Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Student presentation on "Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana, or 'High Driving'"

As I mentioned in this recent post, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are now "taking over" my class by making presentations on research topics of their choice. Though the COVID-19 crisis means my resilient students are doing their presenting to the class online, going online has been going pretty well so far.   

As regular readers know, students provide in this space a little background on their topic and links to some relevant materials before they present.  Our first presentation planned for this week will focus on marijuana-influenced driving, and here is how my student has described his topic along with background readings he has provided for classmates (and the rest of us):

Marijuana legalization proponents quite often compare marijuana use to that of alcohol, claiming that alcohol consumption is far more dangerous, especially when a vehicle is involved.  Legalization dissenters, on the other hand, often make the argument that legalization would lead to rampant use and, inevitably, increases in traffic fatalities and damages as the result of people driving while stoned.  The aim of my class presentation and paper is to explore three topics related to Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana, or, as I like to call it, "High Driving": (1) Marijuana’s effect on driving ability, (2) The different state approaches to testing and prosecuting High Driving, and (3) what research shows about the relationship between the different legal marijuana regimes, the prevalence of High Driving, and the resulting consequences.

For background on these three interrelated topics, please reference the resources below:

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

"Crash Fatality Rates After Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Washington and Colorado"

"The effects of medical marijuana laws on cannabis-involved driving"

"Drug Impaired Driving/Marijuana Drug-Impaired Driving Laws" (slightly out of date)

"Marijuana Use and Highway Safety"

April 7, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Advocacy groups urge ceasing of cannabis arrests and release of cannabis offenders during COVID-19 outbreak

As detailed in this press release, the "Last Prisoner Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for non-violent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced." Here is more:

The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

The letter is available at this link, and here are excerpts:

[W]e are imploring you to curtail arrests for non-violent offenses, such as marijuana possession, cultivation, and sale until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Similar actions have already been taken in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and nationally by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Many jurisdictions give police broad discretion to choose infractions and summonsed misdemeanors as alternatives to serious charges and arrests.  In addition, officers have wide discretion to merely provide warnings for minor offenses.  We encourage broad use of this flexibility in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to curtailing arrests, we are urging you to release cannabis offenders, along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced.  By significantly reducing the number of inmates in local jails and prisons, you can ultimately reduce the risk of the coronavirus being spread amongst inmates, staff, and the community.  Guards return to their families and communities after their shifts, as do prisoners upon their release.  The larger the number of individuals incarcerated, the greater the likelihood and possible scope of a related outbreak.  This puts prisoners, guards, and the larger community at risk as the communities grapple with this public health crisis. Significantly reducing the number of inmates is a necessary step to ensuring public health in the face of this crisis.

Many localities — including Baltimore; Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; New Jersey; Los Angeles; and New York City — and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses with the understanding that infections in prisons and jails are rampant, and releasing inmates could save the lives of not only inmates but also the custodial, medical, and safety staff that serve them.

March 27, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Noticing post-reform pattern of federal marijuana prosecutions ... and realizing what it really tells us about the modern drug war

Screen-Shot-2020-03-24-at-7.30.34-AM-1024x668Over at my sentencing blog, I noted here that the US Sentencing Commission this week released its national yearly data on federal sentencing for Fiscal Year 2019.  I am extremely pleased to see that Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment has already drilled into this data in this post titled "Feds Prosecuted Even Fewer Marijuana Cases In 2019 As More States Legalize, New Data Shows."  Here are excerpts:

Federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined again in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a new report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Monday.

While drug cases still represent the second most common category of crimes in the federal criminal justice system, the data indicates that the bulk of those instances are related to methamphetamine trafficking, which has steadily increased over the past decade.

But for marijuana, a different kind of trend has emerged.  As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, federal prosecutions have consistently declined since 2012.   To illustrate the shift, marijuana trafficking cases represented the most common drug type that was pursued in 2012, with about 7,000 cases.  As of fiscal year 2019, those cases are now the second least common, with fewer than 2,000 cases.

Notably, the year of that peak, 2012, was when Colorado and Washington State became the first to legalize for recreational purposes.  Though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why cannabis cases are on the decline, advocates have postulated that state-level marijuana reform has helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products. “Twenty-five percent of the public now live in jurisdictions where the sale of marijuana to adults is legal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Of course there will be a corresponding drop in the number of illegal sales.”

Another possibility is that evolving public opinion and state policies have contributed to a shift in perspective among prosecutors, who may no longer wish to prioritize enforcing cannabis prohibition in the era of legalization.  While all marijuana sales — even in states with legalization laws — remain federally prohibited, the Trump administration has in practice continued the Obama-era approach of generally not interfering with the implementation of local policies even though then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded a memo on the topic from the prior administration.

In any case, the new U.S. Sentencing Commission report also shows a broader decline in drug possession cases in general. In fact, the most significant reduction in crime category for 2019 was drug possession, which fell from 777 federal cases the previous year down to 563 — a 28 percent drop....  While marijuana trafficking cases decreased, the average sentence for a conviction increased by two months, from 29 to 31.  Overall, drug trafficking prosecutions did increase by about 1,000 cases in 2019, though again that’s largely attributable to an increase in methamphetamine-related prosecutions.

This discussion of new federal data — particularly the notion that state-level marijuana reforms "helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products — elides the important reality that ALL state-legal marijuana stores are stilled engaged in "illicit trafficking" under federal law.  I stress this point because there are more than 10,000 federally-illegal (and state-licensed) marijuana businesses in just the states of California and Oklahoma alone.  Save for limits in a spending rider (which Prez Trump has sought to disavow), the US Department of Justice could decide to prosecute many thousands of the out-in-the-open marijuana dealers (most of whom have given states all their marijuana dealing plans in writing in order to get a state license).

I make this point because I mean to stress that the major decline in federal marijuana prosecutions over the last decade does not demonstrate that there are fewer federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US.  Rather, it seems clear that there are now many more, and many more obvious, federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US, and there is also reason to fear that "fully illicit" marijuana activity (dealing that does not even comply with state laws) may not be in decline in any way.  And yet we see this marked decline in federal marijuana prosecutions simply because federal prosecutors, quite soundly in my view, simply believe it is an ever-less-good use of their time to be prosecuting all the marijuana offenders who continue to grow their drug-dealing businesses in plain view.  

March 26, 2020 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)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Brookings paper envisions a "Cannabis Opportunity Agenda"

2020At Brookings, Makada Henry-Nickie and John Hudak have this interesting new brief as part of  its "Policy 2020" series titled "It is time for a Cannabis Opportunity Agenda." Here is the paper's executive summary:

The 2020 election season will be a transformative time for cannabis policy in the United States, particularly as it relates to racial and social justice.  Candidates for the White House and members of Congress have put forward ideas, policy proposals, and legislation that have changed the conversation around cannabis legalization.  The present-day focus on cannabis reform highlights how the War on Drugs affected targeted communities and how reform could ameliorate some of those wrongs.  The national conversation on cannabis stands at a pivotal inflection point that provides policymakers and legislators with an extraordinary opportunity to establish a policy context wherein inclusive economic opportunities can thrive in tandem with responsible investments to redress longstanding harms.

When Congress works to remedy a discriminatory past or to rectify decades of institutionalized bias, it has an obligation to thoroughly consider implicit and explicit hurdles to equity.  Nowhere is this deliberation more critical than in drug policy reform.  For decades, the criminalization of drugs led to foreclosed opportunities for people of color who were disproportionately victimized by unequal criminal enforcement.  In 2013, police officers were 3.73 times more likely to arrest people of color for cannabis possession than whites.  Arrest disparities were even more egregious in some communities where Blacks were 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.  The racist roots of the War on Drugs inflicted significant collateral damage on minority groups, saddling young men and women of color with drug convictions — often before age 30 — and setting them on a course of institutionalized disadvantage because of the crippling, collateral consequences of criminal records.

Today, amidst a thriving state-legal cannabis industry, the same people hurt most by the drug war face the greatest barriers to participating in the emerging cannabis economy.  As elected officials consider how to reform the nation’s cannabis laws and rectify these serious socioeconomic and racial issues, they must erase any ambiguity about the protections, corrective actions, and inclusive opportunities intended to reverse the generation-long ills of the War on Drugs.  We argue that 2020 is an opportune moment to design a comprehensive pragmatic Cannabis Opportunity Agenda: a set of policies that addresses the social harms of marijuana prohibition and seeks to rehabilitate impacted communities with a focus on equity, opportunity, and inclusion.

March 25, 2020 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, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Terrific coverage at CCRC on "Legalizing marijuana and expunging records across the country"

Regular readers know that I am always interested in marijuana reform impacts criminal justice systems, and that I am particularly interested in topics covered in my Federal Sentencing Reporter article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," regarding how marijuana reform efforts may be impacting criminal record expungement efforts.  Consequently, I was terrifically excited to see this new post and resource from the terrific Collateral Consequences Resource Center authored by Deputy Director David Schlussel under the title "Legalizing marijuana and expunging records across the country."

Readers are urged to check out the full posting and materials, and this snippet from the start of the post provides a flavor of why:

As the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana has now reached a majority of the states, the expungement of criminal records has finally attained a prominent role in the marijuana reform agenda.  Laws to facilitate marijuana expungement and other forms of record relief, such as sealing and set-aside, have now been enacted in more than a dozen states.  Most of these laws cover only very minor offenses involving small amounts of marijuana, and require individuals to file petitions in court to obtain relief.  But a handful of states have authorized streamlined record reforms that will do away with petition requirements and cover more offenses.  In the 2020 presidential race, Democratic candidates have called for wide-ranging and automatic relief for marijuana records.

Given these important developments that we expect will continue in the present legislative season, we have put together a chart providing a 50-state snapshot of:

(1) laws legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana; and

(2) laws that specifically provide relief for past marijuana arrests and convictions, including but not limited to conduct that has been legalized or decriminalized.

We hope this tool will help people assess the current state of marijuana reform and work to develop more expansive, accessible, and effective record relief.

March 12, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"Buds Behind Bars: An Analysis of People v. Raybon"

The title of this post is the title of this short piece just posted to SSRN authored by Heather Razook concerning a case currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Here is its abstract:

In 2019, the first and third California Appellate courts both decided cases examining the same issue: whether proposition 64 decriminalized marijuana possession in state correctional institutions.  People v. Perry, from the first district, held that Prop 64 did not decriminalize and People v. Raybon, from the third district, held that Prop did decriminalize marijuana possession in correctional institutions.  The cases presented two exceptionally similar arguments with opposite outcomes.  This paper compares those arguments and predicts an outcome for People v. Raybon that is currently up for review in the California Supreme Court.

March 11, 2020 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Coalition urges Prez Trump to "immediately being the process of granting clemency to those serving federal time for non-violent cannabis offenses"

Screen+Shot+2018-09-27+at+2.12.48+PMAs reported here by Marijuana Moment, a "coalition of criminal justice reform advocates — including several Republican officials and a major basketball star — recently delivered a letter to President Trump, imploring him to grant pardons or commutations to people serving time in federal prison for non-violent marijuana offenses." Here is more:

Weldon Angelos, who himself was convicted over cannabis and handed a mandatory minimum sentence before a court cut his sentence and released him, led the effort. He’s since become a reform advocate, and he rallied support for the new letter from a wide range of politicians, activists, entertainment figures and legal experts.

“On behalf of cannabis offenders serving federal prison sentences, their loved ones, and supporters across the country, we strongly urge you to immediately being the process of granting clemency to those serving federal time for non-violent cannabis offenses,” the letter, signed by several Republican state lawmakers, a former federal prosecutor, Koch Industries and NBA champion Kevin Garnett, among others, states. “Our nation’s view of cannabis has evolved, and it is indefensible to incarcerate citizens based on the unduly harsh attitudes of past generations.”

The letter, which was delivered to a staffer at the White House late last month, notes that Trump has expressed support for states’ rights to enact their own marijuana programs and it appeals to the president’s desire to accomplish unilaterally what Congress has been unable to do. “We respectfully urge you to begin the process of identifying and granting clemency to those serving federal time for cannabis offenses, particularly those who were prosecuted in states where cannabis is now legal. We stand by to help in any way possible.”

“[W]hile 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,” it continues. “Given the timidity of this proposed legislation, the gridlock in Congress, and the imperative fo freedom, clemency is the right tool to fix this problem.”

Angelos, who launched the cannabis reform advocacy campaign Mission Green, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that while comprehensive cannabis reform is important, the “more urgent need is to at least free those who were following state law or are in states where it’s legal now.”

“I think those ones are a no-brainer and low-hanging fruits that I think the president could take care of immediately,” he said. “Then we can work with Congress to try to have broader solutions to the problems than just clemency. Clemency can only do so much.”

Among the more than 50 signatories are two individuals whose sentences Trump previously commuted, along with representatives of #cut50, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Terra Tech Corp and Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Actor Danny Trejo and the New Haven police chief also signed the request.

March 10, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

"Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Juvenile Justice Outcomes and Racial Disparities"

Download (27)The title of this post is the title of this notable new research by multiple authors appearing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Introduction

The objective of this study is to assess the changes in rates of juvenile cannabis criminal allegations and racial disparities in Oregon after legalization of cannabis (July 2015) for adults.

Methods

This study included all allegations for cannabis-related offenses that occurred from January 2012 to September 2018 in Oregon.  Negative binomial regression models were used to examine monthly cannabis allegation rates over time, and tested differences between youth of color and white youth, adjusting for age, gender, and month the allegation occurred.  Analysis was conducted in January–March 2019.

Results

Cannabis allegation rates increased 28% among all youth and 32% among cannabis-using youth after legalization.  Rates of allegations were highest for American Indian/Alaska Native and black youth.  Rates for black youth were double that of whites before legalization, and this disparity decreased after legalization.  For American Indian/Alaska Native youth, rates were higher than whites before legalization, and this disparity remained unchanged.

Conclusions

Adult cannabis legalization in Oregon was associated with increased juvenile cannabis allegations; increases are not explained by changes in underage cannabis use. Relative disparities decreased for black youth but remained unchanged for American Indian/Alaska Native youth.  Changing regulations following adult cannabis legalization could have unintended negative impacts on youth.

The paper cites to this notable similar work published last year in JAMA Pediatrics titled "Youth and Adult Arrests for Cannabis Possession After Decriminalization and Legalization of Cannabis."  That study, looking at arrest data through 2016, found that "arrest rates of youths significantly decreased in states that decriminalized cannabis possession for everyone but did not decrease in states that legalized adult use."

Importantly, these studies are looking at arrest data only to and through a few years after state marijuana reforms.  I know Colorado experiences an interesting spike in juvenile marijuana arrests the year right after dispensaries opened, but then there was a notable decline in arrests thereafter.  These are important numbers, but I think we really need to keep examining them over a greater time period before  reaching any firm conclusions about enforcement patterns.

March 7, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 6, 2020

Eager to include discussion of notable tax allocation provision in new Ohio marijuana reform initiative as part of "A Fresh Take on Cannabis Regulation"

As highlighted in prior posts here and here, a serious effort to get a serious marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in November 2020 is in the works.  Though this Ohio 2020 ballot initiative, titled "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," still has an uphill climb to even make it to the ballot, I will likely be discussing some of its mostinteresting provisions in a variety of fora in the months ahead.  And today the forum will be at the University of Cincinnati where I have the honor of participating in the College of Law's Corporate Law Symposium titled "A Fresh Take on Cannabis Regulation."

On my panel today, I plan to discuss some of the topics I first covered in my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," exploring ways that  marijuana reform intersects with criminal justice concerns.  In that article, among other points, I urge jurisdictions to earmark a portion of marijuana revenues to improving the criminal justice system and I specifically advocate for the creation of a new criminal justice institution, which I call a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to help remedy some of the harms of the war on drugs. 

Against that backdrop, I was especially intrigued by an interesting provision for taxing and spending the tax revenue appearing in new Ohio marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Specifically, Section 12(E)(5) of the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment provides:

The General Assembly may enact a special sales tax to be levied upon marijuana and marijuana products sold at retail marijuana stores or other entities that may be authorized to sell marijuana or marijuana products to consumers and, if such a sales tax is enacted, shall direct the Department to establish procedures for the collection of all taxes levied.  Provided, at least one-quarter of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be placed in a special fund and used to establish a Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity, which shall provide recommendations regarding the allocation of the remaining revenue in the fund; at least one-half of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be allocated to the State Local Government Fund or any successor fund dedicated to a similar purpose; and at least one-tenth of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be returned to the municipal corporations or townships in which the retail sales occurred in proportional amounts based upon the sales taxes remitted.

Though I think the the Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity (CECJCICIED?) is a very clumsy name, I this it is a very good idea and I am quite excited to see a marijuana reform proposal that includes a means for building needed criminal justice infrastructure with the proceeds of marijuana taxes.

Prior related post:

March 6, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Marijuana reform and expungements finally gets a question at a big debate

I have to give a shout out to CBS News for asking a direct question on marijuana policy and reform, though only three candidates had time during the debate to speak to the issue.  This live-time coverage of the debate reports on the (mostly unsurprising) comments from the candidates under the heading "Sanders pushes ahead on legalizing marijuana, but isn't joined by other candidates":

Klobuchar was given the first chance to address the issue of legalizing marijuana.  "Well, it is realistic to want to legalize marijuana, I want to do that, too," Klobuchar said.

The Minnesota senator added there also needs to be funding for treatment, so there aren't "repeat customers."

Bloomberg said small amounts of marijuana possession shouldn't be criminalized.  And legalization wouldn't be taken away from states that have already legalized the drug.  But he admitted there isn't enough research on mairjuana to know how much damage marijuana does, particularly on young minds, so he isn't pushing for full legalization at this point.  "Until we know the science, it's just nonsensical to push ahead," Bloomberg said.

Sanders blasted the "horrific war on drugs," and said he would "effectively legalize" marijuana.  He also said he wants to move to expunge the records of people with marijuana convictions.

February 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Noticing where marijuana reform is seemingly making a big difference and where it seemingly isn't

MJsnip1As students in my marijuana reform seminar know all too well, I think the phrase "the devil is in the details" has particular salience when considering the import and impact of state-level marijuana  reform.  So I was intrigued, but not surprised, to see news reports this week of some encouraging details emerging in California and some discouraging details in Massachusetts.  Here are links to press pieces with a few of the key details: 

Via USA Today, "Nearly 66,000 weed convictions dating back to 1961 to be dismissed in Los Angeles County":

Citing the need to bring relief to people of color who are disproportionately impacted by drug laws, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey dismissed nearly 66,000 marijuana convictions on Thursday.   Prosecutors asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss 62,000 felony cannabis convictions for cases dating back to 1961, according to a news release.  An additional 4,000 misdemeanor cases were dismissed across 10 cities in Los Angeles County....

According to the District Attorney’s Office, “Approximately 53,000 individuals will receive conviction relief through this partnership.
Of those, approximately 32% are Black or African American, 20% are White, 45% are Latinx, and 3% are other or unknown.”

California legalized recreational marijuana years ago. Thursday’s announcement was made in partnership with Code for America, a nonprofit which created an algorithm to identify convictions eligible to be dismissed under Proposition 64, which voters approved in 2016.  Code for America has offered its Clear My Record technology free to all 58 state district attorneys [and the technology  has already] helped reduce or dismiss more than 85,000 Proposition 64 eligible convictions across five counties.

Assembly Bill 1793, which passed in 2018, charges prosecutors with reviewing convictions eligible for dismissal or reduction under Proposition 64 by July 1 of this year -- the District Attorney’s office said only 3% of people eligible for conviction relief have received it before Thursday’s announcement.  The current process for clearing records involves petitioning the court, which the District Attorney’s Office calls “time-consuming, expensive and confusing.”

From the Boston Globe, "A law said pot taxes should help communities harmed by the war on drugs. That hasn’t happened":

It was a hard-fought victory for Black and Latino lawmakers — a provision in the state’s marijuana legalization law that said some of the pot tax proceeds would benefit communities targeted most by the war on drugs. Leaders in minority neighborhoods envisioned the money helping people to find housing and jobs, including in the new cannabis industry. Police chiefs, too, celebrated that the law reserved some taxes for officer training, hoping the funds would aid in catching stoned drivers.

But a year and a half into the state’s recreational cannabis rollout, none of the $67 million in excise taxes and fees left over after paying for the cost of regulators has benefited either of those causes, a Globe data analysis has found.

Instead, most of that revenue has gone to the state’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services for existing programs, including treatment for the uninsured, criminal defendants, and impaired-driving offenders. The bureau has not used the marijuana cash to add any new staff or programs, a spokeswoman said, but the money has allowed the state to cut in half its general fund allocation to the bureau.

The failure to fulfill the tax pledges has frustrated minority leaders who say racially targeted policing left many in their neighborhoods with criminal records and unemployed — and they have yet to see the booming new industry benefit them. That’s especially painful in a state where voters passed the first legalization law in the country that mandates the pot industry include people harmed most by prohibition.

“It’s not only a broken promise, but a fraud,” said Chauncy Spencer, 43, a Dorchester man formerly incarcerated over marijuana who has faced delays opening a cannabis business. “There was always the suspicion that the money would never be rerouted to the communities, so for [that scenario] to come to fruition is no surprise."... The Marijuana Regulation Fund ... covers marijuana public-awareness campaigns and the budget of regulators at the Cannabis Control Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. The remainder, state law says, “shall be expended for” five causes: public health, public safety, municipal police training, illness prevention, and assistance for communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

But none of those causes besides public health have received any marijuana money — and aren’t slated to this year or next year. That’s because the law’s wording is vague and doesn’t specify how numerically the money should be divided among the five purposes, allowing the possibility that some don’t receive anything. The law also requires annual action by the Legislature and governor to allocate the money within the massive state budget where pot revenues, though sizable, can be overlooked among other priorities.

Since the revenues started flowing in July 2018, the fund has collected nearly $81 million through early January, state comptroller records show. Each year since, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has proposed using the funds to support the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, which the Legislature has approved.

So far, $13.9 million has funded cannabis regulators and $45.6 million was directed to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services — which Baker’s administration sees as fulfilling the law’s requirements. But to minority community advocates, the state is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

February 16, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2020

Deep dive into marijuana arrests in Pennsylvania provides reminder of local realities (and data challenges) of marijuana reforms

The Philadelphia Inquirer has this great new piece (with lots of local data in charts) exploring marijuana arrests in the Keystone State headlined "Marijuana arrests fall in Pa. But after many towns decriminalize, why hasn’t there been a bigger drop?".  I recommend this piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Most of Pennsylvania’s largest cities have passed ordinances decriminalizing marijuana.  And officially, penalties for possessing small amounts are like traffic tickets, with typical fines running from $25 to $500.  In 2019, marijuana arrests — which often result in an onerous criminal record— declined in the Keystone State.  But they remain greater than they were in 2009, before any city in Pennsylvania decriminalized possession of marijuana.

About 21,789 people were arrested in 2019 and charged for possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis, according to preliminary data released by the Pennsylvania State Police. Last year’s total marks a nearly 11 percent decline from the record 24,305 set in 2018. 

City councils in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, and most recently, Norristown, have all officially decriminalized possession of a small amounts of weed.  “But we’re still arresting more people than we did 10 years ago,” said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. “It’s lunacy.”

 So why are there so many arrests?  “It’s because police in many of those cities don’t follow the decriminalization statutes,” said Patrick Nightingale, a cannabis law attorney and advocate in Pittsburgh.  “The statutes are not binding on police or the District Attorney’s offices. They’re voluntary.  Police can still make arrests at their discretion.”  City ordinances can’t repeal state or federal law.   So even if a municipality passes a decriminalization ordinance, state law still says possession is illegal and a person can be arrested....

Another reason numbers remain high: Police may be muddying the data.  As the Inquirer previously reported, suburban law enforcement agencies routinely report more arrests to the FBI than actual court cases.  In participating in FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, the four counties in the Philadelphia suburbs reported that they arrested 5,400 people in 2017 for having pot.  Yet the court records showed only 3,200 defendants faced criminal cases.  Many police departments report an “arrest” any time officers stop someone and seize marijuana, even if no charges are filed or the person is not taken into custody....

Nevertheless, a regional organizer for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called the decline in 2019′s total arrests “a profound shift.”  “Previously, there were steady annual increases in arrests for cannabis possession, while other drug arrests had plateaued,” said Chris Goldstein of NORML. “Now, for the first time in a decade, there is a clear downward trend in arresting marijuana consumers."

In Pennsylvania, more than 253,000 patients have registered for the medical marijuana program, although only 163,000 actually hold state-issued cards and are actively participating, according to the state Department of Health. There are currently 76 dispensaries — state-permitted marijuana retailers — open for business.

According to state activists, arrests are up in rural parts of the state and police are charging card-holding patients with possession.  “The odor of cannabis remains a probable cause for a search,” said Jeff Riedy, of the Lehigh Valley chapter of NORML.  “So medical marijuana is not an excuse to be let off.  If police smell pot in a car, they can arrest and charge for DUI.”

 

[Philadelphia] police dramatically reduced marijuana arrests, cutting cases in which possession is the most serious offense from about 5,600 in 2010 to just 621 last year, a drop of nearly 90 percent.  At the same time, city police have grown far more active in issuing citations for pot.  Officers handed out just 184 in 2014 — and about 2,850 for possession in 2018....

 

Andy Hoover, spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, applauded the decline in arrests because it meant fewer cannabis consumers were tied up in the criminal system.  “That’s a positive,” Hoover said.  “The damage that is done when a person is arrested is significant, and it’s people of color who are disproportionately impacted, despite the fact that cannabis consumption is the same across races."   African Americans represent an estimated 40 percent of those arrested for marijuana in the region. 

“I apologize if this sounds simplistic, but one arrest is one too many for marijuana,” said Lt. Gov. Fetterman. “This idea that we would arrest, charge, prosecute and create a criminal record for anyone consuming a plant that is legal in a dozen states now is a waste of resources.”  Fetterman said arguments about whether police were over-counting arrests or not following city ordinances were missing the point.  “All this head-scratching and contemplation goes away if you make it legal,” he said.

February 7, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"Man smokes marijuana in front of judge after advocating for legalization"

The title of this post is the headline of this new ABC News piece that should be filed in the category "There are safer (and smarter) ways to advocate for marijuana reform."  Here are the details (and click through for the video):

A 20-year-old man caused a stir in a Tennessee courthouse when he advocated for the legalization of marijuana and then proceeded to spark a joint in front of the judge.

Spencer Alan Boston was appearing before Judge Haywood Barry on Monday at the Wilson County Courthouse in Lebanon, on a simple possession-of-marijuana citation, when he began to tell Barry that marijuana should be legalized, according to Lt. Scott Moore, a spokesman for the Wilson County Sheriff' Office.

Courtroom video captured what came next: Boston is seen seen reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out what appears to be a joint and lighting it up, taking multiple puffs. Security quickly intervened and took Boston into custody.

Moore told ABC News in a telephone interview that Boston said something to the effect of "the people deserve better" before he was taken away. "I've been here 20 years," Moore added, "and this is the first time I've ever seen that."

Boston faces two new charges: disorderly conduct and simple possession of marijuana. He's being held on $3,000 bond, online jail records show. He'll also have to serve 10 days in Wilson County Jail because Barry held him in contempt of the court, according to Moore.... The joint smoked in court was collected as evidence.

January 28, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Highlighting another troublesome spot at the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice systems

Regular readers know that, because of my work in the criminal justice arena, I often come to marijuana reform stories with an extra focus on how marijuana law and policy impact criminal justice system.  Though I am particularly interested in topics covered in my Federal Sentencing Reporter article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," regarding how marijuana reform efforts may be impacting criminal record expungement efforts, there are so many other interesting (and troublesome) spots where marijuana reform intersects with criminal law and practice.

This recent Marshall Project piece looks at one of these spots in a piece headlined "People on Probation and Parole Are Being Denied Perfectly Legal Medical Weed: Despite statewide legalization, some counties ban probationers and parolees from using medical marijuana. So the chronically ill turn to less effective and more addictive prescription drugs."  Here are excerpts:

Following years of research demonstrating that marijuana can be a life-changing treatment for people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, eating disorders, nausea and epilepsy, and that it is neither physically addictive nor an evident danger to public safety, the drug has been legalized for medical use in 33 states and for adults over 21 to smoke recreationally in 11.  Yet for most people on probation or parole — even in precisely these same states — drug testing remains the rule, and jail time the potential punishment.

The argument that many parole and probation authorities make for this seeming contradiction is that regardless of whether marijuana has been legalized in their state, it remains illegal at the federal level, and that if you’re under government supervision for committing a crime, you should at the very least have to follow all state and federal laws.  Some parole and probation officials also point out that they drug-test their own officers, so the people they oversee should be held to at least the same standard.

“I don’t know of any paroling authorities who are casual about marijuana — it’s part of their institutional culture, and old habits are hard to break,” said Edward E. Rhine, a former corrections official in multiple states and an expert on parole at the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School.  “Obviously most people couldn’t conceive of marijuana being allowed inside a prison, even if that prison is in a state where it has been legalized.”

A handful of states where marijuana is now legal, though, have taken action to make it available to people on probation or parole.  Arizona’s supreme court ruled in 2015 that medical marijuana patients cannot be arrested or jailed for taking their medication, even if they are under court supervision.  An Oregon appeals court in 2018 issued a similar decision.  Within Pennsylvania, where there isn’t yet any such ruling statewide, different counties have different policies....  In other states where there haven’t been major court cases, county courts and even individual probation officers are often responsible for deciding whether to drug-test — and possibly jail — those under their control. Some do so only when marijuana or drugs were related to someone’s underlying crime.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania [is] challenging the court rule in Lebanon County that prohibits parolees and probationers who have a prescription for medical marijuana from using it....   The ACLU’s position is that these counties’ rules contradict the letter and intent of Pennsylvania’s 2016 medical marijuana law, which protected medical marijuana patients from any criminal sanction.  The legislation expressly prohibited people in prison from possessing pot, but did not expressly exclude those on parole or probation. The lawyers also point out that people under court supervision can still use opioids with a prescription — which is far more of a public health concern in this day and age, especially in Pennsylvania....

In Colorado, where anyone can smoke a joint freely, a parolee named Mark Paulsen is still being tested for marijuana — even though he is about to die.  In 2009, Paulsen, a former mechanic who is an alcoholic, blacked out while drinking and attacked two acquaintances with a knife (neither was killed).  He was sentenced to prison for a decade, records show.  There, his hepatitis of the liver worsened, becoming end-stage cirrhosis by the time he was released last year.

Paulsen, 64, is now on parole outside Denver.  He is visibly ill, jaundiced and constantly bleeding.  He has peach-sized tumors in his abdomen, which he says make walking around feel like jumping up and down with heavy, jagged rocks in his belly.  And his nausea is so severe that he has at times gone weeks without eating solid food. “The always-there-ness” of the stomach pain, he said, “is what gets you.”

As he waits to die, there have been all the challenges familiar to people on parole.  He got out of prison with no money or health insurance, and has to go to the emergency room instead of to a specialist because he’s in such immediate pain, he says.  There, he has racked up insurmountable medical debt.

The only things that would ease his symptoms are opioids or medical marijuana, but the former is something that doctors have been wary to prescribe, amid a nationwide epidemic.  The latter, Paulsen believes, would seem the solution. (He also has been sober ever since his crime and is not “drug-seeking,” he emphasizes.)  Yet every morning, he has to call his parole office, he says.  If he is randomly selected that day, he must ride the bus an hour and a half, those sharp rocks in his stomach jostling, to take a drug test.  And if he fails one, he could be sent back to prison for whatever time he has left before dying.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections said that if a parolee has a prescription for medical marijuana, the agency in most instances is willing to “work with” that person to avoid being sanctioned for using it.  She later added, “Our parole team is going to reach out directly to Mr. Paulsen to see what assistance they can provide.”

January 20, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Hemp legalization leads to huge decline of misdemeanor marijuana charges in Texas

This lengthy local article, headlined "Marijuana prosecutions in Texas have dropped by more than half since lawmakers legalized hemp," reports on a remarkable new reality for Texas marijuana prosecutions. Here are some excerpts:

It’s been more than six months since Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and unintentionally disrupted marijuana prosecution across the state.  Since then, the number of low-level pot cases filed by prosecutors has plummeted. Some law enforcement agencies that still pursue charges are spending significantly more money at private labs to ensure that substances they suspect are illegal marijuana aren't actually hemp.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and local government crime labs expect to roll out a long-awaited testing method to distinguish between the two in the next month or so.  But that's only for seized plant material.  There's still no timeline for when they will be able to tell if vape pen liquid or edible products contain marijuana or hemp.  And DPS said even when its testing is ready, it doesn’t have the resources to analyze substances in the tens of thousands of misdemeanor marijuana arrests made each year — testing it didn’t have to do before hemp was legalized....

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a widely supported bill to legalize hemp in Texas.  The bill focused on agriculture practices and regulations, but it also narrowed the state’s definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient in marijuana that gets you high.  Anything with less THC is hemp.

Lawmakers were warned the measure could bring marijuana prosecution to a halt without more resources because public labs could only determine whether THC was present in a substance, not how much was present.  Still, the legislation sailed into law with no crime lab funding attached.  State leaders and the bill authors have since reaffirmed that the law did not in any way decriminalize marijuana.

Soon after its passage, however, district and county prosecutors across the state, in counties that lean both Republican and Democratic, began dropping hundreds of low-level pot cases.  Some began requiring law enforcement agencies to submit lab results proving the suspected drugs had more than 0.3% THC before they accepted cases for prosecution.  The Texas District and County Attorneys Association advised its members that such testing likely is needed to prove in court that a substance is illegal....

In 2018, Texas prosecutors filed about 5,900 new misdemeanor marijuana possession cases a month, according to data from the Texas Office of Court Administration.  The first five months of 2019 saw an average of more than 5,600 new cases filed a month.  But since June, when the hemp law was enacted, the number of cases has been slashed by more than half.  In November, less than 2,000 new cases were filed, according to the court data.

For those who support marijuana legalization, that change is welcome, adding to an already growing effort in some of the state’s most populated counties to divert pot smokers from criminal prosecution or not arrest them at all.  “It means that there are fewer Texans that are getting slapped with a criminal record for marijuana possession, something that is already legal in other states,” said Katharine Harris, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

January 5, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Illinois Gov pardons more than 11,000 people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes

Images (2)As reported in this local article, "On the day before recreational cannabis becomes legal in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he was pardoning more than 11,000 people who had been convicted of low-level marijuana crimes." Here is more:

“When Illinois’ first adult use cannabis shops open their doors tomorrow, we must all remember that the purpose of this legislation is not to immediately make cannabis widely available or to maximize product on the shelves, that’s not the main purpose, that will come with time,” Pritzker said to a crowd at Trinity United Church of Christ on the Far South Side. “But instead the defining purpose of legalization is to maximize equity for generations to come.”

Pritzker, who has touted the social equity elements of the recreational pot law he signed this summer, was joined Tuesday by state, county and local leaders including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has already begun the process of clearing the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions in her jurisdiction.

The 11,017 people pardoned by Pritzker will receive notification about their cases, all of which are from outside Cook County, by mail. The pardon means convictions involving less than 30 grams of marijuana will be automatically expunged.

Pritzker and other elected officials said they believe Illinois is the first state to include a process for those previously convicted of marijuana offenses to seek relief upon legalization of cannabis. “This is justice,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. “And this is what equity is all about, righting wrongs and leveling the playing field.”...

Officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of people with marijuana-related convictions in Illinois who could be eligible for relief. Those with criminal convictions can get a copy of their criminal record and start the process, though many of the cases will be automatically expunged by the state in the next couple of years.

The Illinois State Police are searching criminal records to identify eligible cases, which are then sent to the state’s Prisoner Review Board. After the board reviews the cases, the names of those eligible for relief are sent to the governor’s office to be considered for pardon. After Pritzker issues the pardon, the attorney general’s office automatically files petitions on the person’s behalf to expunge the records.

State’s attorney offices across the state are also being notified of eligible cases, which can then be vacated by a local judge. In Cook County, prosecutors are working with California-based Code for America to search for convictions involving less than 30 grams of cannabis. Those cases have resulted in both misdemeanor and Class 4 felony convictions....

Individuals with cases involving 30 to 500 grams of cannabis can also be eligible for relief, but the process won’t be automatic, instead requiring the person to file motions to vacate the conviction, according to the governor’s office.

While a pardon forgives a conviction, an expungement erases it from the public record. When a judge vacates a conviction, it overturns it as if it never happened. When a case is expunged, the case is hidden from public view, but it could be viewed by law enforcement if they obtained a court order.

Many of the elected officials noted that enforcement of marijuana-related offenses have disproportionately affected minorities. The Rev. Michael Pfleger, of St. Sabina Church on the South Side, said the elected officials on the stage had done their job, but it would be up to business leaders in the new industry to provide financial mobility for those individuals. “Employ these individuals," Pfleger said to the crowd. “Give them a job.”

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., of the 27th Ward, noted that a pardon for an armed robbery conviction decades ago changed his life and allowed him to serve in public office. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr.'s words to describe how he felt when his record was expunged and how others might feel when they hear news of the pardons. “Free at last,” Burnett said. “Free at last. Thank God almighty, they are free at last.”

December 31, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Highlighting how, even after "decriminalization," punitive marijuana criminalization persists for some

Drug_tests7The Philadelphia Inquirer has this notable new article under the headline "The Marijuana Paradox: Philadelphia Has Decriminalized Marijuana, But Those Who Get High On Probation Still Risk Incarceration." I recommend the lengthy article in full, and here are some excerpts:

District Attorney Larry Krasner announced his office would not charge people with marijuana possession, or seek to revoke probation for use of the drug.  Medical-use cannabis dispensaries are popping up across the city.  And the lieutenant governor, crisscrossing the state on a listening tour, reported that the Wolf administration and a majority of the public support legalizing recreational use.

Even as most Philadelphians are free to get high with impunity — facing at worst a $100 fine — judges and probation officers continue to punish people for using the drug, resulting in court-mandated treatment, extended probation, and even incarceration.

It’s one factor contributing to Philadelphia’s bloated levels of community supervision and of incarceration — which are among the highest of any big city and come at an enormous cost.  Philadelphia spends more than twice as much per capita as other cities on corrections, and nearly twice as much on judicial and legal costs.

And it is a significant factor, going by the results of 53,313 drug tests administered by the Philadelphia adult probation department in 2018.  The majority of those tests were negative for any drug — but among the failed screens, about half were positive for marijuana alone, according to court data. That’s more than 11,000 tests flagged just for weed.

Philadelphia City Council held a hearing in February to examine the possibility of ceasing testing, but city leaders have so far been reluctant to move ahead of state law. Probation-reform legislation proposed in the state House would not bar testing but would prohibit courts from violating people for using marijuana if they have medical authorization.

Philadelphia’s chief defender, Keir Bradford-Grey, called marijuana screening a waste of resources that doesn’t make the city any safer: “Many of them are using it for PTSD and trauma. Many of them are using it for pain.  So these reasons are benign in terms of our notion of public safety — and this is why we are creating an endless cycle of probation for people who are being tested this way.”

And, at a time when the opioid crisis is killing more than a thousand people each year in Philadelphia, the courts’ most intensive drug-treatment and diversion programs are squandered on marijuana users.  For instance, just 18% of those coming out of Philadelphia Drug Treatment Court in 2018 were opioid users; 75% were marijuana users....

One way some jurisdictions are avoiding such outcomes is to simply stop testing for marijuana. Among them, New York City this year enacted a law barring its probation department from testing for marijuana in almost all cases.  But in Pennsylvania, probation officials and judges continue to craft their own — often conflicting — responses to marijuana use.

In September, Lebanon County Probation prohibited use even for those with medical marijuana cards.  For people on probation who were managing health conditions with marijuana, the consequences were in some cases severe.  One woman, Melissa Gass, 41, stopped using the drug to manage her epilepsy after her probation officer told her continued use would put her in violation. Soon, she was experiencing six or seven seizures a day.

In October, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued on behalf of Gass and two other people on probation, and the state Supreme Court agreed to exercise its extraordinary King’s Bench authority — a power reserved for matters of “immediate public importance” — to review the case and temporarily bar Lebanon County from implementing its policy.  “We are reading this as a statewide injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which has identified six other counties — Elk, Forest, Indiana, Jefferson, Lycoming, and Northampton — that ban medical marijuana for those on probation.

But there’s no immediate relief for people like Jacob Makaravitz, 29, who are already incarcerated on probation violations.  This fall, he went to a doctor and obtained a medical marijuana card to manage his nerve pain, but failed to get his probation officer’s permission.  In October, a Lackawanna County judge sentenced him to one to three years in state prison for the unauthorized use.

James McGurl, 31, who was in drug court with Makaravitz, learned of his friend’s incarceration with alarm.  “It’s just pure insanity. You can sentence someone one to three years for a medical marijuana card prescribed to him by a doctor,” McGurl said. McGurl himself is a former heroin user who got clean through a 12-step program. “Marijuana has been a great help and aid to me in my recovery,” he said — but it was a marijuana charge that saddled him with a felony conviction and a sentence to intermediate punishment.  “Oddly, after I finally got clean, I ended up in jail and on drug court,” he said.  “Where were they when I was robbing people’s houses and being a total scumbag?”

In Philadelphia, the court accepts medical marijuana cards, but probation administrators and judges have conflicting ideas about how to deal with those who use marijuana without authorization, according to Laurie Corbin of the Public Health Management Corp., which holds an $8 million contract with the city to provide assessment and treatment for court-ordered clients.  “There’s a real concerted effort not to be bringing people in [to jail] with charges related to marijuana,” she said, “but then there are other behaviors related to marijuana use, where [they’re] breaking and entering or doing other kinds of crime.”....

Nationwide, more people receive court-ordered referrals into drug treatment for marijuana than any other kind of drug — 126,000 of them in 2017, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Administration.  More than half of all marijuana users in treatment are forced to go there by the criminal justice system. Notably, while just 13% of those in drug treatment in Pennsylvania are African American, 29% of those in treatment for marijuana are black.

Yet, a national epidemiological survey found that, as marijuana use has proliferated, the prevalence of marijuana-use disorders, described as abuse of or dependence on the drug, remains below 3% of adults nationwide.  That represents about three out of 10 marijuana users.  Statewide, 22% of people in drug treatment courts are marijuana users, but that number rises to 57% in Chester County and 75% in Philadelphia.

These programs are seen as a means to keep people out of jail while enforcing treatment.  But in reality, about one in three participants in these diversionary programs will be incarcerated as a sanction for repeated positive drug tests, missed court dates, or failure to attend treatment, an Inquirer review of court data from Philadelphia and surrounding counties shows.  Six out of 10 people leaving drug court in Pennsylvania graduate successfully; those who fail can face sentences of probation, jail, or even state prison.

Despite the potential for harsh consequences, some are grateful for the counseling that judges and probation officers provide. They say they need other coping mechanisms besides dulling trauma with marijuana, and court-ordered counseling or treatment may provide those skills But to those who flounder under the strictures of drug treatment court, it feels like a trap.

November 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Persistently discouraging news about persistent racial disparities in marijuana enforcement

Because just about every examination of marijuana enforcement reveals discouraging racial disparities, I tend not to blog about every report or headline I see documenting these persistently discouraging realities.  But as I saw three more data points in this ugly enforcement story, I figured it was time for a round up of links.  So:

From Cincinnati, "Cincinnati's first round of marijuana decriminalization data shows warnings mostly given to African Americans"  

  • Key data point: "Officers issued 67 warnings last month. Of those, 64 were handed out to African Americans...."

From New Jersey, ACLU Data Brief, "Still Unequal, Still Unfair: An Update on New Jersey’s Marijuana Arrests"

  • Key data point: "Updated data from 2016 reflects the same troubling racial disparities from 2013, as Black people were three times more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession. The racial disparity is even more extreme in certain localities."

From New York City, "Cops Arrest 260 People Of Color For Weed, Only 20 White: NYPD"

  • Key data point: "Cops arrested people of color on low-level drug charges at a staggering rate last quarter with black and Hispanic people making up 90 percent of arrests, new data show.... Of the 291 people arrested on criminal and unlawful marijuana possession charges, 167 were black, 95 Hispanic, 18 white and 11 Asian, according to NYPD data.  Just 19 were women and 272 men."

November 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Bronx Borough Prez issues new marijuana reform report focused on social justice issues

Marijuana-report-cover-bxbpI was intrigued to see this short but compelling report released this week by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. titled "Marijuana Justice in New York: The Path to Reform." The report gives special attention to issues of criminal justice reform and economic empowerment, and here and the report's six recommendations as set forth in its executive summary:

Proposal 1: Community Reinvestment. Low-income and minority communities across the state that have been disproportionately affected by past marijuana criminalization should see the benefits of legalization. Some of the revenue from legalization should be returned to these communities in the form of grants and other opportunities.

Proposal 2: Second Chances for Job Applicants who Fail Drug Tests for Marijuana. Many New Yorkers have failed drug tests for marijuana in the past, which has prevented them from getting a job. Employers should be encouraged to call these job-seekers back for future openings, and services should be available to help these individuals find employment.

Proposal 3: Equity in Licensing. The marijuana industry in New York State should reflect the population of New York State. The state should ensure that licenses are granted to qualified equity applicants so that those harmed by marijuana criminalization will be able to benefit from its legalization. The licensing system should ensure that small and minority-owned businesses are able to participate in the industry so that large, out-of-state companies cannot box them out.

Proposal 4: Access to Capital and Banking Services. Currently, banks are reluctant to engage with the marijuana industry. The state should ensure access to funds for small marijuana businesses so that the industry is not dominated by larger businesses that do not reflect the diversity of the state. New York State should advocate for Congress to pass a law protecting financial institutions from prosecution for legal cannabis-related activities.

Proposal 5: Automatic Expungement. The decriminalization bill introduced an expungement mechanism in New York State for the first time and provided that low-level marijuana offenses could be expunged. A legalization bill must make more former marijuana offenses subject to expungement as well. Past criminal convictions limit opportunities, and the enforcement of marijuana laws has fallen disproportionately against minorities and low-income communities.

Proposal 6: Ending Family Separations because of Marijuana. Currently, a positive drug test for marijuana is sufficient to start a child neglect investigation. No families should be broken apart because a parent, particularly a new parent, tests positive for marijuana.

October 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Effective review of latest marijuana offense expungement efforts

Polygon US Hex Map 2It has now been about 18 months since the publication of my Federal Sentencing Reporter article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," in which I sought to spotlight the importance of integrating marijuana reform efforts and criminal record expungement efforts.  At the time I wrote my article, it was relatively uncommon to see marijuana reform proposals expressly include record clearing provisions.   But, as is common in the marijuana reform era, times have changed quite quickly and now it is becoming much more common to see marijuana reform proposals with record clearing provisions. 

This lengthy new article in Law360, headlined "Turning Over A New Leaf: The Push To Nix Old Pot Convictions," spotlights the new momentum in this space.  Here are excerpts:

An estimated 800,000 residents in Illinois alone with marijuana-related convictions on their records.  Between 2001 and 2010, more than 8.2 million marijuana-related arrests were made across the U.S., 88% of which were for simple possession.... 

Those whose arrests led to convictions often find themselves barred from certain jobs, housing, government benefits and even their children's field trips.... While more states have moved to legalize pot, many of them have failed to make provisions to help people who still carry convictions for behavior that's now legal. 

However, an increasingly loud chorus of activists, lawmakers and some prosecutors are championing bills and even lawsuits to make sure some of those most hurt by prohibition don't get left behind when it ends.In some places, those efforts are making a difference.  New York state, for instance, said it will automatically expunge convictions for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana as part of a decriminalization bill signed by the governor in July.

But opposition and inertia have stymied similar measures in a number of other jurisdictions, with critics saying avenues for expunging old convictions already exist and the new laws only serve to let people off the hook for activity that was illegal at the time....  "It's just unbelievable the kinds of things that people face even decades later from insignificant convictions," says Emma Goodman, a staff attorney in the special litigation unit of The Legal Aid Society who works to get criminal records sealed.

Since 2012, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, while another 15 have decriminalized it, usually meaning possession of small amounts is treated as a violation of the law subject only to a fine rather than time in prison.  But while arrests have fallen in some places, that's little help to the many people convicted of marijuana-related crimes in years past.

Over the past four years, at least 15 states have enacted laws providing for the expungement of those convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Besides the expungement bill in New York, California is requiring its attorney general to review the cases of hundreds of thousands of people eligible to have convictions cleared as part of that state's marijuana legalization.
In Washington state, people with marijuana-related misdemeanors can go to court and apply to have those convictions vacated under a new law that went into effect in July.  "We had issues where people who when they were teenagers were caught smoking weed and now they have kids, and they're not allowed to go on a field trip with their kids because they had a marijuana conviction," says Democratic state Sen. Joe Nguyen, whose district includes West Seattle and who sponsored that bill....
Between 2001 and 2010, African Americans were 7.56 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in the Prairie State, according to the ACLU report.  As many as 770,000 records could be eligible for expungement under the new law, which grants automatic clemency to anyone convicted of possessing up to 30 grams of the drug, according to Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans, whose district includes part of Chicago and who is one of the bill's sponsors....
 
Activists are increasingly pushing for legalization bills "to have at least some racial justice lens and criminal justice lens" like Illinois', says Charlotte Resing, a policy analyst in the ACLU's National Political Advocacy Department. Resing's office has been working, along with a constellation of other groups, on advocating for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, introduced in Congress in July by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

That bill would not only legalize marijuana nationally but require federal courts to expunge convictions, ban the denial of federal benefits due to a previous conviction, and make entry into the cannabis industry easier for those most impacted by the war on drugs. "We wanted some reinvestment in these communities that have really had their lives ... turned upside-down by an arrest, by overpolicing, by a conviction, by serving a sentence," Resing says....

For expungement advocates, changing the law is often not enough.  When California first legalized recreational pot in 2016, the referendum included an expungement provision.  But in early 2018, when now-former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón asked how many of the more than 9,300 eligible people in the city had used the provision to escape what he calls the "paper prison," the answer was 23, according to Alex Bastian, deputy chief of staff in the San Francisco district attorney's office.   "The problem with the system in place is you would have to ... hire an attorney and pay for an attorney; you would also have to take time off from work and come in and do it yourself," Bastian says.

The San Francisco district attorney teamed up with technology nonprofit Code for America to develop a system to automatically expunge the marijuana convictions of those 9,300 people, a process his office completed in February.  In August, the district attorney of Cook County, Illinois, announced she would be partnering with Code for America to do the same.

Manhattan's district attorney, along with Goodman at the Legal Aid Society, is taking a different tack.  Frustrated with what Goodman calls "the arduous process of application-based sealing," they and a host of other organizations filed what they consider a "groundbreaking" class action in New York Supreme Court to get over 300 eligible marijuana convictions in Manhattan sealed all at once.   Justice Carol Edmead ordered the convictions sealed in July, and Goodman says her organization is looking at filing similar suits elsewhere.   "I really see sealing people's records and helping them with moving on with their lives as a way to counteract the systemic racism that still exists even decades later," Goodman says.

October 21, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)