The drug warriors — led principally by law enforcement and their handmaidens in the state legislatures — continue to do everything within their power to prolong marijuana prohibition, even in those states in which the voters have approved full legalization.
I am referring specifically to a legislative proposal introduced last week in the Alaska state legislature, allegedly to implement their recent legalization initiative, under which possession of one ounce of marijuana and the private cultivation of six plants was legalized for everyone over 21 years of age. Recreational marijuana use will be totally decriminalized effective February 24, although the state has until the end of the year to implement the regulations for licensing recreational growers and dispensaries.
Senate Bill 30, and it’s House companion bill, HB 79, initially considered by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week, would have kept any amount of marijuana illegal, causing users to be arrested and brought to trial, when they could then raise an affirmative defense by proving they were over 21 and their conduct was protected under the new initiative.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
In a completely unexpected move by the Obama Administration, the US Department of Justice released a memo on October 28 indicating to Native American tribes that they can engage in cannabis commerce–cultivation, processing and retail sales–as long as they comport with the existing eight rules put forward in a previous August 2013 Obama Administration memo allowing states the autonomy to develop cannabis-based businesses in states where voters have passed binding ballot initiatives or elected policymakers have passed reform legislation.
- Distribution of marijuana to minors
- Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels
- Diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it remains illegal
- State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs or activity
- Violence or the use of firearms as part of cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- Drugged driving or the exacerbation of other negative health consequences associated with marijuana use
- Growing marijuana on public lands
- Marijuana possession or use on federal property
US News writes that “there are 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many reservations are in states that don’t allow marijuana for medical or recreational use, such as Oklahoma, Utah and the Dakotas. Others are located near major East Coast cities and far from legal pot stores in the West.
“The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” U.S. attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, told the Times.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said U.S. attorneys will review tribal marijuana policies on a case-by-case basis and that prosecutors retain the right to enforce federal law.
“Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area,” the statement says.
Read the DOJ memo allowing Native American tribes to regulate cannabis-related businesses here.
A detailed map of Native American tribes is found here.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton publicly announced plans yesterday to halt the NYPD’s practice of arresting tens of thousands of minor marijuana offenders annually.
Under the new plan, set to take effect November 19, city police would issue first-time marijuana offenders a summons, payable by a fine, in lieu of making a criminal arrest.
Though the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have made pledges in the past to reduce the city’s marijuana arrest totals, which average nearly 30,000 per year, they have previously failed to do so. Of those arrested for minor marijuana offenses in New York City, a disproportionate percentage (86 percent) are either Black or Latino. Nearly three out of four arrested possessed no prior criminal record.
Although New York state law classifies minor marijuana possession offenses as a non-criminal offense, separate penal law (NY State Penal Law 221.10) defines marijuana possession in a manner that is ‘open to public view’ as an arrestable offense.
Mayor de Blasio called the City’s proposed depenalization policy “a smart policy that keeps New Yorkers safe, but it is also a more fair policy.”
As anticipated, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed municipal legislation this week removing criminal penalties for the possession of minor quantities of cannabis by adults. (Watch a video of the Mayor’s ordinance signing and accompanying press conference here.)
The new measure amends citywide penalties pertaining to the possession of up to approximately one ounce of cannabis (30 grams) from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record. Public use of cannabis will be punishable by up to a $100 fine and/or the completion of community service.
Philadelphia NORML had long lobbied in support of a change in the city’s criminal classification of marijuana possession offenses. A 2013 review of marijuana arrest data by the organization reported that African Americans are arrested in Philadelphia for minor marijuana violations at five times the rate of whites despite both races consuming the substance at nearly equal rates.
Council member James Kenney, who sponsored the decriminalization ordinance, acknowledged that it was Philadelphia NORML’s outreach on this issue that ultimately persuaded him to push for the change in law.
The reduced penalties go into effect on October 20, 2014.
A new Maryland law depenalizing marijuana possession offenses takes effect this Wednesday.
Senate Bill 364, signed into law this past April, amends statewide penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal, fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).
The new law does not reclassify penalties involving the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, which remains a criminal offense.
A 2013 ACLU analysis of state-by-state marijuana arrests data reported that Maryland has the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests in the nation.