Members of the Senate this week approved legislation to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties. On Tuesday, Senators voted 24 to 6 in favor of a House measure that amends penalties for the possession of personal use amounts of marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia by a person 21 years of age or older from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine) to a civil fine only — no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record. House members had previously signed off on a slightly different version of the bill in April.
House members must sign off on the Senate’s changes to the bill. It will then go to Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has publicly expressed support for liberalizing the state’s marijuana possession penalties.
If signed into law, the measure will take effect on July 1, 2013.
Vermont’s proposed law is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states — Alaska, Colorado, and Washington — impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana. (The laws in Colorado and Washington were enacted via voter initiative while Alaska’s legal protections were imposed by the state Supreme Court.)
The federal government’s anti-drug efforts are inefficient and ineffective, according to a just released report issued by the Congressional watchdog agency, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).
As if we didn’t know.
The GAO report assessed whether the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategies, as articulated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP aka the Drug Czar’s office) in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy report, have yet to achieve its stated goals.
The answer? They haven’t.
States the GAO:
“The public health, social, and economic consequences of illicit drug use, coupled with the constrained fiscal environment of recent years, highlight the need to ensure that federal programs efficiently and effectively use their resources to address this problem. ONDCP has developed a 5-year Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences, but our analysis shows lack of progress toward achieving four of the Strategy’s five goals for which primary data are available.”
In particular, the GAO criticized the administration for failing to adequately address rising levels of youth marijuana consumption. The GAO also rebuffed the ONDCP’s allegation that increased rates adolescent marijuana use are a result of the passage of statewide laws decriminalizing the plant or allowing for its therapeutic use.
“Other factors, including state laws and changing attitudes and social norms regarding drugs, may also affect drug use. We examined studies on three of these other factors, which we refer to as societal factors, which may affect youth marijuana use. … The studies that assessed the effect of medical marijuana laws that met our review criteria found mixed results on effects of the laws on youth marijuana use. … [S]tudies that assessed the effect of marijuana decriminalization that met our review criteria found little to no effect of the laws on youth marijuana use.”
You can read the full GAO report here.
“Former public servants, from DEA chiefs to cops, are using their clout to lobby for drug policies that enrich themselves.”
That’s the sub-headline on today’s exceptional feature story on TheFix.com highlighting the revolving door of moneyed interests in perpetuating the war on cannabis.
Author Kevin Gray, whose work has appeared in numerous outlets including The Washington Post, articulately summarizes the role of former drug czars, cops, federal bureaucrats, and others who lobby the keep the drug war machine moving forward — and, as a result, line their own pockets.
“The time-honored revolving door between government and business swings fast and often. It can be straightforward, like the appointment of banking behemoth Goldman Sachs’ alumni as economic policymakers by recent presidential administrations. But when it comes to the drug war, the family tree is more like a thicket of interests among law enforcement, federal and state prisons, pharmaceutical giants, drug testers and drug treatment programs—all with an economic stake in keeping pot illegal.”
The whole story is really a must read. Here is the link to the full text.
Report: New York City Cops Spent One Million Hours In Staff Time Making Marijuana Possession ArrestsMarch 19, 2013
New York City police spent an estimated one million hours in staff time making low level marijuana possession arrests between the years 2002 and 2012, according to the findings of a study released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.
Authors of the study report that City law enforcement personnel engaged in approximately one million hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over the past 11 years. Authors further estimated that those arrested for marijuana possession in New York City have spent five million hours in police custody over the last decade.
Authors concluded: “[I]t is clear that the marijuana arrests have taken police off the street and away from other crime-fighting activities for a significant amount of time.”
Under state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor [NY State Penal Law 221.10].
Previously published data reports that over 90 percent of all marijuana arrests in the state of New York occur in New York City. In 2011, New York City law enforcement spent $75 million arresting approximately 50,000 minor marijuana offenders under Penal Law 221.10. Many of these offenders possessed small amounts of marijuana on their person, and only revealed the cannabis publicly after being ordered by police to empty their pockets during ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches. Over 85 percent of those charged were either African American or Latino.
In his 2013 ‘State of the State’ address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lobbied in favor of legislation to equalize the state’s marijuana possession penalties and to reduce the number of low-level possession arrests in New York City. “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must end, and it must end now.”
Full text of the report, “One million police hours making 440,000 marijuana possession arrests ion New York City, 2002-2012,” appears online here.
Today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new marijuana policy for the city during his State of the City address.
Mayor Bloomberg, who previously stood with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his call for fixing New York’s marijuana laws, reiterated that support, but said his city won’t wait for Albany on this issue.
But we know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen.
Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We’re changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most.
Under current law, possession of marijuana for personal use in private is punishable by a ticket, but possession of marijuana open to public view or being burnt in public is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 with a maximum sentence of 90 days.
This initiative could go a long way towards correcting the draconic policy currently in place in the city, which disproportionately effects people of color and costs taxpayers about 75 million dollars a year in enforcement and prosecution costs. New York City is the marijuana arrest capitol of the world, with 50,684 arrests for marijuana offenses in 2011 alone, hopefully this action from the mayor will encourage his fellow New Yorkers in Albany to cease the arrest of marijuana consumers across the state.
You can view the full text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech here.