Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 11, 2019

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

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

KEY FINDINGS

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

Here is more:

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

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

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

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

Go read the rest.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will 2019 really be the "year of weed"? How can we tell?

Images (5)The questions in the title of this post are prompted by this new lengthy Rolling Stone piece fully headlined "Why 2019 Will Be the Year of Weed: From more states legalizing to a boom of new kinds of products, here’s what to expect from the cannabis industry this year."  Here are excerpts from an article that merits a full read:

In 2018, pot reached a tipping point.  A clear majority of Americans now wants to see the drug made fully legal. California and Canada began selling marijuana to anyone over 21. Corporate behemoths like Altria (parent company of Marlboro cigarettes) and Constellation Brands (parent of Corona beer and Svedka vodka) made multi-billion dollar weed investments. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) managed to include hemp legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill — de facto legalizing every part of the cannabis plant except THC.

But at the same time, pot prohibition is not over.  Well over half a million folks are still arrested for possession every year. Smoking weed or working for a pot company can still threaten your housing, employment, immigration status, finances and freedom.  Cannabis business models, regulatory environments and market valuations shift on a daily basis....

As for the 2018 Farm Bill, it’s not yet clear what the regulatory landscape will look like for CBD in 2019.  [Some expect] researchers will soon be able to access CBD without jumping through the hoops necessary to acquire a Schedule I drug license from the DEA, which could finally allow scientists to provide more evidence of the compound’s uses and dosage.  Still, many people in the cannabis industry are concerned about what the exact guidelines will look like on the commercial production side, and how the rollout will go.

For business owners who have been involved in the weed game for a while, another aspect of the 2018 Farm Bill has proven a troubling sign of the times: anyone with a drug felony conviction in the past 10 years will not be allowed to participate in the legal hemp and CBD market.  “What the fuck is that?” asks longtime cannabis cultivator Bill Levers, who runs an influential Instagram account through his California-based company, Beard Bros Pharms.  “No one got rich on hemp.  There were no hemp cartels. So why would there be a restriction?”

The drug-felony provision in the Farm Bill cuts to the heart of one of the biggest unresolved problems facing the marijuana movement in 2019: the persistence of the illicit market, and the struggle to accommodate folks who have been illegally selling or growing marijuana for years.  It is now widely acknowledged that barring people with drug felony convictions from the cannabis industry is racist, as white people with experience on the illicit marijuana market are far less likely to be arrested or convicted.  But even without a criminal record, making the transition from outlaw to mogul has proven incredibly difficult, and many of the people who have tried have already given up....

Taxes, in particular, are a thorny issue.  Local and state governments generally consider pot taxes to be a primary incentive for legalization, but if tax rates are too high, fewer growers and dispensaries will try to go legal.  Already, lax oversight and an oversupply of legal cannabis in states like Oregon and Washington have led to diversion rates of at least 30 percent — meaning at a minimum about a third of legal pot is being sold on the illicit market. Meanwhile, in places like California, Canada and Michigan, hundreds of illegal storefront marijuana dispensaries compete with legal vendors, consistently undercutting them on price.  Illicit operators tell me again and again that they cannot afford to survive in the highly taxed and regulated legal market, so they intend to continue breaking the law — sometimes while simultaneously operating a legal business.

Because wealthy (and typically white) applicants have an easier time covering high taxes and licensing fees, some states and municipalities have created so-called “equity” programs to ensure a more diverse industry.  In 2017 and 2018, places like Oakland and Sacramento garnered fawning headlines for setting the lofty goal of legislating solutions to the catastrophic and racially disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs.  But moving into 2019, California cannabis operators of all colors and political stripes now often describe equity a well-intentioned idea that is failing in practice.  The words “tokenism” and “paternalistic” come up a lot.

“Equity is a marketing tool.  All of the licenses are going to be given to the people with the most money,” predicts Ophelia Chong, the founder of StockPot Images and executive creative director of Aura Ventures.  “Social equity will work for a few, but even then it will be 2 percent [from disadvantaged backgrounds], and those 2 percent will have to really climb a mountain to do it, with no help.”  Outside of California, however, including equity and restorative justice in cannabis legalization remains an alluring prospect.

“What I like about California is they give a chance for minorities to get in.  They doing the opposite in Michigan,” says Jason, whose cannabis social club, the OMS Dab House, has been a crucial gathering place for Detroit’s marijuana movement for the past decade.  Michigan legalized adult-use cannabis in 2018, but as in California, quasi-legal medical dispensaries began proliferating years ago, serving stoners and sick people alike.  (The ongoing legal confusion around sales and social spaces is why Jason preferred to not give his last name).  Though the city of Detroit is more than 80-percent black, black activists there have previously asserted that only three to five percent of local marijuana dispensaries were owned by black people. Jason predicts that, as Michigan’s legal cannabis industry becomes increasingly corporate and consolidated, those numbers will only go down.

January 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Spotlighting enduring challenges making marijuana social equity programs work

Oakland-cannabis-licensing-social-equity-program-attorney-advertisingStateline has this new piece, headlined "‘Cannabis Equity’ Runs Into Roadblocks," which highlights that good implementation, and not just good intentions, must be part of modern marijuana social equity programs.  Here are excerpts:

Now, as more states legalize recreational marijuana and the federal government moves away from incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, several cities in California are trying to atone for decades of drug enforcement that fell disproportionately upon minorities.

They’ve created what are known as cannabis equity programs, meant to welcome more minority and low-income entrepreneurs into the now-legal industry. The programs provide business development, loan assistance and mentorships to eligible owners. Hundreds have applied in the past year. But “pot equity” has struggled with growing waitlists, and some participants allege that the programs aren’t fair to the people they’re meant to be helping....

The goal of “cannabis equity” is to lower the barriers to entry into the legal cannabis industry for people who were disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana. The programs base eligibility on a variety of factors, including marijuana convictions, residency in a heavily policed district and income.

Today, several city partnership programs require that established, non-equity businesses provide an equity business with space for several years rent-free. In exchange, the non-equity company receives faster processing for city approvals. Cities such as Sacramento plan to waive up to tens of thousands of dollars in application and permit fees for eligible cannabis businesses.

But pot equity has struggled to get going. Understaffing in San Francisco’s cannabis office has left a growing waitlist of applicants, and the city doesn’t expect to begin approving businesses until sometime in 2019, said Nicole Elliott, director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. She could not be more specific on timing.

Some applicants argue that the waiting period has allowed other businesses to get an unfair head start. In Oakland, some pot equity businesses claim their incubator partners never followed through on the requirement to provide them with business development assistance or a space to operate....

Creating a program to atone for decades of unjust policing — on top of building the framework for a newly legal cannabis industry — is no easy task. Oakland is setting up a $3 million fund to provide additional capital assistance to pot equity businesses, Brooks said, but it remains unclear when the fund will become available.

San Francisco applicants have raised the same issue, said Elliott, the director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. The office set up an investment fund to provide financial assistance to cannabis businesses, such as low-interest loans. But the city has yet to allocate money to the fund, Elliott said.

She said San Francisco will likely receive part of the $10 million that the state set aside for local cannabis equity programs in September, which could go toward the city’s cannabis investment fund. “There are equity applicants that need money now,” Elliott said. “We will advocate aggressively for that state funding.”

As of mid-December, San Francisco had 227 applicants that qualify for the equity program. Of those, about 110 want to join the city’s incubator partnership program and receive waived permit fees. Elliott said the city will begin approving applicants next year, but she could not say when. Applicants have criticized the lengthy timeline.

San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis, which just added two new staff members to bring the total to five, is tasked with reviewing permit applications and facilitating the equity program. Elliott said adding even more staff would speed things up. In the meantime, the city has established a partnership with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal assistance to equity program participants.

Malcolm Mirage, an equity applicant in San Francisco, said the long wait has caused him to burn through capital at an alarming rate.  He partnered with MedMen, a household name in the cannabis industry that is publicly traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

MedMen agreed to provide business development aid and an incubation space for one of Mirage’s businesses. The company also helped him negotiate leases on two other spaces, and he struck a deal that gave him six months of free rent to obtain his permits and become operational.

Mirage figured that was plenty of time. But those six months came and went, and he’s now paying expensive leases on spaces that sit empty.  “I got out of jail for selling weed and now I’m trying to do this legally,” Mirage told Stateline.  “But I’m drowning right now. My businesses are going to be in a tremendous amount of debt if the city can’t get these licenses out in the next six months.”

January 4, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

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

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ohio judge finds unconstitutional state law requiring some medical marijuana licenses go to minority-owned businesses

Hopegrown-ohio-cannabis-programAs reported in this local article, this week "a Franklin County judge threw out a state law requiring that at least 15 percent of cultivation licenses go to businesses owned or controlled by African Americans, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics or Latinos." Here is more on the ruling and reactions thereto:

The Ohio Department of Commerce, the state agency that awards cultivation licenses, will have to decide whether to comply with Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles A. Schneider’s Thursday decision and award provisional cultivation licenses to white-owned businesses that scored higher in the review process -- including Greenleaf Gardens, LLC, which challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. Greenleaf Gardens had planned for a large-scale medical marijuana grow operation in Geauga County.

The state could also decide whether to throw out previously awarded licenses to two minority-owned and -controlled businesses that scored lower, although Greenleaf’s attorney wrote in court filings the company did not want that. Commerce can also appeal the decision to a higher court. “We are reviewing the judge’s ruling and considering next steps,” said Kerry Francis, the Department of Commerce’s spokeswoman.

Schneider’s decision only affects part of Ohio’s medical marijuana law, and leaves the rest of it intact.

Greenleaf CEO David Neundorfer said he’s pleased with the court’s ruling. The company has licenses in other parts of the nascent medical marijuana program....

Greenleaf Gardens sued after the Department of Commerce announced recipients of the provisional cultivation licenses, nearly a year ago. It received the 12th highest score among cultivation applicants but did not receive one of the 12 licenses for a large-scale cultivator. The department instead gave licenses to two lower scoring applicants, Parma Wellness Center, LLC and Harvest Grows, LLC.

The Department of Commerce argued it was following Ohio’s medical marijuana law, including provisions the Ohio General Assembly created that not less than 15 percent of cultivator, processor or laboratory licenses be given to entities owned and controlled by Ohio residents who are members of an economically disadvantaged group. The law lists each racial and ethnic group and states that “owned and controlled” means at least 51 percent of the business or business stock is owned by people in the groups....

Harvest Grows argued in a brief that Ohio for nearly 40 years has remedied discrimination in government licensing through set-asides for minority businesses. Hundreds of studies have shown that without the set-asides, “government funds have been, and will be, used in a discriminatory fashion.” It noted that blacks are more than four times more likely than non-minorities to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though studies show marijuana use is almost the same. “The legislature knew about these issues when it created the 15 percent set-aside at issue in this case," Harvest Grows wrote.

The judge, however, sided with Greenleaf Gardens. Schneider relied on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case that said a way to examine these issues is by looking at whether there is a compelling governmental interest for racial classification and whether the set-aside is narrowly tailored to achieve the goal.

Schneider wrote that there is a lack of “sufficient evidence of a government compelling interest" because the only evidence the legislature considered were marijuana crime arrests. He wrote that the state didn’t look at arrest rates for racial groups outside of blacks and Latinos, and discrimination in arrest rates and marijuana businesses are different....

The marijuana law’s provisions were different from specifications in Ohio’s Minority Business Enterprise Program, he concluded. And other states' encouragement of minority businesses in their medical marijuana programs were different from Ohio’s, such as Illinois giving minority businesses more points during scoring, not after scoring.

“If the legislature sought to rectify the elevated arrest rates for African Americans and Latinos/Hispanics possessing marijuana, the correction should have been giving preference to those companies owned by former arrestees and convicts, not a range of economically disadvantaged individuals, including preferences for unrelated races like Native Americans and Asians,” he wrote.

The full opinion in Pharmacann Ohio v. Ohio Department of Commerce, 17-CV-10962-Grant-SJ (Ohio Common Pleas Nov. 15, 2018), is available here:  Download Pharmacann v. Ohio 17-CV-10962-Grant-SJ

November 16, 2018 in Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Gender and the Politics of Marijuana"

QuarterlyThe title of this post is the title of this interesting new research in the journal Social Science Quarterly authored by Laurel Elder and Steven Greene.  Here is its abstract:

Objectives

The objectives of this study were to understand why, even though women are more liberal than men on a broad range of issues, when it comes to the increasingly prominent issue of marijuana legalization, the direction of the gender gap is reversed, with women more conservative than men.

Methods

Relying on a 2013 Pew survey — unique for the extensiveness of its marijuana questions, including marijuana usage — we explore and attempt to explain the nature of this unusual gender gap.  We test several hypotheses rooted in the different life experiences of women and men.

Results

We find that women's role as mothers cannot explain this gap, and that mothers are in fact no different from those without children in terms of their support for marijuana policy, as well as their reported use of marijuana.  The greater religiosity of women does play a prominent role in the gender gap on marijuana policy, but does not account for the full difference of opinion between women and men.  Our findings suggest that men's greater propensity relative to women to use marijuana is a major driver behind the gender gap.

Conclusions

Not only are attitudes on marijuana legalization likely to continue to liberalize, but as marijuana legalization and marijuana use become normalized, rather than viewed as immoral and dangerous behavior, the existing gender gap should shrink.

November 14, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Criminal Conviction Restrictions for Marijuana Licensing"

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Marijuana arrests way down, but still racially disparate, in Chicago

The Chicago Sun-Times in this article reports on its analysis of marijuana enforcement in the Wind City under the headline "Marijuana enforcement in Chicago falls but still lands heaviest on blacks."  Here is how it gets started:

Since the city of Chicago and state of Illinois moved to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the number of arrests in the city for such petty crimes has plummeted.

But even as the Chicago Police Department has pulled back on its enforcement efforts over the past seven years, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately targeted, accounting for the vast majority of the dwindling number of arrests, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.

Last year, Chicago police officers made 129 arrests and wrote fewer than 300 tickets for possession of small amounts of cannabis, and even fewer arrests and tickets are expected this year.  By comparison, there were more than 21,000 such arrests in 2011, according to arrest data examined by the Sun-Times.

The number of arrests began dropping after the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 giving police officers the option of writing tickets to people for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana.  Four years later, a new state law put additional limits on such arrests.  Police in Illinois no longer could arrest anyone for having less than 10 grams of marijuana.  Instead, the law made possession of small amounts of weed a civil offense, rather than a crime, with fines as the penalty, not jail.

Before the city council decriminalized possession of “personal-use” quantities of marijuana, African-Americans were arrested on such charges more than members of other racial groups.  That hasn’t changed, the Sun-Times found, even though academic studies have found that marijuana usage is similar across racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In 2017 and the first four months of 2018, 94 people were busted in Chicago for petty marijuana possession. Seventy-six of them were black. Sixteen were Hispanic. Two were white.

“I’m pleased to see the police are arresting fewer people,” says Kathie Kane-Willis, a drug policy researcher who is director of policy and advocacy for the Chicago Urban League. “It’s unfortunate that African-Americans remain criminalized for these activities out of proportion to their population.”

July 16, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Telling modern Minneapolis tale of minor marijuana enforcement still flush with racial disparity

Ows_152840735539363The Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo, became the city's first African-American "top cop" last year.   But, as reported in this new local story, the city still has been involved in a remarkable form of disparate policing in its marijuana enforcement.  The piece is headlined "Minneapolis cops halt low-level marijuana stings after racial disparity revealed: All charges dropped after reports show 46 of 47 arrested were black," and here are the details:

Minneapolis police abruptly ended the practice of targeting small-scale marijuana sellers downtown after revelations that nearly every one arrested was black.  In a series of rushed announcements Thursday, authorities said that police would no longer conduct sting operations targeting low-level marijuana sales, and charges against 47 people arrested in the first five months of 2018 would be dismissed.

The extraordinary turnaround came after Hennepin County's chief public defender contacted Mayor Jacob Frey to complain about what looked like blatant racial profiling.  Frey then directed Chief Medaria Arradondo to stop the stings. "I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said in a statement Thursday.  "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."...

[I]n recent years, Minneapolis police have stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about safety downtown.  Using undercover officers posing as buyers, they arrested 47 people for selling marijuana on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.

The Hennepin County Public Defender's office determined that 46 of those arrested were black.  All were charged as felonies.  Some were put in diversion programs, some were convicted and at least one man went to prison.  "Almost all of those cases involve a sale of 1-2 grams of marijuana for a total of $10-$20," assistant county public defender Jess Braverman wrote in a May 31 court document....

Arradondo announced Thursday in a 12:30 p.m. news conference that he had discontinued stings targeting low-level marijuana sales at the request of Frey.  "While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence," he said.  He said that during the downtown police effort, officers arrested other people who were in possession of illegal guns and other drugs such as opioids, although that was separate from the marijuana arrests.

Arradondo defended his officers, saying they were acting professionally and not targeting black people because of their race.  A police spokesman said that while the undercover stings were being stopped, police would still make arrests for marijuana sales.

At 3 p.m., Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a news release that said he had informed Arradondo that he would not charge any more people arrested in the stings and that he was reviewing the remaining cases.  An hour later, his office notified [Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary] Moriarty that all the cases were being dismissed. "These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge," Freeman said in a statement. "Because they occurred over a period of months and were distributed to about a half-dozen of our attorneys for prosecution, we did not detect any pattern."...

In a court document, Braverman wrote that the arrests "have resulted in felony convictions for numerous black defendants who had been targeted, and all the devastating collateral consequences that go along with such convictions: jail time, prison time, and even deportation proceedings."

Details about the stings were described in a case involving the arrest of one suspect, Shauntez Palmer, who was charged with fifth degree sale of 1.6 grams of marijuana. An undercover officer stated in her report that she purchased marijuana from another person, Ameir Davis on Hennepin Avenue between N. 5th Street and N. 6th Street, while Palmer acted as a lookout.  Both men were arrested and brought to jail....

"On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals and groups, and asking to buy drugs," Braverman wrote.  "Officers have directly asked black men to facilitate drug deals with other black men, and have then requested that the facilitator be charged with sale.  They are submitting the cases for felony charges."  Moriarty said that the only white person arrested was not approached by police, but had himself approached an undercover officer about selling some marijuana.

In a letter to Arradondo on May 29, Moriarty wrote, "A review of the cases received by our office strongly suggests a trend of racial profiling under the guise of a 'livability' detail."

Mel Reeves, a human rights activist who lives in Minneapolis, said he was cheered by the decision to halt the stings. "It's not news that black people are targeted by law enforcement on marijuana charges," he said. "It's good news they are recognizing the disparities and doing something about it."

June 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 14, 2018

NY Times highlights racialized realities of NYC marijuana arrests

Images (10)The front page of this morning's New York Times give attention to marijuana arrests via this extended article with this full headline summarizing its coverage: "Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic: The police explanation that more black and Hispanic people are arrested on marijuana charges because complaints are high in their neighborhoods doesn’t hold up to scrutiny." Here is for the piece starts and some data reported:

They sit in courtroom pews, almost all of them young black men, waiting their turn before a New York City judge to face a charge that no longer exists in some states: possessing marijuana. They tell of smoking in a housing project hallway, or of being in a car with a friend who was smoking, or of lighting up a Black & Mild cigar the police mistake for a blunt.

There are many ways to be arrested on marijuana charges, but one pattern has remained true through years of piecemeal policy changes in New York: The primary targets are black and Hispanic people.

Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years, The New York Times found. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

With crime dropping and the Police Department under pressure to justify the number of low-level arrests it makes, a senior police official recently testified to lawmakers that there was a simple reason for the racial imbalance: More residents in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods were calling to complain about marijuana.

An analysis by The Times found that fact did not fully explain the racial disparity. Instead, among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents, The Times found.

In Brooklyn, officers in the precinct covering Canarsie arrested people on marijuana possession charges at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint, despite residents calling 311, the city’s help line, and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show. The Canarsie precinct is 85 percent black. The Greenpoint precinct is 4 percent black.

In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Both got marijuana complaints at the same rate, but the Queens Village precinct is just over half black, while the one covering Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.

And in Manhattan, officers in a precinct covering a stretch of western Harlem make marijuana arrests at double the rate of their counterparts in a precinct covering the northern part of the Upper West Side. Both received complaints at the same rate, but the precinct covering western Harlem has double the percentage of black residents as the one that serves the Upper West Side....

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in late 2014 that the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Since then, the police have arrested 17,500 people for marijuana possession on average a year, down from about 26,000 people in 2014, and issued thousands of additional summonses. Overall, arrests have dropped sharply from their recent peak of more than 50,000 during some years under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. About 87 percent of those arrested in recent years have been black or Hispanic, a proportion that has remained roughly the same for decades, according to research led by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College....

The city’s 77 precincts, led by commanders with their own enforcement priorities, show erratic arrest patterns. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, the police made more than twice as many marijuana arrests last year as in 2016, despite receiving roughly the same number of annual complaints. And in a precinct covering a section of northwestern Harlem, arrests dropped to 90 last year from almost 700 a year earlier, even though complaints fell only slightly from one year to the next.

The NY Times also has this companion article headlined "Using Data to Make Sense of a Racial Disparity in NYC Marijuana Arrests." Here is how it ends:

What we discovered was that when two precincts had the same rate of marijuana calls, the one with a higher arrest rate was almost always home to more black people. The police said that had to do with violent crime rates being higher in those precincts, which commanders often react to by deploying more officers.

More scrutiny is in store for the department’s low-level arrest tactics. A recently passed local law requires the police to post data about the race of people arrested for fare evasion and the subway stations where they are arrested, but the police have yet to comply.

When it comes to marijuana, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he’s still making up his mind about where he stands on legalization. In the first three months of this year, 89 percent of the roughly 4,000 people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were black or Hispanic.

May 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Can the Mass. marijuana industry help heal communities devastated by the War on Drugs?"

Massachusetts-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Boston Globe article.   (At the risk of getting redundant, I will again note ow this press piece is related in theme to my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices.")  Here are excerpts from the Globe piece:

Last month, Massachusetts rolled out the country’s first statewide marijuana industry “equity” program, giving preferential treatment to people who are typically marginalized by the business world.

One key to the effort: giving a head start in the rush for cannabis licenses to companies that are led by or employ minorities, to people with past marijuana convictions, or to residents of low-income neighborhoods with high arrest rates for drug crimes. All other companies that grow, process, or sell pot, meanwhile, are required to help those communities, and are limited in the size of their operations. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will also launch a training program for inexperienced pot entrepreneurs.

The provisions spring from a simple premise: People of color were disproportionately prosecuted and jailed amid the nation’s “war on drugs,” even though whites had similar rates for using or selling marijuana. It would be unfair, proponents argued, to allow the windfall of a now-legal cannabis industry to flow only to the already privileged, while those who suffered the most under pot prohibition remain frozen out. “We’re going to use this moment to try to rebalance the scales — or, at the very least, to stop creating new unbalanced scales,’’ said state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped to write the so-called equity provisions into state law.

While it may seem radical to give previously incarcerated people the right to sell a product that was illegal until recently, the equity provisions so far haven’t been particularly controversial. Even Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a fierce critic of legal marijuana, is on board. “It’s going to open the door for people who just wouldn’t otherwise have the ability and financial background to break in,” Carmichael said. “We have to give them a chance.”

As the commission developed its regulations this year, county prosecutors asked the agency to bar people convicted of trafficking certain still-illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl from even working at a cannabis company. “This is not an area for permissiveness,” the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association warned in a letter. The cannabis commission partially acquiesced, restricting such people to administrative positions that don’t involving handling marijuana products.

For owners of cannabis businesses, the bar is higher than for their employees. People convicted of serious crimes, including nonmarijuana drug felonies, firearm violations, and sex offenses, cannot own licensed pot companies. However, businesses can hire people with records for possessing opioids, for example, and receive preferential treatment if they employ enough people with criminal records. People convicted of large-scale marijuana trafficking may qualify under the rules, though some might have related convictions that would automatically disqualify them anyway. The commission also has discretion to reject any applicant.

Marijuana equity programs elsewhere operate only on the local level, and have a limited track record. Oakland, Calif., for example, this year adopted a policy that reserves more than half of the city’s licenses for equity applicants, and most of the rest for large companies that agree to host and mentor them. The system has indeed helped people of color break into the business — but it’s also drawn sharp backlash from smaller companies that do not qualify.

Massachusetts has taken a less restrictive approach. The primary initiative underway provides expedited review to applications from companies that meet certain criteria — those owned by people from places with high rates of poverty and drug arrests, for example, or that employ mostly people with drug-related convictions. It’s an important benefit, as many Massachusetts communities limit the number and locations of pot businesses, giving a big advantage to the first stores.

Later this year, the commission will work with community groups to develop a crash course in business planning and fund-raising for entrepreneurs who were arrested or live in so-called communities of disproportionate impact. Those entrepreneurs will also be exempt from many state fees and will be allowed to open pot-delivery services and lounges ahead of other companies if the commission decides to issue those licenses....

Entrepreneurs who do not have drug convictions or arrests can still qualify if they show their business will benefit poorer communities with high arrest rates. For example, Dishon Laing dreams of opening an alternative health center in his native Dorchester that would offer yoga, vegan food, and cannabis. He, too, wants to hire people with criminal records, and also plans to run drug education programs for teenagers. “Everything we do is connected to giving back,” said Laing, a city public health worker. “I know my partners and I will face stigma based on being people of color and the industry we’re in, but we want to show that we’re actually improving our communities.”

Another requirement is intended to recruit marijuana companies that don’t qualify for the equity program to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford. Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.

The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging. State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.

All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses. Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.

“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”

Cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title, who championed the equity initiatives, acknowledged they are hardly a cure-all. But Title is heartened by the early numbers: 68 applicants have cleared a first hurdle in the process for licensing, and more than 100 more under review. Those people would have their applications reviewed ahead of others. “We’ll never be able to repair the damage caused by drug prohibition, but these programs at least begin to help provide a fair shot,” Title said. “Think about having a conviction that was based on unfair enforcement, and how that holds you back in so many different ways — we want to make that right.”

May 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SBNation takes big look at "Sports in the age of cannabis"

DownloadThe sports website SBNation has this big new series of articles under the banner "Sports in the age of cannabis." Here is how the site sets up its coverage along with links to more than a half-dozen article of note:

We, as a nation, are changing the way we feel about cannabis.

Gone are the days of Reefer Madness, the hysteria of the War on Drugs.  As more and more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, we are seeing a new American attitude that views it as much a business opportunity as something to be feared or banned.

These attitudes are making their way into the sporting world as well. Some professional leagues still test for weed, though how eager they are to actually bust athletes is a matter of debate. And athletes are now seriously turning toward cannabis as a pain-management solution — as we learn more about the dangers of opioid abuse, weed appears more and more like a safer option.

While the changing stigmas around cannabis present exciting opportunities for some, it’s not all that simple. We still live in a country where people, too often people of color, are being arrested for selling and using a product that is already making entrepreneurs, in the sporting world and outside of it, tons of money.

We wanted to look at it all, from the mountains of Colorado to the streets of Atlanta, THC and CBD, oils and smoke, and all the rest.  This is sports in the age of cannabis.

ATHLETES ARE LEADING CANNABIS INTO THE MAINSTREAM

WEED AND SPORTS: A TIMELINE

CANNABIS IS FUELING ONE OF THE BEST RUNNERS IN AMERICA

WHICH WEED IS RIGHT FOR ATHLETES?

HOW ATHLETES BEAT WEED TESTS

THE GENDER DOUBLE STANDARD OF WEED IN SNOWBOARDING

WEED STIGMAS ARE CHANGING, BUT NOT FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR

April 17, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)