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LAW ENFORCEMENT

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 15, 2018

    State laws reducing minor marijuana possession offenses from criminal to civil violations (aka decriminalization) are associated with dramatic reductions in drug-related arrests, and are not linked to any uptick in youth cannabis use, according to data published by researchers at Washington University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Investigators examined the associations between cannabis decriminalization and both arrests and youth cannabis use in five states that passed decriminalization measures between the years 2008 and 2014: Massachusetts (decriminalized in 2008), Connecticut (2011), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2013), and Maryland (2014). Data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) surveys; arrest data were obtained from federal crime statistics.

    Authors reported: “Decriminalization of cannabis in five states between the years 2009 and 2014 was associated with large and immediate decreases in drug-related arrests for both youth and adults. … The sharp drop in arrest rates suggests that implementation of these policies likely changed police behavior as intended.”

    They further reported: “Decriminalization was not associated with increased cannabis use either in aggregate or in any of the five states analyzed separately, nor did we see any delayed effects in a lag analysis, which allowed for the possibility of a two-year (one period) delay in policy impact. In fact, the lag analysis suggested a potential protective effect of decriminalization.” In two of the five states assessed, Rhode Island and Vermont, researchers determined that the prevalence of youth cannabis use declined following the enactment of decriminalization.

    Investigators concluded: “[I]mplementation of cannabis decriminalization likely leads to a large decrease in the number of arrests among youth (as well as adults) and we see no evidence of increases in youth cannabis use. On the contrary, cannabis use rates declined after decriminalization, though further study is needed to determine if these associations are causal. These findings are consistent with the interpretation that decriminalization policies likely succeed with respect to their intended effects and that their short-term unintended consequences are minimal.”

    Thirteen states currently impose either partial or full decriminalization. Nine additional states have subsequently moved to fully legalize the use of marijuana by adults.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis decriminalization: A study of recent policy change in five states,” is available online here. Additional fact-sheets regarding the societal impacts of decriminalization policies are available from the NORML website here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 28, 2018

    Cannabis PenaltiesNew York City police are continuing to disproportionately arrest African Americans and Latinos for minor marijuana possession violations, despite ongoing pledges from Mayor Bill de Blasio to halt the practice.

    In 2017, city police made an estimated 17,500 arrests for marijuana possession in the 5th degree — a class B misdemeanor. Consistent with past years, 86 percent percent of those arrested were either Black or Hispanic.

    Since the de Blasio administration took office in 2014, city police have made over 75,000 misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests; 86 percent of arrestees were either Black or Latino.

    Under state law, the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis is a non-arrestable offense, except instances where the police contend that the substance was either being burned or was in public view.

    During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio said that the city’s elevated marijuana arrest totals “demonstrate clear racial bias” and promised to “direct the NYPD to stop these misguided prosecutions.”

    Despite consuming cannabis at rates comparable to whites, recent analyses of marijuana arrest data from multiple states find that African Americans are consistently arrested for marijuana possession offenses at at least three times the rate of Caucasians.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 15, 2018

    Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) has introduced the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act which would essentially codify the protections that were outlined in the now-rescinded Cole Memo.

    Upon the introduction, Rep. Correa said, “To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis. Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the “Cole Memo” created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws.

    In my state of California, voters want legal cannabis. It boosts our economy and is a strong medical tool. By 2020, revenues from cannabis sales taxes could reach $1 billion annually for California. This bill will protect California and other states from federal overreach and ensure the will of the American voter is respected.”

    Essentially, the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act would give peace of mind to lawmakers, regulators, 149,000 workers, and the millions of patients and consumers who are dependent on the normalization of lawful marijuana markets. The most essential component in creating a stable business environment to meet consumer demand is certainty and that is what states would have with Reps. Correa’s legislation to protect state-lawful programs from militant marijuana prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative in support of the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act. 

  • by NORML February 1, 2018

    Cannabis PenaltiesSan Francisco city officials announced plans yesterday to begin reviewing and automatically expunging thousands of past marijuana possession convictions.

    The District Attorney’s office says that it will review, dismiss, and seal an estimated 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. The office also intends to review and resentence many past felony convictions.

    Provisions in the state’s 2016 voter-approved marijuana law allow those with past marijuana convictions to petition the court for expungement. However, because this process that is often time consuming and can cost hundreds of dollars in legal fees, San Francisco’s D.A. George Gascón says that his office will instead “wipe out convictions en masse.”

    Commenting on the policy change, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement, “This example, one of many across our state, underscores the true promise of Proposition 64 – providing new hope and opportunities to Californians, primarily people of color, whose lives were long ago derailed by a costly, broken and racially discriminatory system of marijuana criminalization.”

    NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano concurred, telling reporters: “The stigma associated with a marijuana arrest and criminal conviction is lifelong, and can directly lead to numerous lost opportunities later in life. The San Francisco District Attorney’s office is to be commended for proactively rectifying this situation — one that has disproportionately burdened far too many young people and people of color. Let’s hope other jurisdictions follow San Francisco’s lead in righting the wrongs of cannabis criminalization.”

    Perhaps even more importantly, legislation now pending in the California Assembly, AB 1793, seeks to expand this automatic expungement process statewide. If you reside in California, please click here to use NORML’s Action Alert to urge your lawmakers to support this critical legislative effort.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 20, 2018

    Not much.

    Temporary medical cannabis patient protections that have been imposed by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment have now expired with the rest of government spending.

    The amendment, which has been in place since 2014, maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    Without these protections, medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries exist with a greater threat than normal of federal enforcement of national prohibition, yet the certainty that these protections would be honored have been in doubt throughout the entire Trump administration.

    When President Trump signed the first Continuing Resolution in 2017, he issued a signing statement regarding the amendment:

    “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

    Essentially stating that his administration believes they can ignore these protections if they do not view them to be Constitutional.

    Under this mentality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have moved in to shut down medical marijuana facilities at any point. Should Sessions crackdown, we are confident that we would win a court challenge, given previous rulings on this very question. However, it would be a reactive exercise after an enforcement action, and during that process, the patients who relied on a supply chain to get them their medication would not have a lawful means to do so.

    So now, if the government reopens under another CR, then the protections will go back into place and we will be right back where we were in an uneasy détente. The threat of Sessions on one side and medical patients in a state-lawful system trying to alleviate their suffering.

    Further, Congressional leadership must reauthorize this language as part of the forthcoming budget in order for the provisions to stay in effect in any new spending deal. Last July, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) offered identical language before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved it. However, House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) has refused to allow House members to vote on similar language. The provision will now be considered by House and Senate leadership when the two chambers’ appropriations bills are reconciled, should Congress ever set a FY18 budget, of which we are already three and a half months in.

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and tell them to retain these protections.

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