Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Detailing how racial justice concerns are driving marijuana reform debate in New Jersey

732521_1One of many great lines in the great musical Hamilton is "Everything is legal in New Jersey."   But that is not quite right with respect to marijuana yet, though the recent election of a Governor who ran advocating for marijuana reform led to many reform advocates thinking the Garden State could become the next big legalization state.  But, as is often the case, legislative reform is full of complications, and this New York Times article highlights how completing views on racial justice is shaping the debate in New Jersey.  The piece is headlined "Racial Justice Drives Fight for, and Against, Legal Pot in New Jersey," and here are excerpts:

During his campaign for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, telling Democrats at a party conference last year in Atlantic City that creating a new tax revenue was not what was motivating him.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you sure you can generate $300 million from the legalization of marijuana?” Mr. Murphy said, citing a figure that his campaign had trumpeted. “I say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure, but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars. We’re doing it for social justice.’”

Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers.

But now that Mr. Murphy occupies the governor’s office, a major legislative obstacle is emerging: Ronald L. Rice, the state’s longest-serving black senator and the leader of its Black Caucus. “It’s always been said the issue is not money, the issue is social justice,” said Mr. Rice, a Democrat and a former Newark police officer. “But, it’s being sold on the backs of black folk and brown people. It’s clear there is big, big money pushing special interests to sell this to our communities.”

Medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey under former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, but his successor, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, rejected proposals to make recreational cannabis use legal.

The growing and selling of marijuana has already generated billions of dollars in the nine states where it is legal — but it is an industry that is overwhelmingly white. Mr. Rice fears the consequences would be dire in cities like Newark, which is already wrestling with a variety of problems, including widespread heroin addiction and a foreclosure crisis. Cannabis stores, he believes, would proliferate in black communities, much like liquor stores, and would produce a new generation of drug abusers....

His position on cannabis legalization not only puts him at odds with the governor and members of his party, but also with many African-Americans.

In New Jersey, African-Americans are three times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, even though both populations use the drug at similar rates. That has galvanized civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to support legalization. “All the collateral consequences that come with an arrest — jail time, losing your job, losing your housing — are disproportionately falling on communities of color,” said Dianna Houenou, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey. “Through legalization we can begin to address the harms that have been inflicted.”

A statewide coalition of black pastors, the N.A.A.C.P. and the New Jersey chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance is pushing for legalization as a social justice issue, but only if it is linked to some type of compensation for the harm they say was done to black and brown families whose sons were incarcerated. The pastors said they wanted to make sure members of their communities were able to participate in the billion-dollar cannabis industry as growers and sellers, not just workers. They are frustrated that the wealth being generated in the other states where marijuana is legal is not reaching people of color.

Researchers at Marijuana Business Daily, an industry news site based in Denver, found that 81 percent of cannabis business owners were white, while less than 4 percent were black....

At a marijuana legalization forum held recently at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, the Rev. Charles Boyer of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury said the worst thing that could happen was for communities most harmed by the prohibition to not have a say about legalization. “Do we want to be the ones responsible for playing a part in a system that will make tons of young white millionaires after years of making hundreds of thousands of poor black felons?” Pastor Boyer said.

The Drug Policy Alliance is lobbying for a bill that includes the automatic and retroactive expungement of criminal records for possession, making permits for cannabis shops affordable so that the market is accessible to lower-income entrepreneurs, and a commitment that a portion of the revenue from marijuana sales be used to provide education and job training for people of color. Some social justice activists are also calling for allowing people to grow their own cannabis plants.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, is the author of a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for anyone over 21 and would establish a state Division of Marijuana Enforcement. But it does not include any language discussing compensation. Mr. Scutari agrees that arrests for marijuana possession are disproportionately higher for blacks and Latinos and says his bill addresses the issue of social justice. “The individuals that are previously convicted of marijuana possession will no longer be subject to prosecution,” Mr. Scutari said....

For his part, Mr. Rice has proposed his own marijuana bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, and make carrying more a disorderly persons charge that would impose only a fine. It would also expunge criminal records and release incarcerated people serving sentences for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But Mr. Scutari said that decriminalization would simply create an open-air drug market that would allow drug dealers to get richer without creating any kind of regulatory system to control how marijuana is sold.

Ultimately, any effort to promote civil rights could depend on what kind of bill Mr. Murphy is willing to sign. In a statement, Daniel Bryan, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Murphy was committed to “the goal of building a stronger and fairer New Jersey, and supports the legalization of marijuana to advance the cause of social justice and combat the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

March 13, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Examining the persistently significant number of marijuana arrest in New York City

Marijuanaarrestsmayors2017The  Leafly folks are doing a three-part series on cannabis in New York City, and this first part looks at arrests under the headline "Racial Disparities in NYC Cannabis Arrests Are Getting Worse." (The discussion in the piece builds off this Politico article last month headlined "Racial disparities persist in New York City marijuana arrests.)  I recommend both pieces in full, and here are portions of the Leafly piece:

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, cannabis arrests in New York City are significantly down relative to cannabis arrests during the terms of his precedessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. But they’re still an order of magnitude higher than cannabis arrests during the 1980s and early 1990s — and the racial disparities in those arrest figures aren’t getting any better. In fact, the disparities in white, black, and hispanic cannabis arrests were worse in 2017 than they were in the previous year.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Michael Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. How can the rest of the country continue to make progress — decriminalizing in big cities, legalizing in more and more states — while New York City actually goes backwards?

That’s what members of New York’s City Council wanted to know last week. In a joint meeting of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on the Justice System, councilmembers questioned leaders of the New York Police Department about racial disparities in the enforcement of the city’s cannabis laws. It was not a congenial affair. Councilmembers repeatedly took the NYPD to task for withholding critically important arrest data, and for the glaring racial disparities in the little data that was offered up for public scrutiny.

Councilmember Donovan Richards, head of the public safety committee, started off the session by airing data on marijuana arrests, per New York City mayor, during their first three years in office:

Mayor Koch – 6,000 arrests, with an average of 2,000 per year

Mayor Dinkins – 3,000 arrests, with an average of 1,000 per year

Mayor Gulliani 18,000 arrests, with an average of 6,000 per year

Mayor Bloomberg 112,000 arrests with an average of 37,000 per year

Mayor Di Blasio 61,000 arrests, with an average of 20,000 per year...

Marijuanaarrestsrace2017According to a survey of city residents, in the past year, 33% of whites, 32% percent of blacks and 27% of Latinos in New York City have acknowledged consuming marijuana.

Noting those figures, Councilman Richards, who is black, asked: “Are blacks the only ones using marijuana in New York City? It’s pretty even across the spectrum of marijuana use. So why is so much enforcement happening in communities of color?”

Chief Shea dodged the question. He said that in 2014, the city made a legal differentiation between ‘using marijuana’ and ‘burning marijuana.’ Since then, he said, 90% of arrests for marijuana are for ‘burning.’

That didn’t mollify Richards. “Communities of color are not the only ones ‘burning,’” he said.

Under Mayor de Blasio, 85% of the people arrested for cannabis offenses were people of color. Under Mayor Bloomberg, that figure was 84%. “If the administration is serious about changing the racial disparity of arrests,” said Richards, “we are not seeing that.”

Chief Shea defended the NYPD’s arrest statistics. “We are following specific complaints from the public, regarding marijuana burned in public view.” He added, “We are probably the most transparent we have ever been as a department, as an administration.”

This seemed hard for Council members to believe, because no data was presented by the department to corroborate their claims, despite repeated prior requests for said data to be presented before the hearing.

March 7, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 2, 2018

"Marijuana for Moms"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy Atlantic piece, with the subheadline: "In states where weed is legal, new mild cannabis products are catching on with parents."  Here is how it gets started:

Many a meme has been made about “wine moms”—mothers who joke online about their love for a relaxing glass of cabernet, or three.  But a new drug is gaining popularity with the playgroup circuit.  As it becomes more socially acceptable, more moms are using marijuana and its various incarnations to deal with everything from the daily aches and stresses of motherhood, to postpartum depression and anxiety, to menstrual cramps.  And forget the simple bongs and pipes of the past; as the industry expands, it’s creating a whole new world of sprays, drinks, drops, and oils.  The needs of this market of marijuana-friendly mothers have inspired a new crop of cannabis products.

In her recent High Times article, Jessica Delfino discusses the changing social attitudes toward motherhood and marijuana: “Mothers and women who use medical marijuana…are often put into a position in which they feel they have to explain themselves and what their condition is, and then steel themselves for the judgment that will inevitably follow,” she writes.

But also, Delfino tells me: “I think cannabis use in moms is becoming more widespread because it’s becoming more legal, and so people feel more willing and able to discuss it.”

Adam Grossman, the CEO of the cannabis company Papa and Barkley, has also noticed a burgeoning interest in marijuana from moms.  “In the last month alone, we have seen the emergence of cannabis-and-parenthood workshops, new ‘parenting and cannabis’ publications like Splimm, and Facebook groups," he says.  “More and more parents are starting to have the conversation about cannabis and breastfeeding, cannabis and pregnancy, and cannabis and parenting.”

But according to those in the pot industry, one new product in particular is spreading fast in mom circles: sublingual spray, a convenient, THC-infused ingestible liquid.

Once you spritz the liquid under your tongue, it activates quickly (within 60 seconds), it’s hard to overdo, and the high doesn't last very long, says Leslie Siu, the CMO and cofounder of cannabis company Mother and Clone.  “After a minute you’ll start to feel this uplifting euphoric feeling, almost like a gentle rush,” Siu says of her sublingual nano-sprays. (Nano-sprays are a form of microdosing — Mother and Clone bottles deliver a metered dose of the drug.)  By the five-minute mark, she says, you’ll know just how strong the effects will be for the next hour and you can decide to re-up and spray some more — in the industry this is called “stacking.”

Siu was moved to start Mother and Clone after she experienced postpartum depression.  “Everything felt dark,” she recalls of that first “ominous” year after having her daughter Veda.  Siu started searching for ways to ease the overwhelming, stressful feelings she was having.  “Then a few things happened that got me back on track,” Siu says. "Time, therapy, running, and weed.”

Siu wanted to create a cannabis product that would be easy and safe for mothers in similar situations to use, and she landed on sublingual sprays.  Because it’s easier to control the dose with sublingual spray, Siu says that it’s ideal for parents (her products also have child-resistant bottles).  The sprays can also help with sleep, she says.  “A lot of [postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety] sufferers develop terrible insomnia even if the baby starts to sleep through the night.”

March 2, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Interesting interview with the "Cannabis Czar" of Los Angeles

1518463390123-unnamedIn this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.

Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:

As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.

Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.

I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.

LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?

It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.

We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.

With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?

There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.

We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities.  So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.

February 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New report from SAM and affiliate assembles data to highlight problems in Colorado after legalization

SAMVia email I received notice of a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio.  Here are part of the email with links from the original:

The Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), launched a new report today examining marijuana legalization in Colorado, joining Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute in an open press event. SAM honorary advisor, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also delivered the report to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran earlier today.  MAC is an affiliate of SAM Action, SAM's 501 c-4 organization, started by former Obama and Bush Administration advisors.

"We will continue to investigate, expose, challenge, and hold the marijuana industry accountable," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of MAC. "We will not remain silent anymore as we see our state overtaken by special marijuana interests."  The report also comes with a two-page report card synopsis giving Colorado an "F" on many key public health and safety indicators.   Future MAC initiatives include an effort to expose politicians taking marijuana industry money, and exposing the harms of 4/20 celebrations.... 

The new report card discussed the following impacts in the state:

  • Colorado currently holds the top ranking for first-time marijuana use among youth, representing a 65% increase in the years since legalization (NSDUH, 2006-2016). Young adult use (youth aged 18-25) in Colorado is rapidly increasing (NSDUH, 2006-2016).  
  • Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).  
  • Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety [CDPS], 2016).  
  • The gallons of alcohol consumed in Colorado since marijuana legalization has increased by 8% (Colorado Department of Revenue [CDR], Colorado Liquor Excise Tax, 2017).  
  • In Colorado, calls to poison control centers have risen 210% between the four-year averages before and after recreational legalization (Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center [RMPCD], 2017 and Wang, et al., 2017).... 

Other data highlighted in the report include: 

  • In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 35% between the years 2011 and 2015 (CDPHE, 2017).
  • Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas in the state (Stewart, 2017).
    • In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in marijuana seizures (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization (Mitchell, 2017), with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reporting an 8.3% increase in property crimes and an 18.6% increase in violent crimes (Colorado Bureau of Investigation [CBI], 2017).
    • The Boulder Police Department reported a 54% increase in public consumption of marijuana citations since legalization (Boulder Police Department [BPD], 2017).
  • Marijuana urine test results in Colorado are now double the national average (Quest Diagnostics, 2016).  
  • Insurance claims have become a growing concern among companies in legalized states (Hlavac & Easterly, 2016).
  • The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013 to 2015 (Migoya, 2017). Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017).
    • Driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) have also risen in Colorado, with 76% of statewide DUIDs involving marijuana (Colorado State Patrol [CSP], 2017).

Because I recently saw SAM fudging how it reported some arrest data in order to advance its advocacy agenda, folks interested in these data may want also to check this list of citations.

February 22, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Guardian commentary authored by Alex Halperin.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been known as dope, grass, herb, gage, tea, reefer, chronic. B ut the most familiar name for the dried buds of the cannabis plant, and one of the few older terms still in use today, is “marijuana”.

For the prohibitionists of nearly a century ago, the exotic-sounding word emphasized the drug’s foreignness to white Americans and appealed to the xenophobia of the time. As with other racist memes, a common refrain was that marijuana would lead to miscegenation.

Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the prohibition effort, is credited as saying back then: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”.  At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use....

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown.  According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana....

As with other symbols of past oppression, from the pink triangle to the n-word, there’s a powerful tradition of marginalized communities redeploying symbols of their oppression.  It’s these communities – not businesses – who have the moral authority to decide if marijuana is a racist word which should be avoided or an important reminder of a more racist past.

January 29, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)