It’s no secret that there has been a proliferation government agencies across the country removing minors and infants from their home, based solely on the fact that a parent is a cannabis consumer, and the false presumption that the presence of marijuana poses a danger. This even occurs in states with a legal medical marijuana program, or where marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense. Some of these experiences can be incredibly traumatic to the child, as well as the parents, as officers have a tendency to use aggressive and sometimes militaristic tactics while engaging with these families.
NORML receives dozens of calls and emails every month from devastated parents who have lost custody of their children to state agencies, and we remain committed to providing support and resources to those forced into these unfortunate circumstances. In light of such efforts, we are pleased to announce that NORML has recently partnered with the newly formed Family Law and Cannabis Alliance (FLCA), founded by longtime drug reform activists Jess Cochrane and Sara Arnold. The FLCA is an informational clearinghouse that provides educational resources, advocacy information and legal referrals geared toward reformers & affected families on the crossover of marijuana laws & the child protection system.
Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach said, she is “looking forward to working with the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance to raise awareness about the devastating effects, and sometimes dangerous practice, of child services in removing children from their safe and loving homes for the mere fact a parent is a cannabis consumer. It is time to end this destructive policy, and put an end to marijuana prohibition once and for all.”
Click here for more information on the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance.
[UPDATE: October 30, the family of the young man entrapped by police in this case have filed a lawsuit. Read more here.]
In late 2012, a Riverside County, California police officer infiltrated a local high school, befriended a vulnerable, special needs student and then proceeded to send more than 60 text messages begging the student to buy him weed. The student, who had been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourettes, and several anxiety disorders (and noticeably handicapped) became overwhelmed by the pressure, and the desire to keep his only friend. He finally agreed to buy pot for “Dan” (the undercover cop). It took the teenager weeks to find anything, eventually buying half of a joint from from a homeless man downtown.
Then, as reported by Reason Magazine, “On December 11, 2012 armed police officers walked into [the student’s] classroom and arrested him in front of his peers. He was taken to the juvenile detention center, along with the 21 other arrestees, where he was kept for 48 hours. First hand reports claim that the juvenile center was caught off guard by the large number of arrests and that some youths had to sleep on the floor, using toilet paper as pillows.” The child was also expelled from school.
This story is a grotesque example of how our nation’s marijuana policies continue to encourage the use of barbaric and predatory tactics by law enforcement officials. They are financially incentivised to not only target otherwise law abiding citizens, but actively work to manipulate innocent children. Aside from the gross misappropriation of limited police resources, this incident clearly highlights many of the tragic implications marijuana prohibition continues to have on our nation’s youth. Further, zero tolerance policies in schools have proven to be ineffective in the very purpose for which they were originally designed. The practice of engaging in high school undercover drug stings has proven to do nothing to curb teen drug use. It does however, leave the student body traumatized and resentful of law enforcement, making them less likely to report legitimate crimes in the future. It is an egregiously unfair and punitive practice by educational institutions to expel students as punishment for any infraction of a rule, a significant portion of which are for non-violent low level drug violations. How does removing a minor from what is intended to be a stable, nurturing environment do anything to help prepare these individuals to lead responsible productive lives? They are now forced to sit at home with nothing to do but hang out with other expelled peers, or in a juvenile detention center.
One can argue that this all leads back to the financial incentives driving police officers to arrest as many individuals on drug charges as possible. Every year, law enforcement jurisdictions are given federal grants, swat gear, overtime pay and assets based solely on their number of drug arrests. Perhaps it is a result of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s passage of SB 1449 in 2010, which reduced the crime of possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction for adults 18 and over. Now, the only way to keep up their arrest rates is by targeting minors – whose charges remain misdemeanors. It is time to stop the madness and put an end to these insane zero-tolerance policies. Our children’s future depends on it.
**The family of the student framed by an undercover officer have set up a fundraiser to support their lawsuit against the school district. Click here for more information.
Oklahoma, City, OK: A majority of likely Oklahoma voters back legalizing the use of medical marijuana and also support de-penalizing pot possession penalties for recreational users, according to survey data released by SoonerPoll.com and commissioned by the Oklahoma state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Seventy-one percent of respondents said that they support amending state law to allow for physician-authorized patients to consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Twenty states and Washington, DC, have enacted similar policies since 1996.
Oklahoma citizens also strongly backed amending state criminal laws that presently outlaw the plant’s social use. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said that they preferred treating minor marijuana violations as a non-criminal, fine-only offense. Violators of such a policy would not be subject to arrest, face jail time, or receive a criminal record. Sixteen states already impose similar ‘depenalization’ policies. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have eliminated all criminal and civil penalties surrounding the possession of small quantities of marijuana by adults.
Finally, over 81 percent of Oklahoma respondents agreed that state lawmakers, not the federal government, ought to be the final arbiters to decide whether “[state] laws regarding whether the use of marijuana [are] legal or not.”
Over 400 hundred likely voters participated in the statewide scientific poll, which possesses a margin or error of ±4.9 percent.
Oklahoma’s marijuana penalties are among the most punitive in the county. Sales of any amount of cannabis are punishable by two years to life in prison. Subsequent minor marijuana possession offenses are punishable by two to ten years in prison.
For more information, please contact: http://norml.org/chapters/ok.
The FBI released their crime and arrest statistics for 2012 today and, despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized, the total marijuana related arrests in the United States is largely unchanged year over year.
In 2012, marijuana arrests as a percentage of all drug arrests dipped very slightly from 49.5% in 2011 to 48.3% last year. This puts the total number of marijuana arrests at about 749,825 (compared to 757,969 arrests in 2011). 87% of these arrests were for possession only, meaning that about 658,231 Americans were forced into handcuffs last year for nothing more than simple possession. Another 91,593 were arrested for sale or manufacturing charges.
That means a marijuana consumer is arrested for possession every 48 seconds. In the time it took you to read this short blog post, another marijuana consumer was taken to jail. Meanwhile, the occurrences of violent crime ticked up to 1,214,462 reported incidents, an increase of 0.7% over 2011 totals.
You can view the FBI Crime Report for 2012 here.
Speaking today before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Attorney General James Cole reaffirmed that the Justice Department is unlikely to challenge statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided that these efforts impose “robust regulations” which discourage sales to minors and seek to prevent the diversion of cannabis to states that have not yet legalized its use.
“We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives,” Cole told members of the Committee, adding that state “decriminalization [laws] can co-exist with federal [drug] laws.”
In an August 29 Department of Justice memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Cole previously directed the US Attorneys in all 50 states not to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana regulations, unless such activities specifically undermined eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.
In response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cole also stated that federal prosecutors should utilize similar discretion and not interfere with the activities of state-compliant cannabis dispensaries, as long as their actions “are not violating any of the eight federal enforcement priorities” outlined here. Rhode Island is one of six states, as well as Washington, DC, that presently licenses the production and distribution of medical cannabis. Six additional states are expected to enact similar licensing regulations in the coming months.
Several Senators and witnesses questioned whether the Justice Department would consider amending federal financial regulations which presently inhibit state-compliant cannabis businesses from taking standardized tax deductions and partnering with conventional financial institutions. Deputy Attorney General Cole responded that such proposed changes in law were arguably the responsibility of Congressional lawmakers, not the Justice Department.
Commenting on the hearing, NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri said, “For the first time in modern history, members of the US Congress and the Justice Department were not discussing furthering cannabis prohibition, but instead were testifying to the merits of cannabis legalization and regulation.”
Today’s hearings marked the first time that members of Congress have explicitly weighed in on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws since voters in Colorado and Washington elected to legalize the retail production and sale of the plant this past November. The hearing was called for by Senate Judiciary Chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who acknowledged that the federal government “must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy.” Witnesses at today’s hearing also included King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart — a vocal supporter of the state’s new legalization law — and Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Council for the Colorado Governor’s Office.
Archived video of today’s US Senate Judiciary hearing is online here.