicted over non-felony cannabis offenses. The Illinois State Police helped facilitate the record clearing process.
Illinois’s marijuana legalization law includes restorative justice components that require the state to proactively expunge certain cannabis convictions — but this development puts Illinois four years ahead of schedule. “Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a press release. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward.”
“I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality,” Pritzker, who alluded to the additional pardons in October, added.
Toi Hutchinson, a senior cannabis advisor to the governor, said she is “heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs.”
“We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings,” she said. “The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.” According to the press release, “the expungement process has been completed at the state level,” but “county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level.”
The Marijuana Moment article concludes by noting some other states that have been working to ensure marijuana reform serves as a form of criminal justice reform:
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is being pressed by civil rights groups to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.
In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.
Monday, December 28, 2020
The Chicago Tribune has this new extended article details the status of expungement efforts in Illinois, and its full headline captures its themes: "Pot legalization was to bring expungements to many with records in Illinois. Numbers so far are low, but more are expected to be on the way." Here are excerpts:
Marijuana legalization in Illinois came with grand plans for wiping clean many criminal records involving cannabis. That aspect of the law was so important that on the eve of legalization on Jan. 1, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people of low-level marijuana convictions.
Yet more than 700,000 cases could qualify for expungement, a process in which police and court records of arrests and convictions are cleared. The process is crucial to giving people with such records a better chance at getting a job, an education and a place to live.
Now, almost one year after legalization took effect, few of those cannabis cases have been cleared. But officials say more expungements are on the way. Under the legalization legislation, Illinois State Police were tasked with identifying by Jan. 1, 2021, those cases that occurred since 2013 that could be expunged automatically. That amounts to some 47,000 cases, Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s senior adviser on cannabis, said. With the deadline just days away, state police said they would make an announcement about those expungements soon.
In Cook County, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx worked with a nonprofit tech company called Code for America to identify and clear 2,200 cases early this year. But during the COVID shutdown of courts, that process was delayed for months. Now, prosecutors there plan to expunge another 11,000 cases early in 2021.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally also went to court to get about 1,900 cases expunged early in 2020. But in general, other counties have not taken such initiative. Some are still waiting for state police to identify which cases are eligible. Lake County, for instance, the state’s attorney’s office knew of only two requests to vacate and expunge records, both of which were granted.
As a result, many people are still paying the price for having small amounts of marijuana that customers now buy routinely at pot shops. On the production side, licensed cannabis companies are churning out tons of the plant, amounts that previously could have earned life sentences in prison.
Now, after months of delays in the process, in part because of the pandemic, advocates are trying to reboot parts of the state’s plan to clear convictions. While only misdemeanor and the lowest level felony cases are eligible for automatic expungement, there remain an estimated 71,000 cases involving larger amounts of cannabis that don’t qualify for automatic expungement but are eligible to be cleared in court, advocates say. Yet very few individuals have come forward seeking to clear their records, advocates say. They blame lack of familiarity with the process by the public, courts and court clerks.
In response, a program called New Leaf is seeking to get people with pot convictions to come forward and get their slates wiped clean. New Leaf brings together 20 nonprofit organizations to help people get through the sometimes difficult process, which can take months or years. The program is being led by Illinois Legal Aid Online, which has step-by-step instructions for people to take part. The effort is being funded by taxpayers through the nonprofit Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
I just came across this recent posting titled "2020 NORML Victories," which serves as a kind of year-in-review of marijuana reform highlights in 2020. Folks should click through to see the particulars as discussed by NORML, but here are heading flagging big developments in this post:
Historic: House Of Representatives Passes Legislation Repealing Federal Marijuana Prohibition
Cannabis Retailers Are Acknowledged To Be “Essential Businesses”
2020 Election Was A Clean Sweep For Legalization Ballot Measures
Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Calls For Legalization
Tens Of Thousands Have Their Criminal Marijuana Records Expunged
Vermont Legalizes Retail Marijuana Access
I now see that NORML has this additional new accounting of the marijuana reform year that was under the headline "2020 Year in Review: NORML’s Top Ten Events in Marijuana Policy." Here are the listed events:
#1: Advocates Run the Table on Election Day
#2: House of Representatives Votes to Repeal Federal Marijuana Prohibition
#3: Tens of Thousands Have Their Marijuana Records Expunged
#4: Sales of Retail Cannabis Products Reach Historic Highs
#5: No Uptick in Youth Marijuana Use Following Legalization
#6: Vermont Lawmakers Legalize Retail Marijuana Access
#7: More Seniors Report Using Cannabis to Improve Their Quality of Life
8: Cannabis Retailers Designated as “Essential Businesses”
#9: Studies Show Off-The-Job Cannabis Use No Threat to Workplace Safety
#10: Virginia Ceases Arrests for Marijuana Possession
December 27, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, December 10, 2020
"America’s longest serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner," Richard DeLisi, released from Florida prison
As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Man serving 90-year sentence for selling marijuana released from prison," a ridiculous sentence for a marijuana offense came to a partial conclusion this week. Here are the basics:
While serving a 90-year prison sentence for selling marijuana, Richard DeLisi's wife died, as did his 23-year-old son and both his parents. His adult daughter was in a horrific car accident and suffered a paralyzing stroke as a result. He never met two granddaughters -- a lifetime of missed memories.
Yet, 71-year-old DeLisi walked out of a Florida prison Tuesday morning grateful and unresentful as he hugged his tearful family. After serving 31 years, he said he's just eager to restore the lost time. DeLisi was believed to be the longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner, according to the The Last Prisoner Project which championed his release.
DeLisi also finally met his 11-year-old and 1-year-old granddaughters for the first time this week....
DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years for marijuana trafficking in 1989 at the age of 40 even though the typical sentence was only 12 to 17 years. He believes he was targeted with the lengthy sentence because the judge mistakenly thought he was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York. DeLisi said he had opportunities, but never had any desire for that life. He prefers not to dwell on lost memories and time he'll never get back. He's not angry, and instead takes every opportunity to express gratitude and hope....
When the then-40-year-old hipster with the thick Italian accent first entered prison, he was illiterate, but taught himself how to read and write. Now, he wants "to make the best of every bit of my time" fighting for the release of other inmates through his organization FreeDeLisi.com....
Chiara Juster, a former Florida prosecutor who handled the case pro bono for the The Last Prisoner Project, criticized DeLisi's lengthy sentence as "a sick indictment of our nation."...
Rick DeLisi said his family fell apart after his father's sentence. His mother never recovered. His brother overdosed and died, his sister was in a terrible car accident. Rick fled at the country at 17 to get away from the pain. "I can't believe they did this to my father. I can't believe they did this to my family," the grieving son said, describing the reunion like opening up an old, painful wound.
A bit more about this ugly case can be found via this Last Prisoner Project page titled "America’s Longest Serving Nonviolent Cannabis Prisoner Richard DeLisi to be Released After 32 Years Behind Bars."
Interestingly, as detailed in this CNN piece, the Florida Department of Corrections has represented that DeLisi's release was a routine matter:
Florida Department of Corrections press secretary Kayla McLaughlin told CNN that the decision to move up DeLisi's release date was not "related to any action by an outside party."
DeLisi's release date was initially moved up from summer 2022 to May 2021 after an error was discovered on his record, McLaughlin said, which restored 390 days of provisional release credits he was owed upon the start of his sentence in 1989.
Good behavior also earned him "gain time," or a reduction in his sentence. DeLisi had previously forfeited 120 days of "gain time" due to disciplinary infractions. But because DeLisi's last disciplinary report was from July 2005 and because he was 120 days from his new release date of May 2021, he was eligible to have his "gain time" restored, which moved up his release date, McLaughlin said.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
This new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "Republican Lawmakers And Celebrities Push Trump To Free Marijuana Prisoners Before Leaving Office," prompts the question in the title of this post as it reports on a notable effort to get Prez Trump to use his clemency pen on behalf of a notable group of federal prisoners. Here are the details:
A group of celebrities, Republican officials and civil rights advocates sent a letter to President Trump on Wednesday, urging him to pardon or commute the sentences of people in federal prison for nonviolent federal marijuana offenses. The letter, which organizers said they adapted from an earlier request after discussing the previous proposal with the office of Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, states that the signatories “strongly believe that justice necessitates the exercise of executive clemency in these cases.”
Unlike the last version, the new letter comes with an attachment — at the request of Kushner’s office, advocates said — of a specific list of 24 people who are currently behind bars for cannabis offenses, including several who are serving life sentences.
Weldon Angelos, who himself was convicted over cannabis and handed a mandatory minimum sentence before a court cut his sentence and released him, personally delivered the first version of the letter to the White House in March. He told Marijuana Moment that Kushner’s office then reached out to his organization, Mission Green, to request that, in addition to redelivering the request, advocates include a list of incarcerated people who they feel are especially entitled to presidentially granted relief.
Those two dozen currently incarcerated individuals include people like Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical cannabis business in California. These inmates shouldn’t have to wait for Congress to get around to enacting federal policy change, and the president should use executive action to pardon them, the letter states.
“You have expressed support for the States’ right to implement their own cannabis laws, especially for medicinal purposes,” the signatories, including former NBA star Kevin Garnett, wrote. “And while there are a number of proposals being introduced in Congress to finally put an end to cannabis prohibition, they tend to lack any real avenue of relief for those who are serving time for selling cannabis.”...
Among the more than 50 signatories of the new letter is Alice Johnson, who appeared at the Republican National Convention and whose story was featured in Trump campaign ads after her drug sentence was commuted by the president.
Republican state lawmakers from Kansas, Maine and Missouri also signed on, as did a former U.S. attorney, actor Danny Trejo, the New Haven, Missouri police chief and former New Mexico governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson. They were joined by representatives of groups like #cut50, Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Action Partnership....
It’s not clear how Trump will react to the request for a round of cannabis-specific clemency. His reelection campaign worked to frame him as the criminal justice reform candidate, but he hasn’t proactively championed marijuana reform, has made several anti-legalization administration hires and issued signing statements stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore long-standing congressional riders that prohibit the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical cannabis programs. Also, despite his pledged support for medical marijuana and states’ rights, the president evidently holds some negative views toward cannabis consumption, as evidenced in a 2018 recording in which he said that using it makes people “lose IQ points.”
Prior related post:
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Though it may be a bit too early to declare all the ballot initiatives winners, as of this writing just before the end of Election Day 2020, it seems as though every marijuana reform initiative and all the other drug reform initiatives on ballots today are going to pass. Specifically, as now reported on this Marijuana Moment tracking page, here is what I am seeing:
Full marijuana legalization:
Arizona: 60% in favor
Montana: 60% in favor
New Jersey: 67% in favor
South Dakota: 53% in favor
Medical marijuana legalization:
Mississippi: 69% in favor
South Dakota: 69% in favor
Oregon: 55% in favor
Washington DC: 77% in favor
Oregon: 59 % in favor
November 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 30, 2020
The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted to SSRN and authored by Alex Carroll. Here is its abstract:
The Supreme Court has long characterized a dog sniff as a binary investigative technique. For nearly four decades, the Court has held that a dog sniff conducted during a routine traffic stop is not a Fourth Amendment “search” because it reveals only the location of an illegal substance. Marijuana, however, is now legal in thirty-four states. Accordingly, this Article closely reexamines the Fourth Amendment’s treatment of dog sniffs.
In doing so, it makes three overarching arguments. First, a dog sniff conducted during a routine traffic stop is a nonbinary type of investigative technique in states that have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana. Second, a dog sniff conducted during a routine traffic stop is a Fourth Amendment “search” in those same states. Third, law enforcement agencies operating in those states must retrain or replace their drug-detection dogs.
Moving forward, the Article further demonstrates, law enforcement agencies will encounter significant challenges associated with retraining or replacing their drug-detection dogs. It therefore concludes by providing law enforcement agencies with ways to mitigate those challenges. At its core, this Article offers the judiciary and law enforcement profession with a constitutional path forward.
October 30, 2020 in 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, October 17, 2020
Though I have noted a few times this recent call for papers over at my sentencing blog, I have been remiss by failing to flag on this blog the paper call relating to an exciting event I am excited to be involved in helping to plan, "Understanding Drug Sentencing and its Contributions to Mass Punishment." So, here is the full call, which is also available as a full pdf document at this link:
Discussion of the “war on drugs” frequently fails to examine precisely how drug offenders are sentenced — and how they should be. Drug sentencing practices are implicated in many fundamental criminal justice issues and concerns. Research suggests incarcerating people for drug offenses has little impact on substance use rates or on crime rates more generally. And, despite reports of comparable use rates, people of color are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drug-related offenses than white counterparts. Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes are applied commonly, but inconsistently, in drug cases and for persons with a criminal history that involves drug offenses. And while states have created specialty courts to handle the cases of low-level drug offenders, the efficacy and appropriateness of the “drug court movement” has long been subject to debate.
Distinct state and federal realities complicate our understanding of the relationship between the drug war and punishment. Nearly all federal drug defendants get sent to prison and nearly 50% of the federal prison population is comprised of drug offenders; relatively few state drug offenders are sent to prison and less than 20% of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges. But data on arrests, jail populations, and community supervision highlight the continued, significant impact drug cases still have on state and local justice systems. The role of drug criminalization and sentencing contributes to mass incarceration, yet mass punishment can look quite different depending on the criminal justice system(s) and the drugs.
ABOUT THE CALL
These issues and others related to drug sentencing will be part of a symposium jointly sponsored by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and the Academy for Justice at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. "Drug Sentencing and its Contributions to Mass Punishment," will take place on June 10–12, 2021, at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in Columbus, Ohio. As part of this symposium, we invite scholars to submit papers for inclusion in the workshop scheduled for June 12. Accepted submissions will be paired with a discussant who will review and provide feedback on the paper during the workshop. Each paper should reflect on some aspect of drug prosecutions and sentencing in the United States. Participants should have a draft to discuss and circulate by May 17, 2021. The papers will be gathered and published in a Spring 2022 symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication. Participants should have a completed version to begin the publication process by August 15, 2021. Final papers may range in length from 5,000 – 20,000 words.
Deadline for submission is November 1, 2020. Please submit a title and an abstract of no more than 300 words to Jana Hrdinová at firstname.lastname@example.org. Accepted scholars will be notified by December 1, 2020
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Vermont now on path to be latest state allowing marijuana sales and also to automatically expunge past convictions
Roughly 32 months ago, as noted in this prior post from January 2018, the Green Mountain State became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana through an act of a state legislature rather than by voter initiative (and Vermont was then the ninth state overall to legalize use). But that original law contained no provisions for the commercial sale of marijuana, and it took until this fall for sales to be legalized and regulated in the state (and now Vermont is then the eleventh state overall to legalize sales). This Marijuana Moment article, headlined "Vermont Governor Allows Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill To Take Effect Without His Signature," effectively provides the details on the latest reforms that also include another related criminal justice development (which I strongly believe should go hand-in-hand with any reforms):
The governor of Vermont announced on Wednesday that he will allow a bill to legalize marijuana sales in the state to take effect without his signature. He also signed separate legislation to automate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.
While Vermont legalized personal possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants for adults in 2018, retails sales have remained prohibited. But now with Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) decision not to veto the new cannabis commercialization bill, a tax-and-regulate system will finally be implemented.
Differing versions of the marijuana sales proposal passed each chamber before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month. The legislature then approved the finalized proposal and sent it to Scott’s desk. The governor had been noncommittal about his plans for the legislation — even up until the day before the signature deadline — and had hinted that he was even considering vetoing the bill. But he ultimately gave legal cannabis supporters a win by deciding not to block the reform.
In the conference committee, legislators worked fastidiously to ensure that Scott’s stated concerns about the policy change were largely addressed. Those issues primarily related to impaired driving, taxes and local control. But after the legislature advanced a finalized form, Scott threw advocates for a loop, stating that while he appreciated the legislative process that the bill went through, certain racial justice groups had raised concerns with his office about the extent to which the proposal addressed social equity in the cannabis industry for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs. There was some suspicion that the governor was using that pushback as an excuse to veto S. 54....
In the end, however, he stood out of the way and took no proactive action. “However, there is still more work to be done to ensure the health and safety of our kids and the safety of our roadways—we should heed the public health and safety lessons of tobacco and alcohol,” Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers announcing his decision. “Further, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market.”...
It’s possible that there was some political calculus involved in the decision to let the bill go into law despite his concerns, as his reelection challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D), is a vocal advocate for legalization and has raised the issue in recent appearances. Zuckerman stressed in a debate last week that while he agrees with the sentiment that more needs to be done to ensure racial justice, an imperfect bill can be improved upon, and the legislature has plenty of time to finesse the details before legal cannabis sales launch. He also noted that separate legislation providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions, which Scott signed on Wednesday, would complement the restorative justice provisions of the tax-and-regulate bill.
A coalition of Vermont civil rights and criminal justice reform groups including the state’s ACLU chapter released a statement on Sunday that says while they shared concerns about the limitations of the social equity components of the marijuana commerce bill, they felt it could be built upon and wanted the governor to sign it, in addition to the expungements legislation....
Under the tax-and-regulate bill, a new Cannabis Control Commission will be responsible for issuing licenses for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs. The body will also take over regulation of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry from the Department of Public Safety. A 30 percent THC limit will be imposed on cannabis flower, while oils could contain up to 60 percent THC. Flavored vape cartridges will be banned. Local jurisdictions will have to proactively opt in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. Municipalities will also be able to establish their own regulations and municipal licensing requirements....
The separate expungements bill would make it so those with convictions for marijuana possession of up to two ounces, four mature plants and eight immature plants prior to January 2021 would have their records automatically cleared. Those who receive expungements would be notified by mail.
October 11, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 5, 2020
As always, the folks at Marijuana Moment have lots of great timely coverage about lots of timely marijuana reform topics. But as one especially interested in the intersection of criminal justice and marijuana reform issues, I found this piece from a few days ago especially worth noting:
Marijuana arrests in the U.S. declined in 2019 for the first time in four years, a new federal report shows. While many expected the state-level legalization movement to reduce cannabis arrests as more markets went online, that wasn’t the case in 2016, 2017 or 2018, which each saw slight upticks in marijuana busts year-over-year. But last year there was a notable dip, the data published this week shows.
There were a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests in 2019 — representing 35 percent of all drug arrests — according to FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. That’s down from 663,367 the prior year and 659,700 in 2017. Put another way, police across the country made a cannabis bust every 58 seconds on average last year. Of those arrests, 500,394 (92 percent) were for possession alone.
“A decline in cannabis related arrests is better than seeing an increase for a fourth year in a row, but the amount of these arrests is still abhorrent,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “There is no reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Arresting adult cannabis consumers has a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color, is a massive waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources and does nothing to improve public health or safety.”...
“At a time when a super-majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, law enforcement continues to harass otherwise law abiding citizens at an alarming rate,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now is the time for the public to collectively demand that enough is enough: end prohibition and expunge the criminal records to no longer hold people back from achieving their potential.”
While there’s no solitary factor that can explain the recent downward trend in cannabis cases, there are one-off trends that could inform the data. For example, marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, and that seems to be connected to the legalization of hemp and resulting difficulties police have had in differentiating the still-illegal version of the cannabis crop from its newly legal non-intoxicating cousin.
At the federal level, prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in March. Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.
October 5, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Long-time readers know that my focus on marijuana reform began with, and is still situated deeply within, my eagerness for criminal justice reforms. And though I remain concerned that the marijuana reform movement and broader debate still fails give enough attention to criminal justice issues, I always like seeing new stories of how the movement can have criminal justice reform success even in unexpected ways. One such story can be found in Texas, as reported here by Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment under the headline "Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet In Texas After Hemp Legalization, New State Data Shows." Here are details:
Marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, new state data shows, and that trend seems connected to the legalization of the plant’s non-intoxicating cousin hemp.
While marijuana remains illegal in Texas, the policy change around hemp in mid-2019 created complications for law enforcement since the two forms of the cannabis crop are often indistinguishable to the naked eye. Police have said that, because of this, they can’t consistently charge people without conducting lab analyses of seized cannabis for THC content.
According to data released last week by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), that appears to have led to a significant decline in marijuana arrests. In 2018, there were about 63,000 marijuana [arrests in total] in the state [data here] — and that went down to just over 45,000 arrests in 2019 [data here].
Prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And state officials announced in February that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with DPS saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.” Cannabis manufacturing arrests also dropped significantly since hemp’s legalization — from about 2,700 in 2018 to about 1,900 in 2019.
Municipalities across the state have jumped at the chance to push through local cannabis reforms in recent months. The El Paso City Council approved a measure in May that encourages police to issue citations for low-level marijuana cases instead of making arrests. In January, the Austin City Council approved a resolution aimed at ending arrests for simple cannabis possession. The city’s police department said in July that they “will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.”
A cite-and-release program in San Antonio led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana, according to data released by the local police department....
Last year, the House voted to approve a decriminalization bill that would’ve made possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, but it filed to advance to a Senate floor vote by the end of the session.
I am not sure the significant reduction in arrests for marijuana possession in Texas in 2019 can or should be wholly or even mostly attributed to hemp reform, but hemp reform was likely one of a number of factors that played an important contributing role. And, as I have highlighted in some prior posts here and here, it will be fascinating to follow 2020 arrest data to see how the health challenges of COVID and the moral challenge of calls for racial justice might be impacting marijuana prohibition's continued enforcement in Texas and nationwide.
But, to make sure an important reality is not lost, we ought not lose sight of the fact that even at reduced arrest rates in 2019, on average well over 100 people were being arrested every single day in Texas for merely possessing marijuana. (And, as we see everywhere, blacks were greatly over-represented among those arrested: though only about 12% of the Texas population is black, over 30% of those arrested for possessing marijuana in Texas in 2019 were black.)
Saturday, September 5, 2020
The title of this post is the title of this lengthy new report, which was made possible by funding from the National Institute of Justice and which digs deeply into law enforcement and crime experiences after Washington state legalized marijuana. The study covers lots of important ground in thoughtful and diverse ways, and here are part of its lengthy abstract:
In 2012 the citizens of Washington State, via Initiative 502, legalized possession of a small amount of cannabis by adults. On July 1, 2014 licensed retail outlets in Washington opened with a regulated and monitored product. The effects that this legalization would have on crime and law enforcement in the state were open questions. In this National Institute of Justice-funded study we employed a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches geared toward addressing these questions. Research partners and participants included municipal, county, state and tribal law enforcement agencies representing 14 state, urban, suburban, rural, and tribal organizations in Washington the neighboring state of Idaho, as well as law enforcement professionals from 25 additional agencies and organizations. Focus group, joint, and individual interviews involved 153 justice system officials that included sworn officers from three multi-agency drug task forces and one gang task force.... We constructed case study profiles and assessed qualitative (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative (Uniform Crime Reporting Program or UCR, calls for service records, and body/dash camera footage) data regarding how police practices and strategies, and crime itself, have been affected by legalization in Washington, and how that watershed decision in Washington has changed policing in adjacent border areas....
We found that marijuana legalization has not had an overall consistently positive or negative effect on matters of public safety. Instead, legalization has resulted in a varied set of outcomes, including: concern about youth access to marijuana and increased drugged driving, a belief that there is increased cross border transference of legal marijuana to states that have not legalized, reports that training and funding for cannabis-related law enforcement activities have been deficient given the complex and enlarged role the police have been given, and the persistence of the complex black market. On the “positive” front, legalization appears to have coincided with an increase in crime clearance rates in several areas of offending and an overall null effect on rates of serious crime. Importantly, the legalization of marijuana has reduced the number of persons brought into the criminal justice system by non-violent marijuana possession offenses. The police were also greatly concerned about how to best handle the detection and documentation of marijuana-related impairment in both commercial vehicle operations and traffic incidents. The state has adopted the Target Zero goal of no traffic fatalities by 2030 and the legalization of marijuana and the privatization of liquor sales have combined to make accomplishment of this worthy goal extremely difficult.
Our research methodology necessarily included a number of limitations that would prevent the wholesale generalization of the results. For instance, most of the data was collected from one state (Washington) which was one of the two “pioneer” states involved in legalization in this country. Furthermore, the calls for service data were obtained from a limited number of agencies and are likely not generalizable to the entire state, much less the country. The crime data is extracted from the UCR database (as not all of Washington was National Incident Based Reporting System [NIBRS] compliant for all years under study) is known to suffer from a number of limitations, including: undercounting of some crimes, a lack of contextual information about criminal activity, and missing incidents not reported to the police. While the calls for service data address some limitations of the UCR database (for instance, calls for service data are better suited for the analysis of minor crimes), these data still do not address the limitation that only incidents reported to the police are analyzed. Put simply, if legalization resulted in a shift in criminal behavior that was not reported to the police, our quantitative analyses would be incapable of detecting it. Similarly, the body-worn camera (BWC) analysis was exploratory in nature and the data represent two agencies that are geographically and organizationally disparate. As an exploratory component, these results are not generalizable.
The qualitative findings of this study offer insight into the lived experiences of officers, deputies, troopers, trainers, supervisors, administrators, and prosecutors, and are not without their limitations. Our qualitative data are limited by issues of generalizability (they may not represent the opinions of law enforcement professionals more broadly) and potentially be issues of selection bias (it is possible that those with the strongest opinions were perhaps most likely to volunteer to participate in focus groups and interviews). As with any research design employing purposive sampling, these results are not generalizable. They do not represent the lived experiences of all law enforcement officers or justice system representatives, nor adequately capture the totality of the lived experiences of this study’s participants.... These results emphasized and sought to document experiences pre- and post-legalization. While we made every effort to restrain our analysis to issues involving cannabis legalization effects on law enforcement and crime, our participants, as reflected in our findings, often gravitated towards broader frustrations involving police resourcing, training, and prosecutorial practices. Lastly, while our qualitative data is wellsuited for capturing the perceptions of police officers, they are also limited in this regard. Police perceptions of legalization may be skewed and not reflective of the broader process of legalization.
Friday, August 14, 2020
Newsweek has brought together two leading voices in the marijuana reform conversation here under the headline "Debate: Should We Legalize Marijuana? | Opinion." Here is how the opinion editor sets up the discussion and links to the commentary:
Drug overdoses in America have inexplicably skyrocketed over the past five years. We are, it seems, facing terrible societal crises of mass despondency and lonely atomization. What's more, the stuff peddled to kids today, more potent in terms of THC level than ever before, ain't exactly your grandpa's weed from Woodstock. But on the other hand, surely the War on Drugs has been an abject failure, needlessly ruining lives and locking up youngsters who wouldn't otherwise have a chance at success in live. And as American public opinion shifts, is it finally time to fully legalize recreational marijuana?
This week, of Law Enforcement Action Partnership debates Dr. Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana on one of the perennial questions facing the American populace. We hope you enjoy the detailed, lively exchange.
- By Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), "Legalization Is the Only Way to Improve the Criminal Justice System"
By Dr. Kevin Sabet, "Legalizing Pot Is a Catastrophic Mistake"
As is often the case, these two advocates make their arguments eloquently and effectively. Franklin stresses the myriad criminal justice harms and inequities that have resulted from marijuana prohibitions; Sabet stresses the myriad public health risks and inequities that may result from marijuana legalization and commercialization. Most of their points are sound, and I often think the crux of the marijuana reform debate turns on one's perspective on whether one is more concerned with documented criminal justice harms and inequities from prohibition or with potential public health risks and inequities that may result from marijuana legalization and commercialization.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico piece. The headline, "Black Lives Matter movement sparks 'collective awakening' on marijuana policies," and the start of the piece suggests the answer to the question is yes:
States and cities across the country have overhauled their marijuana policies in recent months, propelled by the Black Lives Matter protests over racial inequality and police brutality.
Since protests began in early June, many states and municipalities have adopted new cannabis regulations. Nashville, Tenn., stopped prosecuting minor marijuana possession cases. Portland, Ore., redirected all cannabis tax revenue away from the Portland Police Bureau. Colorado’s Legislature passed a long-stalled proposal to address social equity and scrap old marijuana convictions, and Sonoma County, Calif., and New York state expanded their programs to erase cannabis criminal records....
Cannabis was legalized in Colorado almost eight years ago, but without a social equity program or the expungement of cannabis-related convictions. Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer first pushed for expungement of cannabis records in 2014 and has pressed for marijuana possession charges to be wiped ever since.
But Singer said it was the protests around racial justice that finally got the proposal to the governor’s desk with strong bipartisan support — the social equity and expungements bill only garnered one “no” vote in the state Senate. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law at the end of June.
But as the article continues, it becomes less clear if anything really big is changing with marijuana reform as racial justice gets more attention:
[M]any of the states and cities that did change their marijuana policies were already moving in that direction. Nashville spent the last six years reducing the number of marijuana arrests, before the protests motivated District Attorney General Glenn Funk to stop prosecuting possession entirely. Portland was already reassessing where cannabis tax revenue was directed, and the “defund the police” movement provided the catalyst for the city council to change the budget. In many of these cases, conversations around racial justice simply pushed legislation over the finish line in a jurisdiction that was already working on it.
And it’s clear that the racial justice conversation has not convinced the most vocal skeptics. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police is not changing its anti-legalization position. Even some Democratic lawmakers in the state remain unconvinced about the current legalization effort, despite the demonstrations....
On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear that racial justice protests have affected the motivation to pass marijuana policy reform. While many of the issue’s most prominent advocates have been silent on federal legalization in the last two months, House leaders are now considering a vote on the MORE Act — which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge some records — sometime this fall....
In June, Congress tried to reach an agreement on police reform. The House passed a sweeping policing bill largely along partisan lines. Senate Republicans introduced a more modest package of reforms, which Senate Democrats ultimately killed because it did not go far enough. Missing from either chamber’s proposal was anything that would overhaul federal marijuana policies. Even many of the most ardent champions of marijuana legalization as criminal justice reform were silent.
A few of may prior related posts:
- Is it growing clearer that marijuana reform is criminal justice reform and racial justice imperative?
- Timely reminders that marijuana reform is criminal justice reform ... especially when Black Lives Matter
- Persistently discouraging news about persistent racial disparities in marijuana enforcement
August 9, 2020 in 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 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Another example of stark racial disparity in marijuana enforcement in a northern city headed by an African-American police chief
A couple of years ago, I noted in this post a local press piece from Minneapolis reporting on low-level marijuana stings being stopped after an extreme racial disparity was revealed ("46 of 47 arrested were black"). I thought this story was notable not only because of the extreme disparity in arrests, but also because this took place in a northern city and one in which the new police chief was African-American.
Of course, two years later, Minneapolis is a key location for the intersection of policing and racial justice due to the needless killing of George Floyd. But this lengthy local story from another northern city headed by an African-American police chief highlights that stark racial disparity in marijuana enforcement is still often the norm, not the exception The piece is headlined "In Albany, marijuana arrests fall almost entirely on Black residents," and here are excerpts:
Last year, New York Civil Liberties Union lawyers released a report that showed police in Albany County overwhelmingly arrested minorities for low-level marijuana violations. At the time, police insisted they did not target minorities and Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins vowed to examine what was behind the disparity in his city.
But a year later, a Times Union review of Albany police data from July 9, 2019, to July 9, 2020, shows little has changed. The city's police department made arrests or wrote tickets for marijuana-related offenses 134 times, ranging from violation-level tickets to felony-level possession arrests. According to the department’s data, 97 percent of the time, those arrested or ticketed were Black. Only four white people were charged with marijuana offenses during the time period despite nationwide evidence that shows Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.
Hawkins said violent-crime and quality-of-life investigations drive many of the arrests, but his vow to conduct an in-depth investigation of the matter was sidetracked by the department's need to focus on matters connected to the coronavirus pandemic.
The arrests are happening nearly two years after District Attorney David Soares said he would no longer prosecute minor marijuana arrests when it is the only charge a defendant faces. The data shows that the majority of the arrests were for low-level offenses, either violations or low-level misdemeanors. Seventy six of the 134 incidents were for unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation. Twenty-five arrests were for felony amounts of marijuana, which is at least 8 ounces of the drug.
Debora Brown-Johnson, president of the Albany NAACP branch, said the organization had a conversation with the police department about its approach to marijuana cases after the NYCLU study was released last year. Last week, she said the organization remains concerned and the issue is something Mayor Kathy Sheehan needed to address. “Questions still exist, what’s going on here, is this a targeted group?” she said....
In an interview, Hawkins said a more in-depth examination of the department’s marijuana enforcement had been delayed while the city confronts difficulties with the pandemic but he defended the way his officers enforced the laws around marijuana possession. Hawkins said all of the felony-level arrests and many of the other citations were connected with police investigations into violent crime or “major” quality-of-life issues related to drug use and sales. “It’s always concerning when you see that all of the arrests were black males,” said Hawkins, who is Black. “It’s not surprising to me that when we’re concentrating on addressing violent crime … we’re going to pull in some marijuana-related issues.”
In recent months, violence in the city has spiked but there has been no corresponding rise in marijuana arrests. Since June 13, the department has written one marijuana citation, for a violation-level offense on July 26. From the department’s data it is difficult to make connections between specific arrests and investigation into major crimes or shootings. Of the 134 arrests and citations, 117 are related to calls for a crime in progress, according to the data, but the statistics give no indication of what crimes were being committed or investigated.
Hawkins said the areas with more marijuana citations are locations where police are receiving more calls for service, such as West Hill, Arbor Hill and the South End. According to patrol-zone-level data, 30 percent of the marijuana citations and arrests happened in the area bordered by Central Avenue, Judson Avenue and Lark Street, which includes parts of Arbor Hill and West Hill. It is unclear if the tickets result in any meaningful prosecutions. Last summer the state decriminalized the possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. The maximum penalty is $50 for possessing less than 1 ounce of pot and a maximum of $200 for between 1 and 2 ounces.
After Soares' office said it would no longer prosecute cases where the sole charge was possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana, the Sheriff’s Department said it would stop writing possession tickets. The city police department, however, decided to continue to make those arrests. The department has had conversations about how to handle low-level possession tickets and Hawkins said officers were not out on patrol looking for minor marijuana crimes. “We’re not stopping young men in the community and writing them minor possession of marijuana tickets, it’s just not happening,” he said. “I’m not seeing that these young men are being targeted but it’s concerning to me that that they are the ones who are impacted by this.”
Though the stark racial disparity in the Albany data on marijuana enforcement is what rightly generates headlines here, the story is also a revealing account for how marijuana enforcement ends up embedded in and connected to other aspects of policing even when states and localities have made significant decriminalization efforts.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
"The Spillover Effect of Recreational Marijuana Legalization on Crime: Evidence From Neighboring States of Colorado and Washington State"
The title of this post is the title of this new research paper published in the Journal of Drug Issues and authored by Guangzhen Wu, Francis D. Boateng and Xiaodong Lang. Here is its abstract:
An ongoing debate exists about the implications of recreational marijuana legalization to public safety. One important public concern is how recreational marijuana legalization may affect crime in neighboring states that have not legalized. Based on Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data from 2003 to 2017, this study used difference-in-differences (DID) analysis to examine the potential spillover effect of recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State, with a special focus on the examination of the changes in the rates of a variety of crimes in the border counties of neighboring states relative to the nonborder counties in these states following Colorado’s and Washington’s legalization.
Results provide some evidence suggesting a spillover crime reduction effect of legalization, as reflected by the significant decreases in the rates of property crime, larceny, and simple assault in the Colorado region that includes six neighboring states. Results also suggest that the effects of marijuana legalization on crime in neighboring states vary based on crime type and state.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
The title of this post is the title of this significant new digital book put together by Chris Nani now available via SSRN. I am proud to be able to say Chris is a former student who has been doing amazing work in the cannabis space since his time in law school (including the development of a great tool for judging social equity programs available as "Social Equity Assessment Tool for the Cannabis Industry"). In his new book, Chris has assembled short and effective essays from more than a dozen experts; here is the book's SSRN abstract:
Understanding Social Equity is a compilation of viewpoints from various authors with diverse backgrounds. From attorneys, policy analysts, and journalists to advocates, business owners, and social equity applicants, my goal was to provide as many perspectives as possible – some of which may conflict with other authors to provide regulators a wide range of respected opinions about social equity programs. Together, we believe this compilation can be used as a guide for drafters and regulators when determining minute details about how they would like to create or improve their social equity program.
The goal of this book can further be defined into four objectives:
● Educate regulators on what social equity programs are and their importance.
● Why certain criteria should be used to define social equity applicant eligibility.
● An analysis of prior social equity programs.
● Key factors for social equity programs.
I was quite honored that Chris asked me to author an essay for this book. My contribution is titled simply "Tracking Social Equity," and here is how it begins:
Chris Nani, in the first sentence of his preface to this volume, defines social equity programs as those that “seek to remediate and help individuals, families, and communities harmed by the War on Drugs.” Behind this crisp definition of social equity programs stands a series of complicated questions about just who should be the focal point for remediation and help and how these programs should be oriented and assessed. By starting to unpack these questions, we can begin to appreciate just why these programs are so important in principle and so challenging in practice.
July 7, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, July 3, 2020
Is it growing clearer that marijuana reform is criminal justice reform and racial justice imperative?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Crime Report piece headlined "Marijuana Laws ‘Central’ to Justice Reform, Advocates Say." Here is how it starts:
As protests against racism continue to march on across the country, conversations have sparked a new dialogue about policing, criminal and racial justice, and even the War on Drugs.
Lawmakers and advocates alike say the latter of these dialogues must play “a central part,” seeing that the War on Drugs and policing of marijuana usage has disproportionately targeted Black Americans, and encouraged negative police interactions, Stateline and Brookings report.
In light of these discussions, some states are taking active roles in changing the current narrative.
I would also recommend these linked pieces from Stateline and Brookings:
- "Policing Protests Propel Marijuana Decriminalization Efforts"
- "Marijuana’s racist history shows the need for comprehensive drug reform"
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
The JAMA Internal Medicine journal has this week published online notable new original research and commentary on roadway fatalities in some states that have legalized marijuana use by all adults (called RCL in the works). Here is the main piece and its main results and conclusions from its abstract:
Implementation of RCLs was associated with increases in traffic fatalities in Colorado but not in Washington State. The difference between Colorado and its synthetic control in the post-RCL period was 1.46 deaths per 1 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per year (an estimated equivalent of 75 excess fatalities per year; probability = 0.047). The difference between Washington State and its synthetic control was 0.08 deaths per 1 billion VMT per year (probability = 0.674). Results were robust in most sensitivity analyses. The difference between Colorado and synthetic Colorado was 1.84 fatalities per 1 billion VMT per year (94 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.055) after excluding neighboring states and 2.16 fatalities per 1 billion VMT per year (111 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.063) after excluding states without MCLs. The effect was smaller when using the enactment date (24 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.116).
Conclusions and Relevance
This study found evidence of an increase in traffic fatalities after the implementation of RCLs in Colorado but not in Washington State. Differences in how RCLs were implemented (eg, density of recreational cannabis stores), out-of-state cannabis tourism, and local factors may explain the different results. These findings highlight the importance of RCLs as a factor that may increase traffic fatalities and call for the identification of policies and enforcement strategies that can help prevent unintended consequences of cannabis legalization.
And here are two follow-up pieces published with this main piece:
June 23, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
"Retroactive Legality: Marijuana Convictions and Restorative Justice in an Era of Criminal Justice Reform"
The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Deborah Ahrens on one of my favorite topics. Here is its abstract:
The last decade has seen the beginning of a new era in United States criminal justice policy, one characterized by a waning commitment to over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and a punitive War on Drugs as well as a growing regret for the consequences of our prior policies. One of the central questions raised by this shifting paradigm is what to do about the millions of individuals punished, marked, and shunned as a result of policies we now regret. This issue is particularly pointed for marijuana convictions, as the coexistence of strict regimes of collateral consequences for drug convictions and the active government promotion of a new cannabis economy present a stark and deeply racialized contrast.
This Article argues that, in states where marijuana has been legalized, our policy-making apparatus should acknowledge and move to redress both the failings of our prior system of drug regulation and the social and economic disparities in current law by embracing a concept of “retroactive legality.” Retroactive legality is a framework in which we seek to restore those convicted of marijuana crimes to the rights and civic status they would have had if their conduct had never been illegal. Such an approach would build upon the piecemeal expungement and pardon policies adopted or proposed in some of these jurisdictions but would reach substantially further, by incorporating those convicted of more serious offenses, putting the onus on the state to identify and clear such convictions, and declining to impose additional requirements and costs on those seeking to have their convictions retroactively legalized.