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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 19, 2014

    Today, the full Philadelphia City Council voted 13 to 3 in support of a measure that would lower the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil infraction, punishable by a $25 fine.

    All 13 of the Democratic members of the City Council voted for it and all three Republicans voted against. The measure now goes to Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s desk for signature. NORML’s local chapter, Philly NORML, has been working hard on advancing these reforms for many years and those efforts seem to be finally paying off.

    Councilman Bill Greenlee, who voted in support of decriminalization, stated, “It does not seem fair for what most people consider a minor incident to potentially risk people’s future.”

    Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who also voted “Yes” on the bill, said, “To spend the time and the amount of money that is really required to prosecute someone with small amounts of marijuana, while we have so many other bigger issues in the city, does seem a little bit not where we need to be headed.”

    Bill sponsor Councilman Jim Kenney estimates that the new pot policy could save the police department and the courts about $4 million a year.

    NORML will keep you updated if and when the mayor signs this measure.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director May 9, 2014

    A new report released this week by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project reveals that marijuana arrests have actually increased in New York City under the new leadership of Mayor De Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton.

    In March 2014, the NYPD performed more marijuana possession arrests than in any month in the last six months under the Bloomberg administration. In fact, March 2014 saw more arrests than in 10 of the 12 months in 2013 under the previous administration. The total number of arrests for first quarter of 2014 are higher than both the third and fourth quarters of 2013.

    These arrests also continue the disturbing trend of disproportionately falling on individuals of color. In Brooklyn, in predominately white Park Slope, police made just 7 marijuana possession arrests in the first three months of 2014. In Carroll Gardens and Red Hook they made 12 marijuana arrests in that same time frame. More affluent neighborhoods saw even fewer arrests. In Manhattan, Police only made two marijuana possession arrests in the Tribeca/Wall Street area, one arrest in the Upper East Side, and four arrests in the Upper West Side. The story is quite different in predominately black or latino neighborhoods, where the police made significantly more arrests. In Bedford-Stuyvesant 111 individuals were arrested, 130 in Crown Heights, and 438 in East New York from January to March of this year.

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    Despite similar use rates across racial groups, 86% of those arrested in the first quarter of 2014 were blacks and Latinos.

    Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College, City University of New York, and co-director of Marijuana Arrest Research Project said:

    “At 28,000 arrests a year, New York still makes more marijuana possession arrests than any city in the world. Yet the simple possession of marijuana has not been a crime in New York State since 1978. Isn’t it time for these unfair, biased, damaging, often illegal arrests to just stop, now?”

  • 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.

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