Monday, April 15, 2019
Fascinating map and data highlighting prevalence and intensity of marijuana's criminal enforcement footprint
Over at the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham has this great new piece fully titled "Where the war on weed still rages: In some U.S. counties, more than 40 percent of all arrests are for marijuana possession." The title highlights the piece's themes, but the text and a map therein reinforce the point in various ways:
Marijuana possession led to nearly 6 percent of all arrests in the United States in 2017, FBI data shows, underscoring the level of policing dedicated to containing behavior that’s legal in 10 states and the nation’s capital.
But the figure obscures the considerable variations in enforcement practices at the state and local levels. In many areas of the country in 2016, more than 20 percent of all arrests stemmed from pot possession, according to newly released county-level arrest figures from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. The figure exceeds 40 percent in a handful of counties, topping out at nearly 55 percent in one Georgia county.
The data tracks arrests, not individuals, so there’s no mechanism for winnowing out repeat offenders. Nor does it include arrests for the sale or production of marijuana. But the numbers still illustrate how marijuana enforcement continues to make up a big part of many police agencies’ caseloads.
The findings reflect, in part, a few simple realities: The federal government incentivizes aggressive drug enforcement via funding for drug task forces and generous forfeiture rules that allow agencies to keep cash and other valuables they find in the course of a drug bust. And because marijuana is bulky and pungent relative to other drugs, it’s often easy for police to root out.
But given that recreational marijuana is legal throughout the West, and that two-thirds of the public supports legalization, critics view such aggressive enforcement tactics as wasteful, ineffective and even racially biased....
Nationwide, a few clear patterns emerge in the county-level arrest statistics from 2016, the latest year for which data is available. A swath of mostly conservative states, running from North Dakota through Texas, is home to many counties where marijuana enforcement accounts for 10 percent or more of all arrests — well above the national average.
But those conservative states are by no means alone. On the East Coast, New York and New Jersey stand out for relatively high arrest rates for marijuana possession. In New England, New Hampshire — the “Live free or die” state — also shows a high number of arrests relative to its neighbors.
States that have legalized marijuana, on the other hand, tend to have lower arrest rates. Colorado and Washington, where recreational use had been legal for two years at the time the data was taken, few counties attributed more than 2.5 percent of their arrests to marijuana enforcement. Not a single county in California, which legalized the drug in 2016, met that threshold. Alabama and Kentucky — which are not known for liberal marijuana policies — also appeared to place a low priority on marijuana possession enforcement.
The data shows that Dooley County, Ga., has the highest rate of marijuana arrests in the nation. Out of 422 total arrests in 2016, 230, or 54.5 percent, were for marijuana possession. The next highest was Hamilton County in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where 43.5 percent of the 130 arrests logged in 2016 targeted marijuana offenders. That’s followed by Sterling (42.1) and Hartley (42.0) counties in Texas, with South Dakota’s Edmunds County (33.3 percent) rounding out the top five.
While these counties are all small and rural, some larger counties in and around big cities also reported unusually high arrest rates. In Chesapeake, Va., (population 233,000), for instance, 23 percent of its nearly 3,600 arrests were for marijuana possession. In Maryland’s Montgomery County (population 1 million), just outside of Washington, D.C., about 20 percent of its 24,000 arrests were for pot....
Another notable component of the study is what’s missing. Individual police agencies share arrest statistics with the FBI as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. But participation is voluntary, and different states use different systems to report crime and arrest data, which means that some jurisdictions have more complete coverage than others. The map above omits all jurisdictions where the reporting rate is less than 90 percent, which eliminates large parts of some states and removes others, like Illinois and Florida, completely.
Not all marijuana arrests lead to convictions or prison time. But an arrest can be highly disruptive in and of itself: Legal fees, bail and bond costs, time lost from work and the potential for pretrial detention can take a heavy toll on arrested individuals. In a number of cases, suspects have been inadvertently or deliberately killed while in police custody for possessing small quantities of pot. In one recent high-profile case, a Pennsylvania man was crushed by a bulldozer as he fled from police attempting to apprehend him over 10 marijuana plants — a quantity that is legal in other parts of the country.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
The fourth and final planned presentation (both this week and for the semester) by a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar will look closely at the intersection of marijuana use and parenting. Here's a brief summary of the student's approach to this topic, along with some relevant articles she assembled:
As states increasingly legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, one largely unexplored area is the complicated relationship between marijuana use and parenting. As with other substances (both legal and illicit), marijuana can have a significant impact on the lives of both parents and children. Parents who use marijuana likely have conflicting interests and may prioritize their own use over the care of their children. This could take the form of neglect, through inadequate supervision, or through misallocation of family resources to buy marijuana and other non-essentials. Parents who use marijuana also risk exposing their children to marijuana in any number of ways. Second-hand smoke is an obvious risk, as is the potential for children to gain access to marijuana (particularly edibles).
Expectant and breast-feeding mothers are also of particular concern, as there is some data linking marijuana use at these critical stages in development to a whole host of lifelong issues in children. As with most issues surrounding marijuana use, there simply is not yet enough data in this area. For example, although some studies have linked marijuana use during pregnancy to particular developmental problems, existing studies have not been able to isolate marijuana as the cause (as opposed to other drugs, nicotine, etc.). I plan on providing background on existing public health research, giving examples of how various states are dealing with this issue, and presenting issues that have not been adequately addressed by research or policy.
April 10, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, April 8, 2019
Regular readers will not be surprised to hear I am excited for the first of the last four student presentations planned for this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar. Of course, I am excited about the work of all my students, but this wee we have a student focused on a topic on which I have done some writing, namely expungement practices. Here is how my student has summarized this topic, along with the background readings she has provided:
States that have chosen to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have, in most places, chosen to enact a specific marijuana expungement scheme within the bill that legalizes marijuana or separately. The expungement schemes offer a way for some to shed the hurtful effects of collateral consequences from a marijuana misdemeanor or felony.
As we come closer to legalizing marijuana on the federal level, the question of how to repair for the harms done by the War on Drugs and how best to expunge records will continue to be visited. The collateral consequences have consequences of their own and the War on Drugs helped fuel mass incarceration and racist policing practices. Robust and broad reforms will be needed to repair for the extensive damage to the criminal justice system, something marijuana legalization isn’t equipped to do wholly on its own. But the current expungement schemes, with filing fees, waiting periods and other hurdles, don’t set a good example as we head toward nationwide legalization.
Links to readings and background materials:
"Federal Collateral Consequences for Marijuana Convictions", Marijuana Policy Project paper explaining some of the federal collateral consequences resulting from marijuana convictions
"Drug offenders in American prisons: The critical distinction between stock and flow", Brookings piece by Jonathan Rothwell highlighting difference between stock and flow of drug prisoners which highlights that there are many more drug convictions than violent offense convictions.
"Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on the war on drugs", Vox article by German Lopez disputing Michelle Alexander’s "drug war" explanation for mass incarceration while explaining why the path to ending mass incarceration is complicated.
“Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices” by Douglas Berman
Links to Expungement Schemes:
Connecticut Bill - Bill for legalization in state's house judiciary committee
Thursday, April 4, 2019
In my article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I gave justified credit to work being done at the state and local level in California to ensure marijuana reform is operationalized as a form of criminal justice reform. I am pleased to see this work continuing, especially as described in this news release from the LA DA titled "Los Angeles, San Joaquin County District Attorneys Announce Code for America Partnership to Reduce, Clear Cannabis Convictions." Here is how the release starts:
District Attorneys Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County joined with Code for America today to announce a cutting-edge, criminal justice reform partnership to automatically clear more than 50,000 eligible cannabis convictions under Proposition 64.
The two counties are among the first in California to take part in Code for America’s pilot program that proactively identifies convictions that qualify for resentencing or dismissal under the voter-approved initiative in November 2016.
“We have partnered with Code for America to take on this monumental effort in the state’s most populous county,” District Attorney Lacey said. “As technology advances and the criminal justice system evolves, we as prosecutors must do our part to pursue innovative justice procedures on behalf of our constituents. This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future. Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefitting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past. We are grateful to Code for America for bringing its technology to our office.”
“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” said Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We have a responsibility to right these wrongs by utilizing the latest innovations in technology, such as Code for America’s Clear My Record initiative, to ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs get the second chance they deserve.”
“Since the passage of Propositions 47 and 64, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Superior Court, have worked collaboratively to successfully implement the law in a timely and efficient manner,” said San Joaquin County Public Defender Miriam Lyell in joint statement with District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “We have seen firsthand the capabilities of the Clear My Record tool to facilitate the record clearing process and provide a much-needed service to our community, restoring families along with tremendous cost savings to the People of the State of California. This powerful tool represents the best of public-private partnerships: harnessing the power of technology to create new pathways of opportunity for members of our community with convictions.”
“In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America. “Thanks to the leadership of District Attorneys Lacey and Salazar, we’ve shown how records clearance can and should be done everywhere. When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief. Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation.”
Both offices have been working with Code for America since July 2018 to develop a system that examines cannabis convictions. There is estimated to be approximately 50,000 eligible convictions in Los Angeles County. There are an additional 4,000 eligible convictions in San Joaquin County.
Recognizing that California’s record clearance process was not designed for the digital age, this historic partnership demonstrates a growing momentum for technology-assisted record clearance in California. It builds on last month’s announcement that Code for America’s Clear My Record technology helped San Francisco dismiss and seal more than 8,000 cannabis convictions.
The references to Code for America’s work in San Francisco is both timely and a bit dated. I say that because of this recent tweet by the SF DA:
9,361 marijuana convictions-every single one since 1975 that is eligible pursuant to #Prop64-have officially been dismissed and sealed. Here’s the official court order. #SignedSealedDelivered pic.twitter.com/Kjg0SEfC5h— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) April 3, 2019
April 4, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, April 1, 2019
The question in the title of this post is the headline given to this Connecticut public radio show which aired today. I am very grateful to Professor Jenny Roberts, who was part of the show, for sending me the link to the show and also for providing this summary:
As you may know, Connecticut's proposed bill has some really interesting social justice/equity provisions – not only with expungement, but also with who will actually get the licenses in Connecticut. The show also explored issues of how those affected negatively by drug laws over the years might now get funding, etc, to start a marijuana business. State Sen. Gary Winfield, who is sponsoring part of the legislation, is on the whole time and well worth a listen, and a Boston Globe journalist joined for one segment on the Massachusetts social equity situation.
Here is how the show's website describes the 50-minute segment:
With recreational marijuana on sale in Massachusetts, Connecticut lawmakers are looking at legalizing recreational cannabis more seriously than ever. Meanwhile, research continues to show that the enforcement of drug laws in recent decades has disproportionately impacted communities of color. This hour, we ask: if Connecticut legalizes recreational marijuana, can it do so in a way that corrects some of this history of discriminatory enforcement?
We talk with Judiciary co-Chair Senator Gary Winfield, who is calling for putting equity at the front of legalization efforts. And we check in about how racial justice has — or hasn’t — come along with legalization in states that already have legal weed, from Massachusetts to California.
April 1, 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, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 22, 2019
Spotlighting "a hazy cannabis stalemate" after Baltimore State’s Attorney says she will stop prosecuting these cases and police resist change
This new CityLab article by Ethan McLeod reports on the notable state of marijuana affairs in the city of Baltimore. The Full headline and subheadline provides the basics: "For Weed Arrests in Baltimore, It’s Catch-and-Release Season: Baltimore prosecutors won’t charge people for marijuana possession, but police are still making arrests. Result: a hazy cannabis stalemate." Here is an excerpt from the story, with links from the original:
Mosby’s move added Baltimore to a growing list of cities where prosecutors are dropping cannabis offenses en masse and moving to purge thousands of conviction and charges. From New York to Philadelphia to Houston to St. Louis and elsewhere, these efforts share a common goal: Reduce enforcement of drug laws proven to largely target African Americans, and free up resources for prosecutors and cops to focus on more serious crimes.
In most cities, district and state’s attorneys are pursuing these reforms with the cooperation—albeit sometimes grudging—of police and city leaders. Even if they lack enthusiastic endorsements from police, they’re already working with officials and police departments that have instructed officers to hand out tickets or criminal summonses in lieu of arrests for possession (often of around an ounce).
But not in Baltimore. Here, police have pledged to keep following the letter of the law, which states that possessing anywhere from 10 grams to 50 pounds of cannabis is a misdemeanor statewide—and using cannabis arrests as a means to an end. “Arresting people for marijuana possession is an infrequently used, but sometimes important, law enforcement tool as we focus on violent crime and violent criminals in Baltimore,” BPD’s chief spokesman Matt Jablow said in an emailed statement.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh isn’t on board with the policy, either: She’s said that she supports the principle behind Mosby’s move, but that “those who deal illegal substances fuel criminality in our neighborhoods which leads to violence.” Pugh called on prosecutors and police to craft a singular approach to possession, but has been silent on advocates’ subsequent calls to push BPD to cease arrests.
All this is happening in a city whose struggles with corruption and violent crime have made it the focus of growing national attention. The city also has a new police commissioner, former New Orleans police superintendent Michael Harrison. He recently told city council members he’s met with Mosby about their conflicting policies and insisted that the BPD has been de-prioritizing possession arrests since decriminalization of up to 10 grams took effect in 2014. (Arrest data, however, shows hundreds are still being arrested annually, almost all of them black, and the same pattern goes for citations.)
“Our policies align with the law, and the law didn’t change,” Harrison told council members. And, he argued, even if possession is nonviolent in nature, “it doesn’t always mean that a person caught with simple possession of marijuana is a nonviolent offender.”
Like other prosecutors charting the cannabis-decriminalization course, including Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and St. Louis’s Kim Gardner, Mosby has drawn varied criticism for the policy. Defense attorneys have argued that without BPD buy-in, the pledge amounts to “virtue signaling” by Mosby, whose prosecutors can elevate cases to possession with intent to distribute—a crime they’re still pursuing—at their discretion. Vacating and expunging the cases has already proven to be challenging for her office, given that many of them included charges other than possession. Dropping them could have unintended repercussions, as for someone who violated probation because of a weed arrest.
More broadly, Mosby’s policy risks exacerbating the rift that has grown between her and BPD since her high-profile decision to charge six officers in the killing of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died in police custody in April 2015. Three of those officers were acquitted; charges were dropped for the rest. (Mosby’s office did not respond to requests for comment from CityLab.)
Prior related post:
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
There is much discussion in marijuana reform circles about how states and localities can best ensure the new growing marijuana industry develops in a diverse, socially equitable way. The latest effort to advance this agenda comes from the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), which has now released this interesting new "Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance." Here is part of the preface of this model ordinance:
This Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance (“Model Ordinance”) is intended to be used by municipalities that have adopted ordinances to regulate, zone and license local cannabis businesses, or are currently considering draft ordinances to do so. As such, this Model Ordinance does not include recommended provisions for general license types (other than to add license types that lower barriers to entry or mitigate on-going criminalization of cannabis consumption), nor does it include detailed zoning and land use provisions. The drafters of this model ordinance assume those provisions are already incorporated within the adopting municipality’s general licensing ordinance, and that the general licensing ordinance already reflects the particular circumstances of its local community.
We also assumed that the types of licenses which may be available, and the general regulatory framework surrounding cannabis businesses will be largely predetermined by the state in which the adopting local jurisdiction sits. As such, the Model Ordinance contains only those provisions necessary to create a baseline framework for adopting and advancing social equity in the cannabis industry as official public policy -- a “minimum viable product” designed to be broadly adopted and tailored as necessary by each adopting jurisdiction. Prevailing political realities in each jurisdiction will vary, and the Model Ordinance includes bolded and bracketed substantive terms that may be revised as necessary....
The Drafting Committee finalized this version of the Model Ordinance after incorporating input received on two previous working drafts. The First Discussion Draft was previously circulated in October 2018 and presented to the attendees of the MCBA Policy Summit, as well as the members of the MCBA Policy Committee and the MCBA Board of Directors. Their input was incorporated by the Drafting Committee into the Second Discussion Draft. The Second Discussion Draft was circulated for input to the MCBA Board of Directors, the NCIA Policy Council staff, Drug Policy Alliance staff as well as other select stakeholders for additional input before being finalized. Finally, please note that this Model Ordinance is intended to be a living documents, and one that can be continually improved upon. The Drafting Committee invites any and all input on the Model Ordinance, and expects to publish updated versions of the Model Ordinance periodically.
Interestingly, though the heart of the Model Ordinance is a social equity program, these heading from the model proposal show that more is covered than just business issues:
Section 1: Short Title
Section 2: Cannabis Social Equity Program
Section 3: Good Faith Effort for Equity in Employment
Section 4: Community Benefits Agreement
Section 5: Community Reinvestment Fund
Section 6: Record Change Provisions
Section 7: No Additional Restrictions Allowed on Entry Into the Cannabis Industry
Section 8: Data Collection
Section 9: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority
Section 10: Permitting Social Consumption Lounges
Section 11: Eliminating Suspicionless Drug Testing
March 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
The title of this post is the title of this recent article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy that I just recently came across. Here is its abstract:
There is a lack of research regarding law enforcement practices where recreational marijuana sales are legal. Given that legalization of recreational marijuana is expanding, lessons learned from areas with existing legalization can help inform future practices. This pilot study is an evaluation of enforcement of marijuana laws in the first two states in the U.S. to legalize sales of recreational marijuana, Colorado and Washington, several years post legalization.
We surveyed a random sample of local law enforcement agencies in the two states (25 agencies per state). We also attempted to survey the state-level marijuana enforcement agency but only Washington responded. Surveys focused on youth marijuana use, youth access to marijuana, and impaired driving but included other topics. Chi-square tests assessed differences between states (p < .05).
All local agencies reported underage use was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions. Thirty percent of local agencies conducted enforcement targeting underage use/possession. Twenty percent of agencies overall conducted underage compliance checks at licensed stores, with more agencies conducting checks in Colorado (32%) than Washington (8%; p = .03). Most agencies in both states reported marijuana-impaired driving was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions. One local agency in each state specifically targeted marijuana-impaired driving. The state-level agency in Washington reported that their agency is the one primarily responsible for enforcing marijuana retail laws and they conducted routine underage compliance checks at all licensed marijuana stores three times per year.
Our findings indicate that marijuana enforcement can be improved regarding sales/provision to underage youth and impaired driving in these states, particularly given that underage use and impaired driving are perceived to be common. Larger studies with additional jurisdictions and types of agencies (e.g., highway patrol) are warranted.
Sunday, March 10, 2019
New report details big decrease in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states ... but makes no mention of trend despite fear-mongering last year
In this post last year, titled "New report suggests big increase in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states... but only by leaving out California," I noted a big report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) which expressed concern about pedestrian fatalities in 2017 and spotlighted that the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states seemed to correlate with an uptick in pedestrian fatalities in those states. That prior GHSA report stressed in graphic and text how "seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities."
But, as I lamented in my post, the GHSA accounting completely left out the state of California (which also legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016), perhaps because the GHSA data from that year showed a big decrease in pedestrian fatalities in that state for the first six months of 2017. Had California been included in the analysis by GHSA, as it rightly should have been in that prior report, the data in last year's report on legalized recreational use of marijuana and pedestrian fatalities would have looked a whole lot different.
Fast forward a year, and now the GHSA has recently released its latest data and report on pedestrian fatalities. This new GHSA report expresses again a deep concern with increases in the number of pedestrian fatalities. But while last year's report mentioned marijuana 14 times, this year's report does not use the word once and does not spotlight or even mention the states that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016. Why not? Perhaps because the story looks very different this year, as seven of the eight states to legalize recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 had notable decreases in pedestrian fatalities according to the latest GHSA data: Alaska down 29%, California down 8%; Colorado down 8%, Maine down 40%, Massachusetts up 9%, Nevada down 28%, Oregon down 18%, Washington down 4%. These numbers would be notable even if pedestrian death were flat in other states, they are particularly encouraging given that so many other states saw increases in pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2018.
Critically, these latest GHSA data showing a decrease in pedestrian fatalities in so many which have legalized recreational use of marijuana do not prove any causal relationship. And, in the same spirit, the older data did not clearly prove anything, either. Rather, there is every reason to suspect this is all just usual statistical noise.
Prior related post:
Sunday, March 3, 2019
As detailed at this link (where folks can register), the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has a very exciting event scheduled for tomorrow afternoon (Monday, March 4, 2019). The event is titled "The Prohibition Era and Policing" and here are the basics:
The legal precedents created during Prohibition have lingered, leaving search-and-seizure law much better defined than limits on police use of force, interrogation practices, or eyewitness identification protocols. Please join us as Professor Wesley M. Oliver discusses his latest book, The Prohibition Era and Policing: A Legacy of Misregulation, followed by a discussion with:
- Honorable Maureen O'Connor, Chief Justice of the State of Ohio
- Honorable Jeffrey S. Sutton, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- Dr. Andrea Headley, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
Folks are welcome to attend (and to bring others) even without having registered, it is helpful for planning purposes for folks to register here if they know they are planning to attend.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article just published in the journal Justice Quarterly and authored by Lorine Hughes, Lonnie Schaible & Katherine Jimmerson. Here is the paper's abstract:
Beginning with Colorado and Washington State in 2012, longstanding bans on the sale, possession, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes have been overturned in nine states and the nation’s capital. Consistent with the logic of routine activity theory and broken windows theory, critics of legalized marijuana argue that dispensaries are magnets for crime, attracting criminal offenders to the area with large sums of cash and valuable goods. The current study addresses this possibility by examining the effects of both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries on yearly crime rates in N = 3981 neighborhood grid cells in Denver, Colorado, 2012–2015. Estimates from Bayesian spatiotemporal Poisson regression models indicate that, except for murder and auto theft, both types of dispensaries are associated with statistically significant increases in rates of neighborhood crime and disorder. The theoretical and policy implications of these findings are discussed.
This notice about the research provides additional background and findings. Here are excerpts therefrom:
"We found that neighborhoods with one or more medical or recreational dispensary saw increased crime rates that were between 26 and 1,452% higher than in neighborhoods without any commercial marijuana activity," notes Lorine A. Hughes, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, who led the study. "But we also found that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time."...
The study found that except for murder, the presence of at least one medical marijuana dispensary was associated with a statistically significant increase in neighborhood crime and disorder, including robbery and aggravated assault. The study also found a relatively strong association between medical marijuana dispensaries and drug and alcohol offenses, with a decline in the strength of the link after recreational marijuana was legalized. The pattern of results was similar for recreational marijuana dispensaries, though the study found no direct relation to auto theft.
The authors caution that the results of the study, based only on information from Denver immediately after legalization and before market saturation, may not be generalizable to other geographic areas. They also note that because the study relied on official police data to measure crime and disorder, it's possible that police targeted neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries, which would over-estimate the association between these facilities and crime and disorder.
"Our findings have important implications for the marijuana industry in Denver and the liberalization of marijuana laws nationwide," suggests Lonnie M. Schaible, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, who coauthored the study. "Although our results indicate that both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries are associated with increases in most major crime types, the weak strength typical of these relationships suggests that, if Denver's experience is representative, major spikes in crime are unlikely to occur in other places following legalization."
The authors suggest that, rather than fighting to oppose legalized marijuana, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry and is expected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020, it may be more expedient to develop and support secure and legal ways for dispensaries to engage in financial transactions.
Monday, February 18, 2019
"High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana Laws"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Alana Rosen now available via SSRN. Here is the paper's abstract:
As states continue to legalize or decriminalize recreational marijuana, there is a chasm within our society. One segment of the population can use, possess, transport, and cultivate marijuana without fear of prosecution. Another segment of the population suffers from the collateral consequences of previous marijuana-related offenses. This Article argues that any state that enacts marijuana legalization or decriminalization statutes should automatically include an expungement provision that clears the criminal record of individuals who engaged in activities now deemed lawful under the new legalization and decriminalization laws.
This Article proposes model language for an expungement statute that serves as a guide for legislators, judges, and attorneys. The proposed expungement statute will help individuals obtain access to opportunities and benefits now denied them because of their marijuana-related criminal records including employment, professional licenses, financial aid, public housing, travel abroad, firearms’ purchases, the right to vote, and jury service. Changes to the law will also benefit communities that have been disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs and marijuana prohibition.
Regular readers surely know from my repeated mention of my article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," that I am especially interested in how marijuana reform is now intersecting with criminal justice concerns and should advance criminal justice reform efforts. I am so pleased to see another article on this topic, and I hope to soon see many more. I do not think this issue can get too much attention.
Sunday, February 17, 2019
As reported in this local article, headlined "Norfolk judges unite to block prosecutor from dropping marijuana cases," a fascinating tussle has broken out as an elected prosecutor tries to move away from criminally prosecuting marijuana offenders. Here are the details:
The judges on the city’s top court have decided to block Norfolk’s chief prosecutor from essentially decriminalizing marijuana possession, a setback he’s thinking about appealing to the state Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, prosecutors under Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood went to court for at least the third time to try to drop or dismiss misdemeanor marijuana charges. Prosecuting people for having marijuana disproportionately hurts black people and does little to protect public safety, he’s said.
For the third time, a judge rebuffed them, and told prosecutors she’s not alone, but joined by her seven colleagues. “We are of one mind on this,” Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall said.
The decisions adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to have a small amount of weed in the city. Norfolk police have said they will continue to cite people for misdemeanor marijuana possession as they’ve always done. Circuit Court judges appear determined to make sure offenders are tried, even if the commonwealth’s attorney refuses to prosecute them....
In 2016 and 2017, more than 1,560 people have been charged with first- or second-offense marijuana possession, prosecutor Ramin Fatehi told the judge in court Tuesday. Of them, 81 percent were black in a city that’s 47 percent white and 42 percent black.
This “breeds a reluctance on the part of African Americans, particular young African American men, to trust or cooperate with the justice system,” according to a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office memo announcing the policy changes. “Such prosecution also encourages the perception that the justice system is not focusing its attention on the legitimately dangerous crimes that regrettably are concentrated in these same communities.”
On Tuesday, Hall denied Fatehi’s motion to dismiss charges against Zemont Vaughan. The 24-year-old Norfolk man, who is black, had been convicted in a lower court in October, but on Tuesday, he went to the higher Circuit Court to appeal that conviction.
Prosecutors’ motions to dismiss or drop charges are typically formalities. They don’t generally like giving up on cases, so when they make what amounts to an admission of defeat, judges almost always grant them. Not this time.
Hall told Fatehi she and the other seven judges think the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney is trespassing on the state legislature’s territory: making laws. The judge said Fatehi made an “extremely compelling case” with his statistics on racial disparities, but should pitch it to lawmakers in Richmond.
“I believe this is an attempt to usurp the power of the state legislature,” Hall said. “This is a decision that must be made by the General Assembly, not by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”
Fatehi countered: Underwood is exercising the executive power voters gave him when they elected him the city’s top prosecutor. Part of the job is prosecutorial discretion, or deciding which laws should be enforced, especially since he has a limited amount of resources. In contrast to the misdemeanor possession charges, Underwood’s lawyers will keep prosecuting people accused of trafficking or dealing marijuana. “This is an exercise of our discretion,” Fatehi said.
Fatehi said Underwood is thinking about asking the state Supreme Court to reverse the judges’ decisions, adding that he’s “very close” to making a decision.
Lots can be said on the substance of the decisions being made by the city prosecutor and city judges in this case, but I will be content for now (1) to note that broad prosecutorial discretion in charging (and not charging) is the norm, and (2) to wonder aloud how prosecutions could or would move forward in these cases if city prosecutors refuse to be involved. And, finally, this story highlights yet again how disparate marijuana enforcement seems to be everywhere and how interesting legal issues surrounds all kinds of modern marijuana reform efforts.
February 17, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 11, 2019
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new research brief produced by the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This brief provides lots of interesting data within this research project, and it starts with these four "key findings":
1. The number and rate of arrests for marijuana possession were higher in 2017 than in 1990 for the State as a whole and for New York City, Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State but the number and rate of arrests were lower in 2017 than the peaks in New York City and Upstate Cities;
2. In 2017, in New York City, the vast majority of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests (~93%) were for possession of marijuana in public view or public consumption whereas for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State, significant percentages of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests were for possession of between 25 grams to 8 ounces (~60% and ~30% respectively);
3. At the state-level, 18-20 year-olds consistently had the highest rates of arrest for marijuana possession, mostly driven by the higher rates of arrest for this group in New York City, but there was more variability by age in Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State; and
4. Across all three geographic areas, Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to Whites, these racial differences in arrest rates widened over the study period and, in 2017, the racial differences in arrest rates were wider for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State compared to New York City.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
"Traffic fatalities within US states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales and their neighbours"
The title of this post is the title of this new research published in the journal Addiction authored by Tyler Lane and Wayne Hall. Here is the article's abstract:
Background and aims
A growing body of evidence suggests that cannabis impairs driving ability. We used mortality data to investigate whether the commercial sale of cannabis for recreational use affected traffic fatality rates both in states that legalized it and in neighbouring jurisdictions.
Interrupted time–series of traffic fatality rates adjusted for seasonality and autocorrelation. Changes are reported as step and trend effects against a comparator of states that had not implemented medicinal or recreational cannabis during the study period (2009–16). Sensitivity analyses added a 6‐month ‘phase‐in’ to account for lags in production. Meta‐analyses were used to derive pooled results.
Three states that legalized recreational cannabis sales [Colorado (January 2014), Washington State (June 2014) and Oregon (October 2015] and nine neighbouring jurisdictions [Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah (Colorado neighbours); British Columbia and Oregon (Washington neighbours); and California and Nevada (Oregon neighbours)].
Monthly traffic fatalities rates per million residents using mortality data from CDC WONDER and RoadSafetyBC and census data.
There was a pooled step increase of 1.08 traffic fatalities per million residents followed by a trend reduction of −0.06 per month (both P < 0.001), although with significant heterogeneity between sites (step: I2 = 73.7%, P < 0.001; trend: I2 = 68.4%; P = 0.001). Effects were similar in both legalizing (step: 0.90, P < 0.001; trend: −0.05, P = 0.007) and neighbouring sites (step: 1.15, P = 0.005; trend: −0.06, P = 0.001). The 6‐month phase‐in produced similar if larger effects (step: 1.36, P = 0.006; trend: −0.07, P < 0.001).
The combination of step increases and trend reductions suggests that in the year following implementation of recreational cannabis sales, traffic fatalities temporarily increased by an average of one additional traffic fatality per million residents in both legalizing US states of Colorado, Washington and Oregon and in their neighbouring jurisdictions.
Interesting (and disappointing?) numbers from Washington after Gov promised to pardon thousands with prior marijuana convictions
As reported in this post last month, Washington Govornor Jay Inslee started 2019 by making much of his plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession charges. But this new local article, headlined "Inslee pardons 13 marijuana convictions, as lawmakers consider expunging hundreds of thousands more," reports on just a trickle rather than a wave of pardon grants. Here are the interesting details:
In the month since Gov. Jay Inslee offered pardons to thousands of people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses, just 13 have received the official act of forgiveness. But a more sweeping proposal in the state Legislature may be gaining momentum, offering the potential clearing of criminal records for hundreds of thousands of others.
Inslee, a second-term Democrat who is publicly mulling a presidential run, announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative to fanfare in early January at a cannabis-industry conference, citing the disproportionate impact of drug-law convictions on people of color and lingering harm to employment and housing prospects.
His pardon offer was limited to people with otherwise clean records who had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction between 1998 and Dec. 5, 2012, the effective date of the voter-approved marijuana legalization Initiative 502.
About 3,500 people are estimated to be eligible for pardons under Inslee’s plan. As of Wednesday, 160 had applied, but the vast majority did not meet the eligibility conditions, said Tip Wonhoff, the governor’s deputy general counsel. After an initial rush of interest in the pardons, “it’s been a little slower than I thought,” he said.
For those who have qualified, however, the pardons have come as welcome relief. Taneesa Dunham, of Walla Walla, leapt at the chance to reverse her marijuana conviction from 2005....
Last month, Dunham’s mother saw a newspaper article about Inslee’s pardon offer and called to read the article to her. “I was jumping up and down with joy the entire time she was reading it. I immediately went to the website and filled [the application] out,” she said. A pardon signed by Inslee soon arrived in the mail. Although Dunham’s conviction remains in court records, the pardon is listed, too.
Dunham said her criminal record, while minor, had made it difficult for her to get a job as she’d had to report it on employment applications, and she worried her daughter’s school would exclude her from field trips. A recreational marijuana user in her 20s, she says she now uses cannabis medicinally for help with a back injury that has left her on disability. “I am just really glad it is legal now so nobody has to go through what I had to go through, and the courts and the cops can go after the real drug dealers and leave the potheads alone,” she said.
Chris Tilzer, of Covington, also was pardoned by Inslee for a pot-possession conviction in 2006 after Bellevue police cited him for smoking in a park. He served one day in jail, according to court records. “I was working and it could have caused me problems if they would have found out about it,” he said, adding that the blemish on his record has since complicated some international travel plans.
Tilzer now works in the cannabis industry and said he appreciates Inslee’s effort, but the state should do much more. “The amount of people who meet the qualifications is not going to really help anybody — not that many people,” he said.
Such relief could be on the way. Sponsors of legislation that would allow hundreds of thousands of people with minor marijuana convictions to expunge their records say the proposal could have a better chance this year than in the past. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, has introduced a similar bill every year since 2013 without success, but says this year’s version, House Bill 1500, could break through. “It just seems like there is a lot more momentum this year than any of the past times I have taken a run at it,” he said, noting support from Inslee, the state’s cannabis industry and organized labor.
HB 1500 would allow anyone with prior convictions for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession to apply to courts for a vacation of those convictions. The courts would be required to grant the requests.
The Washington State Patrol has estimated 226,027 misdemeanor marijuana convictions would qualify for vacation under the proposal. Fitzgibbon noted the number of people eligible might be less than that as some have multiple convictions.
The proposal has drawn criticism from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, whose policy director, James McMahan, testified against it during a public hearing Tuesday before the House Public Safety Committee. “It is a relevant and influential point with us that at the time these convictions were imposed it was illegal. It was against our law. And we as a government and as a society said this is not OK,” McMahan said, noting that some of the misdemeanor convictions had been pleaded down from felonies.
But Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, the prime sponsor of an identical companion measure, Senate Bill 5605, said the Legislature needs to repair damage done by decades of marijuana arrests that disproportionately affected minority communities. Before legalization, black people were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite being no more likely to use marijuana, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs cannot get behind trying to forgive and forget hundreds of thousands of low-level past marijuana offense. But I am not sure if I am disappointed to learn that so few past offenses are being addressed by Gov Inslee's pardon plan as perhaps the relative inefficacy of that program is playing a role in the legislative push for a much broader expungement statute.
Some of many prior related posts:
- Washington Gov promises to pardon thousands of past marijuana offenders
- Seattle officials stating they will retroactively vacate past misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions
- Seattle prosecutors now taking proactive steps to expunge past marijuana convictions
- "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
As reported in this local article, "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday her office would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana regardless of quantity or criminal history." Here is more:
Calling the move monumental for justice in Baltimore, Mosby also requested the courts vacate convictions in nearly 5,000 cases of marijuana possession. “When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” Mosby said, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”
Mosby follows district attorneys in Manhattan and Philadelphia who have scaled back or outright ended marijuana prosecutions. Maryland lawmakers decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.
But she also stood alone, politically: No police and no other city officials joined her at the announcement. Hours later, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her support for Mosby’s plan.
Mosby aims to formalize marijuana policies already in practice. A report released Tuesday by her office shows city prosecutors dropped 88 percent of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore District Court since 2014 — 1,001 cases. [This report is available at this link.]
Still, convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches, Mosby said. The marijuana arrests have disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore. Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, prosecutors wrote in the report.
Such arrests squander scarce police resources, Mosby said, noting 343 people were killed in Baltimore in 2017. Police closed nearly one-third of those cases. Last year, 309 people were killed and police closed closer to one-quarter. “No one,” Mosby said, “thinks spending resources to jail people for marijuana is a good use of our limited time and resources.”
But it remains unclear how the policy will play out in the streets. Mosby made her announcement at the nonprofit Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore while surrounded by her staff, marijuana advocates and neighborhood activists. Police leaders weren’t there....
The department is run by a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Gary Tuggle; he is interim commissioner. He said his officers wouldn’t quit arresting people for possessing marijuana. “Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” he said in a statement....
Police leaders have long said they are focused on violent crime and marijuana arrests aren’t a priority. But officers routinely use marijuana as reason to search the pockets or car of someone suspected in more serious crimes....
Mosby has pledged to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana. She said her office would take cases to court when police find evidence of drug sales, such as baggies and scales....
In nearby Baltimore County, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he had no plans to quit prosecuting marijuana cases. Most first-time offenders are placed in a treatment program in the county, he said.
Mosby also urged state legislators to support a bill that would empower her office to vacate criminal convictions in everything from corrupt cop cases to marijuana prosecutions. The current procedures require action from both prosecutors and defense attorneys to vacate a conviction.
On Tuesday, prosecutors filed papers for marijuana cases dating back to 2011 to be vacated — about 1,000 in Circuit Court and nearly 3,800 in District Court. Judges would rule on the requests.
The press release, titled "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases, Says Prosecutions Provide No Public Safety Value And Undermine Public Trust In Law Enforcement," discusses the essentials of the policy announced by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby,
AG-nominee Bill Barr reiterates (with nuance) commitment to non-enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in reform states
Tom Angell has this effective Forbes report, headlined "Trump Attorney General Pick Puts Marijuana Enforcement Pledge In Writing," spotlighting that the next US Attorney General has made clear his inherent commitment to respecting state-level marijuana reforms. Here are the details:
William Barr, President Trump's nominee to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, made headlines earlier this month when he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws.
Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. He's also calling for the approval of more legal growers of marijuana for research, and is acknowledging that a recent bill legalizing hemp has broad implications for sale of cannabis products.
"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.
That said, Barr isn't committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. "I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."
And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. "I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana," he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday.
But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn't go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. "An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law," Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."
Nonetheless, legalization advocates were happy to see the nominee reiterating his non-enforcement pledge when it comes to state-legal businesses. "It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."
January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary piece authored by Jenni Avins appearing in Quartz. I recommend the piece in full, here is its powerful start:
Since California legalized recreational cannabis in January 2018, pot enthusiasts in posh sections of Los Angeles can sleep easily with a few drops of CBD oil under the tongue. They can stroll into dispensaries such as MedMen, the chain touted as the “Apple store of weed,” which recently reported quarterly revenues of $20 million. On Venice Boulevard, shiny sedans toting surfboards drive past posters for Dosist vape pens and billboards for delivery services such as Eaze, a San Francisco-based startup that has raised some $52 million in venture capital.
In places like this, weed is chic. But just a few freeway exits away, in largely black and Latino neighborhoods where cannabis was aggressively policed for decades, people saddled with criminal convictions for possessing or selling the plant still fight to clear criminal records standing in the way of basic necessities: employment, a rental apartment, or a loan. Marijuana legalization and the businesses that profit from it are accelerating faster than efforts to expunge criminal records, and help those affected by them participate in the so-called “Green Boom.” And the legal cannabis industry is in danger of becoming one more chapter in a long American tradition of disenfranchising people of color.
Here is more:
As the US teeters at the tipping point for marijuana going mainstream, it’s increasingly apparent that people and communities who were disproportionately punished for its criminalization were wronged. It’s a cruel footnote to the story of the plant’s legalization that punishment for past involvement with cannabis can remain a bar to entry in the lucrative newly legal industry. Now, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, activists, and everyday consumers are asking what reparations for those wrongs might look like.
Here’s one idea that many agree on: Those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs—largely, black and Latino communities—should be first in line to benefit from the Green Boom, whether as business owners or beneficiaries of programs funded by earnings from the business.
The US’s legal weed explosion is an incredible story of de-stigmatization, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. It’s also at risk of becoming a staggering tale of hypocrisy, greed, and erasure. But as a deep-pocketed industry with political momentum, American cannabis is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for what racial reparations could look like.
“This is about harnessing the industry to embody the work of repair,” said Adam Vine, the founder of Cage Free Cannabis, an organization that pushes for “drug war reparations” in the form of criminal record expungement, job fairs, voter registration, health care, and social equity programs. “Otherwise,” he said. “Legalization is just theft.”
Go read the rest.
January 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 24, 2019
The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Reason Foundation authored by by Teri Moore and Adrian Moore. Here is part of its executive summary:
Recent wide-spread legalization of medical marijuana and, in many U.S. states, of recreational use of marijuana also, demands that officials must forge a just, coherent and effective law enforcement and legal response to marijuana-impaired driving. More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, which demands policies toward marijuana-impaired driving that protect public safety without penalizing legal marijuana users who are sober at the time they drive.
Marijuana — or its more technical name, cannabis — and its effects are still quite literally under the microscope. Cannabis containing high levels of THC is typically used recreationally, but may also have therapeutic applications. Because it is the psychoactive component in cannabis, THC is the cannabinoid that impairs driving, and is therefore the focus of this study. This analysis examines the evidence on marijuana-impaired driving and lays the groundwork for a regulatory approach that is scientifically grounded, safetyminded and fair.
In the past 10 years, prevalence of alcohol use by drivers has fallen in the U.S., and use of marijuana has increased dramatically. Alcohol’s composition and effects on drivers have been thoroughly studied over the years and are well understood. It’s tempting to use a similar approach to that used for alcohol — the only other legal intoxicant — and to build policies around per se standards. But since cannabis body fluid levels don’t parallel impairment, that’s not a fair gauge of impairment as it is with alcohol. Indeed, it’s possible for some cannabis users to register above per se levels when completely sober. It’s also tempting to use the easy idea of zero tolerance, but that’s not fair to sober drivers who still have measurable cannabis in their systems.
The only fair solution is for police to assess drivers for impairment as we now do for low blood-alcohol-content impaired drivers and drug-impaired drivers, and to conduct toxicology screens to corroborate that cannabis is present, rather than measuring irrelevant levels in body fluids. Fortunately, screenings are less expensive, quicker and easier to do than measuring body fluid levels. It’s concerning that this means impairment will be assessed entirely by police officers, but that is the most just option currently available. To address this concern, police should use dash- and bodycams to document impairing behavior — such as driving behavior leading to the traffic stop and impairing behavior on field sobriety tests — when possible.