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LAW ENFORCEMENT

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director August 15, 2017

    Jeff_Sessions_(29299022521)As first reported by Tom Angell of MassRoots.com, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson responded to a July 24 letter from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which Sessions’ made multiple allegations all based on a single misleading 2016 report.

    One would say, they didn’t pull any punches:

    “Your letter, citing the March 2016 Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) report on marijuana in Washington, makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information.”

     

    Cutting right to the heart of the matter, i.e. facts, the Washington state leaders again articulated their desire to educate the (seemingly willing) ignorant Sessions.

    “We have twice requested an in-person meeting with you because we believe it will lead to better understanding than exchanging letters. If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us. We therefore reiterate our request to meet with you, followed by further appropriate meetings between state and DOJ officials.”

     

    One of the most basic functions of government is to simply provide consistency and certainty in law enforcement. So after repeated efforts by the state’s leadership to receive clarification, basic facets of the Department of Justice’s approach are still unknown. In yet another attempt for guidance, the Governor and state Attorney General requested information on:

    • Whether DOJ intends to follow recommendations from its Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety—in particular, its reported recommendation to continue previous federal policy on state legalization of marijuana.
    • Whether President Trump’s previous statements of support for medical marijuana, and leaving recreational marijuana legalization to the states, represent the policy of the federal government.
    • Whether DOJ will support reasonable federal policies allowing financial institutions to provide service to licensed marijuana businesses, in order to avoid the public safety risks and transparency problems associated with all-cash businesses.
    • How state-regulated marijuana should be treated by the federal government following the President’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a national emergency, and whether the federal government will support objective, independent research into the effects of marijuana law reform on opioid use and abuse.
    • Whether the federal government will help protect public health by supporting agricultural research on the safety of pesticides used in marijuana cultivation.
    • Whether the federal government will support research into expedited roadside DUI testing methods for law enforcement, as alternatives to blood draws.

     

    How Attorney General Sessions will respond, only time will tell.

    You can click HERE to send a message to your Representative to urge their support for The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, bipartisan legislation to prevent the Department of Justice from enforcing federal prohibition in states that have chosen to legalize medical or adult-use marijuana.

    You can view the full letter from Governor Inslee and AG Ferguson below:

    Washington Officials Respond to Sessions Marijuana Letter by tomangell on Scribd

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director August 14, 2017
    Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1)

    Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1)

    Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) has reintroduced the State Marijuana And Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act (H.R. 3534). This bill prohibits state-sanctioned marijuana consumers and businesses from being prosecuted by the federal government.

    By a margin of more than 6 to 1, Americans say that individual states should be able to make their own laws governing the use and sale of marijuana. The SMART Enforcement Act acknowledges this voter sentiment while also ensuring states are operating in a safe and responsible manner.

    In a prepared statement, Congresswoman DelBene says that her legislation “will fix the conflict between state and federal law by giving states effectively regulating marijuana themselves, such as Washington, a waiver from the Controlled Substances Act. It also resolves the banking issues currently forcing dispensaries to operate on an unsafe, all-cash basis. These waivers will ensure people in states that have different laws than the federal government on marijuana are protected from prosecution, provided they meet certain requirements, as more and more states work to regulate marijuana within their own borders.”

    Legislation similar to this is pending in California, Assembly Bill 1578, to try and limit potential federal interference in the state’s marijuana regulatory laws. As Congresswoman DelBene said, “People in these states should not live in fear of the unpredictable actions of the Attorney General and Department of Justice.”

    Click HERE to urge your Representatives to support this legislation.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel July 31, 2017

    The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

    The Supreme Court of Illinois recently handed down a decision which found that some of the drug courier profile traffic stops in their state were illegal, and agreed with the lower courts that the drugs confiscated in five cases that had been combined for the court’s consideration, should be suppressed. The case was People v. Ringland, et al.

    The criminal defense attorney bringing this legal challenge was NORML Legal Committee (NLC) Life Member Stephen M. Komie from Chicago.

    The somewhat unique fact in all five of these cases, which arose in 2012 and 2013, was that the drivers were all stopped and searched by a “special investigator” of the La Salle County prosecutor’s office; not by state or local police. After carefully considering the statute that establishes and defines the powers of state prosecutors, the high court found that the prosecutor did not have the legal authority to hire their own people to drive up and down the highways, making traffic stops and searching vehicles for drugs.

    Congratulations to attorney Stephen Komie for ending these illegal traffic stops in Illinois with a creative legal challenge.

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 22, 2017

    download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

    The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

    Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

    Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

    Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

    Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

    These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

    According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

    “On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

    They continue:

    (T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

    Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

    The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

    Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

    *  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

    *  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

    *  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

    *  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

    *  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

    *  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

    *  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

    *  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

    *  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 15, 2017

    In a recent letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wrote a pointed letter regarding the Department of Justice and it’s posturing to implement a crackdown of lawful state medical marijuana programs.

    The full letter:

    Dear Attorney General Sessions:

    Last year, the Pennsylvania passed bipartisan legislation to legalize Medical Marijuana that I was proud to sign into law. The legislation was the result of conversations with Republicans and Democrats and fierce advocacy from families of children who were stricken with terrible illness that could be helped by Medical Marijuana.

    We talked to kids who suffer dozens of seizures in a given day. We met veterans who have seen absolute terror and seek relief from the effects of their post-traumatic stress. We approached the responsibility of providing relief to the people of Pennsylvania very thoughtfully.

    Since I signed the legislation, we have taken very careful and deliberate steps to implement the law so that those who are suffering can get relief while ensuring that the state is a responsible steward of the program.

    Given the bipartisan and medical consensus for Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania and many other states, I am disturbed to know that you are actively pursuing a change in federal law to go after medical marijuana suppliers.

    We do not need the federal government getting in the way of Pennsylvania’s right to deliver them relief through our new medical marijuana program.

    Your action to undo the protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the use federal funds to disrupt states’ efforts to implement “their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana” is misguided.

    If you seek to further disrupt our ability to establish a legal way to deliver relief of medical marijuana to our citizens, I will ask the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to take legal action to protect our residents and state sovereignty.

    Sincerely,

    Governor Tom Wolf

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo by Gage Skidmore

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
    Photo by Gage Skidmore

    This comes in response to a recently revealed private letter that Jeff Sessions sent to Congressional leadership requesting that the DOJ be permitted to target and prosecute state-licensed medical cannabis facilities, currently prohibited by a spending rider known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

    “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote, “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

    Jeff Sessions actually seems to believe that lawful medical marijuana patients, i.e. sick people, are causing the violent crime and contributing to transnational drug trafficking.

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned about federal marijuana policy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week and he brought up current DOJ policy and left the door wide open to a potential crackdown.

    “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect. Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana,” stated Rosenstein, “So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

    The Cole Memo, is a Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

    But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, Wolf and other state politicians are taking action. Recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a letter to the new U.S. Attorney General and to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin calling on them to uphold the Obama Administration’s largely ‘hands off’ policies toward marijuana legalization, as outlined in the Cole Memo.

    “Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

    Click here to send a message to your member of Congress to urge them to force the Department of Justice to respect state marijuana laws and then visit http://norml.org/act to support other efforts in your state and federally.

    PA resident? Click here to send a message to your state lawmakers to support the effort to decriminalize marijuana in the Keystone State.

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