Loading

Texas

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director May 30, 2012

    In early May, Ellen Rosenblum rode to a landslide victory in the Oregon Democratic Attorney General Primary with marijuana law reform being a central plank in her platform. It looks like it has happened again, this time in the Lone Star state.

    In the Democratic primary for the House seat representing El Paso, eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes faced an unexpected challenger in Beto O’Rourke, who formerly served on the El Paso city council. The race garnered media attention, largely focusing on O’Rourke’s support for marijuana legalization.

    O’Rourke had been vocal in his critique of the drug war, telling the Huffington Post in April that, “you have 10,000 people killed in the most brutal fashion in Ciudad Juarez in the last 10 years, without a single word from the congressman about what we can do to change the dynamic and stop the bloodshed.” He also stated that, “it is clear to me that what we’re doing is a failure.”

    During his second term on the city council, O’Rourke championed a resolution that urged the re-examination of the drug war and went on to author a book on the subject.

    Beto’s support of marijuana law reform became the focus of attacks from his opponent, Reyes, in the final days of the campaign. Reyes lambasted O’Rourke’s position as soft on crime stating that “my opponent seems to think that recreational use of marijuana is okay with him, and that’s the group he hangs around with — but it’s not for me, it’s not for my grandkids.”

    Reyes feared ending prohibition would lead to widespread use around schools and children. “I don’t want to live in a community where people think that it’s okay to light up a joint and parade around elementary schools and junior highs,” he said.

    Despite these attempts to turn O’Rourke’s rational support for the reform of marijuana policy into a political liability, the voters decided otherwise. Last night, O’Rourke claimed victory, with 50.4% of the vote. Silvestre Reyes, despite the advantage of holding the office for eight terms, only received 44.4%.

    Let’s hope this is just another in an ongoing wave of pro-reform candidates being elected into office, replacing those who employ tired drug war rhetoric to continue the costly failure that is cannabis prohibition. The people want it. If the politicians aren’t willing to take a stand and change the policy, it is time we start changing the politicians.

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator March 11, 2012

    [caption id="attachment_8376" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="DFW NORML's "Truth Enforcement Vehicle" was parked out front of the Baker Institute flashing the green lights to lead people to the event."][/caption]

    My undying thanks go out to The James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy for the invitation to participate in this illustrious event. I learned so much from the incredible presentations of Rev. Edwin Sanders, Sen. Larry Campbell, Prof. Alex Stevens, Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, Prof. Michelle Alexander, and everyone who participated.

    I also thank the crews from DFW NORML, Houston NORML, and NORML of Waco Inc. for showing up with the Truth Enforcement Vehicle, putting on a great fundraiser, and showing me a NORML (if a little traffic-laden) good time in H-town.  (Once again, like last year, wherever I go, Portland-like rain follows me, leading Professor Bluntston to exclaim, “Russ ‘Break It Down’ Belville done brought the rain!”)

    Debating Kevin Sabet was fun.  Before we went up, he thanked me for devoting half of my show to him (it was only a quarter, but whatever) and suggested that maybe it isn’t a good idea for me to give up my whole debate strategy before the debate.  I told him that when you have truth, facts, logic, and reason on your side, you don’t have to have much of a strategy.

    Please take the time to watch the other videos from presenters at the Baker Institute.  I’m flattered by all the hits my video is getting, but you’ll learn a whole lot more from the learned people on the other videos.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 16, 2011

    Police prosecute over 850,000 Americans annually for violating state marijuana laws. The penalties for those busted and convicted vary greatly, ranging from the imposition of small fines to license revocation to potential incarceration. But for the citizens arrested in these five states, the ramifications of even a minor pot bust are likely to be exceptionally severe.

    Alternet.org’s editors recently asked me to compile a list of ‘the worst of the worst’ states to be busted for personal pot possession. Without further ado, here they are:

    The 5 Worst States to Get Busted With Pot
    via Alternet.org

    [excerpt]

    1. Oklahoma — Lawmakers in the Sooner State made headlines this spring when legislators voted 119 to 20 in favor of House Bill 1798, which enhances the state sentencing guidelines for hash manufacturing to a minimum of two years in jail and a maximum penalty of life in prison. (Mary Fallin, the state’s first-ever female governor, signed the measure into law in April; it takes effect on November 1, 2011.) But longtime Oklahoma observers were hardly surprised at lawmakers’ latest “life for pot” plan. After all, state law already allows judges to hand out life sentences for those convicted of cannabis cultivation or for the sale of a single dime-bag.

    2. Texas — On an annual basis, no state arrests and criminally prosecutes more of its citizens for pot than does Texas. Marijuana arrests comprise over half of all annual arrests in the Lone Star State. It is easy to see why. In 2009, more than 97 percent of all Texas marijuana arrests — over 77,000 people — were for possession only. Those convicted face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, even upon a first conviction.

    3. Florida — According to a 2009 state-by-state analysis by researcher and former NORML Director Jon Gettman, no other state routinely punishes minor marijuana more severely than does the Sunshine State. Under Florida law, marijuana possession of 20 grams or less (about two-thirds of an ounce) is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Marijuana possession over 20 grams, as well as the cultivation of even a single pot plant, are defined by law as felony offenses – punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. In recent years, state lawmakers have revisited the state’s marijuana penalties – in each case electing to enhance Florida’s already toughest-in-the-nation criminal punishments.

    4. Louisiana — In Louisiana, multi-decade (or even life) sentences for repeat pot offenders are hardly a rare occurrence. Under Louisiana law, a second pot possession conviction is classified as a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. Three-time offenders face up to 20 years in prison. According to a 2008 expose published in New Orleans City Business online, district attorneys are not hesitant to “target small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threaten them with lengthy prison sentences.”

    5. Arizona — Forty years ago virtually every state in the nation defined marijuana possession as a felony offense. Today, only one state, Arizona, treats first-time pot possession in such an archaic and punitive manner. Under Arizona law, even minor marijuana possession offenses may be prosecuted as felony crimes, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine. According to Jon Gettman’s 2009 analysis only Florida consistently treats minor marijuana possession cases more severely.

    For a comprehensive breakdown of state-by-state marijuana penalties, visit NORML’s online map here. To get active in changing the laws of your state, visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here, sign up for free NORML news and legislative alerts, get involved with your local NORML chapter (or start your own chapter here), and join national NORML.

    Get active; get NORML!

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director May 11, 2011

    From NORML Daily Stash’s Russ Belville:

    I’m always thrilled when I get word from one of our local NORML chapters about their new creative projects to capture the public imagination.  This latest treat from Dallas/Fort Worth NORML, however, is one of my favorites.

    It’s the “Truth Enforcement Vehicle”, a former police car bought at auction.  DFW NORML replaced the red’n’blue lights with green LEDs and christened it vehicle #420 (of course).

    David Sloane, Esq., public information officer for DFW NORML, tells us about the reaction from the public and from the police.

    [caption id="attachment_5911" align="alignleft" width="159" caption="Cop photographing the Dallas/Ft. Worth NORML Truth Squad Car..."][/caption]

    David’s been forwarding us progress reports on the Truth Enforcement Vehicle and in response, NORML Founder Keith Stroup warned that such a brazen appropriation of police imagery might bring with it some extra attention from cops, so be very careful to obey the law and not allow contraband in the car.  Sure enough, Papa NORML knows best, judging by today’s report from David:

    Well, Keith Stroup’s crystal ball seems to be in fine working order.  I just got stopped in 420 TRUTH CAR on Loop 820.  I was driving under the speed limit and a FTW PD traffic unit working stationary radar on the shoulder started kicking up dirt and gravel coming onto the freeway before I even past him.  (Indicating to me they’ve been watching for that car.)

    Then he noticed an old City of FTW vehicle inventory sticker on the dash.  “371… was that a traffic unit?”  I said no it was a Low-Jack car… but I re-numbered it to 420.  He kinda chuckled again and said he noticed and something to the effect of everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.   Then he asked if he could get some pictures!  I told him sure and turned the light bar back on for him.  He pulled out his phone and began snapping away.  (I got a shot of him… gettin a shot of me… attached!)

    We exchanged cordial adieus and I was on my way. He wasn’t menacing or harassing at all.  I think they are just curious.   I’m sure those pics got the FTW-PD most-forwarded award for the afternoon shift!  Now just three more shifts to go!  LOL!

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director May 10, 2011

    [Editor’s note: Kellen’s brief review of a new organization dedicated to bringing attention to the numerous life sentences in America for cannabis-only related offenses is apropos as a 35-year-old father of a young child was sentenced in Louisiana Thursday for life in a cannabis possession case (the life sentence was triggered by the state’s controversial ‘three strikes and you’re out’ mandatory minimum sentences).

    Regrettably, and discernibly, the greater south of the United States is the hotbed for these kind of insanely long prison sentences for supposedly criminal acts that many citizens in fact no longer believe are crimes whatsoever.

    A new interactive map from the Sentencing Project aptly demonstrates that deep southern states like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have the highest prison incarceration rates not only in America, but the world.]

    By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington Law School student, NORML legal intern

    To many of us, the idea of anyone spending life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana offense is absolutely ridiculous. Yet with the recent passage of a bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature making the manufacture of hash punishable by life imprisonment, it is clear that life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenders do exist.  In fact, a new website is drawing attention to this issue and has identified several people who are currently serving life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

    LifeforPot.com focuses on finding individuals who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for federal nonviolent marijuana only offenses.  Beth Curtis, the founder of the website, has identified eight people, each with a unique background and story of how they came to spend the rest of their lives in prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

    Beth is very familiar with the subject: the first individual listed is John Knock, her brother. Since 2000, John has been serving two life sentences plus twenty years for his connection to a conspiracy to import multiple tons of marijuana and hashish from Pakistan and Lebanon into the United States and Canada, a sentence that Beth believes is the harshest ever for nonviolent marijuana crimes. When she talked to others about the severity of her brother’s sentence, she realized that people believed that nonviolent marijuana offenders could not receive such draconian sentences.

    Despite having retired and living in Hawaii when law enforcement came knocking on John’s door he was extradited to Florida—a state that he’d never lived in or committed a crime. Instead, John was drawn into a sting operation because of his contacts with a San Francisco area smuggler who had been indicted. However, John was never seen by law enforcement committing any of the crimes he was convicted of, he was never found in possession of marijuana, and his prosecution rested only upon the testimony of informants. Criminal defense lawyers describe his as a ‘dry case’, and the full story is available at johnknock.com and grandmasmind.com

    But how extraordinary is this sentence? Life for Pot lists some of the most famous drug kingpins and the sentences that they received, and it seems that John’s sentence was given special treatment. For example, “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the preeminent crack dealer of the Los Angeles area during the 1980s and early 90s was sentenced to life in 1996. His sentence was subsequently reduced to 20 years, and he was released in 2009. Manuel Felipe Salazar-Espinosa, deemed by the DEA to be one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins making up to $14 million in a week, was given 30 years for conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and money laundering.

    It is clear that there are differences in the sentencing of these individuals. Life for Pot seeks to identify and make others aware of these discrepancies. Beth notes that the creation of mandatory minimums at the federal level has resulted in the increase in power of the prosecutor to decide the sentence by choosing which charges to pursue. She specifically points out that the 11th Circuit, which encompasses Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, has given 6 of the 8 life sentences identified for nonviolent marijuana only offenses.

    So where does this effort go from here? Although Beth has already received some feedback from politicians, attorneys, activists, and journalists, she hopes to start an organization focused on this issue soon. In order to do this, she explains that she will need advisers to help out, as well as a strong coalition. The roots of this coalition have already begun to take hold, with organizations like the November Coalition, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums providing support, as well as media attention from a Columbia, Missouri NPR affiliate and High Times Magazine.

    Beth would also like to broaden the focus by included those serving de facto life sentences for nonviolent marijuana only offenses, including where older individuals are sentenced to long sentences (e.g., a 50 year old sentenced to 20 years).

    State sentences are another area that Beth would like to examine. Sentence reform efforts can be very successful at the state level. In order to do this, however, more resources must be available.

    A group petition for clemency is also in the works for those prisoners that have been identified as part of this effort.

    “The solution is political,” Beth declared. Legislative action is the best way to address the problem of egregious sentencing disparities. An organization focused on this issue would therefore be heavily focused on reaching legislators. So far, Life for Pot has sent out several cards and letters to federal congressmen and agencies. Beth also noted that advocacy efforts for the legalization of marijuana at the national level must be bolstered.

    In these times where some jurisdictions are locking up nonviolent marijuana offenders for life, it is good to hear that someone is bringing the inconsistency and irrationality of these practices to light.

    If you know someone that is currently serving a federal life sentence without parole for a nonviolent marijuana only offense, or would be able to assist Beth in her efforts, please contact her at johnknock@johnknock.com.

Page 3 of 512345