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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 21, 2014

    African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession offenses in Minnesota at a rate that is more than six-times higher than that of Caucasians, according to an analysis of 2011 FBI arrest data released today by the nonpartisan think-tank Minnesota 2020 and commissioned in part by Minnesota NORML.

    Although African Americans comprise less than six percent of the state’s population, they represented over 27 percent of those persons arrested for violating marijuana possession laws in 2011. By comparison, whites comprise some 87 percent of the state’s population and constituted 69 percent of those arrested for violating marijuana possession laws. “Thus, the black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 687 and the white arrest rate was 107, making blacks 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites,” the study found.

    In 2010, blacks in Minnesota were arrested for cannabis possession at 7.8 times the rate of whites. Both African Americans and Caucasians consume cannabis at approximately similar rates.

    The racial disparity in Minnesota in marijuana possession arrests is significantly higher than the national average. According to a 2013 analysis of marijuana possession arrests by race in 945 counties nationwide, blacks are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

    “[This] kind of over-representation cannot be accounted for without racial bias,” Minnesota 2020 Executive Director Steve Fletcher said today at a press conference. “It means black Minnesotans are bearing a disproportionate share of the personal and collateral costs of our war on drugs.”

    A variety of factors contribute to the disparity in arrest rates, the study found. These include “over-policing in communities of color, cultural differences in where or how marijuana is used and purchased, and [the prevalence] of grants and seizure policies that incentivize volume over quality in drug arrests,” the think-tank acknowledged in a press release.

    The report estimated that the collateral costs of a low-level marijuana arrest may total as much as $76,000 over the course of a decade, including attorney fees, fines, costs associated with attending mandatory drug treatment, lost income and job prospects, and barriers to public assistance and federal aid.

    “In light of these human and financial costs, Minnesota lawmakers and law enforcement officials have a responsibility to consider whether marijuana possession laws in their current conception are actually contributing to public safety, or if they are instead producing undue hardship for individuals and growing inequities within society,” the study concludes.

    Full text of the study, entitled “Collateral Costs: Racial Disparities and Injustice in Minnesota’s Marijuana Laws,” is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 8, 2014

    Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to legislation to eliminate criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    Members of the state House of Delegates on Saturday passed the measure by a vote of 78 to 55. Members of the Senate on Monday approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 8. Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he intends to sign the bill into law.

    The forthcoming law reduces existing 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 will take effect on October 1, 2014.

    According to a recent ACLU report, Maryland in 2010 possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country.

    Maryland’s pending law is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont 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.

    In March, lawmakers for the District of Columbia also approved legislation reducing penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The measure is subject to a 60-day review period by members of Congress before it can become District law.

    Maryland lawmakers on Monday also approved separate legislation amending the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which had been largely nonfunctional. The pending law will allow for qualified patients to obtain cannabis for therapeutic purposes from state-licensed producers and distributors.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director September 16, 2013

    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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 15, 2013

    The regulation and taxation of marijuana for New York City residents age 21 and over would yield an estimated $431 million in annual savings and revenue, according to a report released this week by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. The mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition.

    The report, entitled “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana: The Fiscal Impact on NYC,” estimates that regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of cannabis to adults would yield an estimated $400 million annually. This figure is based on existing estimates regarding cannabis’ present market price and demand in New York City, as well as by calculating the imposition of an excise tax (on commercial production) and sales tax (on retail sales).

    Authors further estimate that $31 million dollars would be saved annually in eliminating citywide misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10 -- possession of any amount of cannabis in public view], which in recent years have totaled approximately 50,000 arrests per year — largely as a result of law enforcement’s aggressive use of ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics. Persons arrested are often under age 25 and disproportionately are those of color. Combined, blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of marijuana users in New York City, but account for 86 percent of possession arrests, the Comptroller’s report found.

    The Office did not attempt to quantify the broader economic impacts of legalization, including the costs of lost time, work, and other opportunities currently imposed on those arrested. The report’s authors also acknowledged that they did not attempt to quantify the costs of incarceration, which are largely borne by the state, or other secondary fiscal impacts of legalization, such as the positive or negative effects on public health spending.

    Following the release of the study, City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu spoke out in favor of legalizing the consumption of cannabis by adults, stating: “New York City’s misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities. It’s time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children.”

    A summary of the report is available online from the NYC Comptroller’s Office here. The full report is available here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 26, 2013

    naacpThe Pennsylvania Chapter of the NAACP endorsed Senate Bill 528, legislation that would regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, yesterday during a press conference in Harrisburg. SB 528 was introduced earlier this year by State Senator Daylin Leach*.

    Speaking at the press conference the current chair of the Legal Redress Committee for the Cheltenham Area Branch of the NAACP, David Scott, stated, “The war on drugs is a catastrophic failure.”

    Sponsor Daylin Leach welcomed the group’s support. “This is decimating the minority community. This is a problem that is particularly acute,” said Senator Leach.

    More coverage of this endorsement can be found here, here, and here.

    Sponsors of Senate Bill 528 hope to bring it up for a committee hearing in the fall.

    Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 4.31.43 PMA recent report released by the ACLU, The War on Marijuana: In Black and White, revealed that Pennsylvania was one of the worst states when it came to racial disparities in marijuana arrests. According to their data, an African American in Pennsylvania is over five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Pennsylvanians, despite using at similar rates.

    *Senator Leach is also running for the US House of Representatives and has received support from NORML PAC. You can learn more about Senator Leach’s campaign here or the NORML PAC here. You can learn more about the ACLU report here.

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