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LAW ENFORCEMENT

  • by NORML July 11, 2018

    The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) questions the excessive use of force used by Pennsylvania law enforcement, whose pursuit of a man suspected of growing a small amount of marijuana outdoors ultimately led to his death.

    The body of a suspect in the case, Pennsylvania resident Gregory A. Longenecker, was found earlier this week under a bulldozer operated by a Pennsylvania Game Commission worker. The bulldozer was carrying a Pennsylvania state trooper in pursuit of Mr. Longenecker, who was suspected to have been cultivating ten marijuana plants in Penn Township, PA. A police helicopter was also used in the search.

    NORML questions law enforcements’ decision to pursue the suspect in such an extreme manner, especially over such a minor offense..  “As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow,” said Patrick Nightengale, Executive Director of Pittsburgh NORML. “Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn’t simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend’s name is. How difficult is that?”

    “This awful event could have and should have been prevented,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. ”This tragedy is a direct result of our nation’s draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence.”

    The commercial cultivation and dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam; The regulation of marijuana for adults is permitted in nine states and Washington, DC. Recent national polls have revealed that over 60% of all Americans support the legalization of marijuana for adults.

    “As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources,” says Jeff Riedy, Executive Director of Lehigh Valley NORML. “These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least.”

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  • by NORML June 20, 2018

    Local Marijuana DecriminalizationEven though recreational marijuana remains criminalized in a majority of US states, more and more municipalities are moving ahead with local laws decriminalizing the possession of cannabis within city limits. For the first time, NORML has released a comprehensive breakdown of these citywide and countywide decriminalization policies.

    Efforts to liberalize municipal marijuana possession penalties in states where cannabis remains criminalized have become increasingly popular in recent years. Since 2012, over 50 localities, such as Albuquerque, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis in a dozen states — including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas — have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. Today, over 10.5 million Americans reside in these localities. (Please note: This total does not include cities or counties in states that have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana statewide).

    Click here to see the full breakdown of localities that have decriminalized marijuana

    NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri: “Local politicians see firsthand the punitive and disproportionately adverse effects that statewide marijuana criminalization has on their communities and upon their constituents. That is why they are exercising their local legislative powers to protect citizens in their community when state politicians are either unwilling or lack the political courage to do so.”

    DECRIMINALIZATION EXPLAINED

    Under full decriminalization, minor offenses are defined by statute as either non-criminal violations or infractions. Violators are not subject to arrest. Instead, they are cited and mandated to pay a small fine. Violators are not subject to a court appearance nor are they saddled with a criminal conviction or record.  Under partial decriminalization policies, minor marijuana offenses may remain classified as misdemeanor offenses. However, violators are issued a summons in lieu of a criminal arrest.

    Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted versions of marijuana decriminalization. (Eight of these states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont — have since replaced their decriminalization statutes with statewide adult use legalization legislation.)

    Today, nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island — have fully decriminalized activities specific to the private possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults. Four additional states — Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio — have partially decriminalized marijuana possession offenses. In these latter jurisdictions, cannabis remains classified as a misdemeanor under state law, but the offense does not carry the penalty of jail time. In New York, marijuana possession ‘in public view’ remains punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.

    Click here to see the full breakdown of localities that have decriminalized marijuana

    NORML Political Director Justin Strekal: “As public support in favor of marijuana law reform has grown, so too have local efforts by legislators and voters to address the issue at the municipal level. In many regions of the country, local lawmakers are moving to shield their local citizens from state prohibitions — one city at a time.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 23, 2018

    In a ruling issued today by the Arizona Supreme Court, justices upheld an appellate court decision striking down a 2012 law that sought to forbid medical cannabis access on college campuses.

    Lifetime NORML Legal Committee member Tom Dean represented the patient-defendant in the case pro bono, and called the decision a “victory for democracy.”

    Justices opined that the 2012 law was unconstitutional because it impermissibly sought to amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which voters passed in 2010. State law limits the legislature’s ability to amend, repeal, or supersede voter-initiated laws.

    “Because the AMMA sets forth a list of locations where the legislature may impose ‘civil, criminal or other penalties’ when a person possesses or uses marijuana, § 36-2802, and because that list does not include college and university campuses (unlike pre-, primary-, and secondary-school grounds), we assume that the voters did not intend to criminalize AMMA-compliant possession or use of marijuana on public college and university campuses,” the court ruled. It further rejected the state’s claim that a campus-wide ban was necessary in order to preserve universities’ federal funding.

    “If the State had prevailed, they could then have tampered with any and all ballot initiatives, past, present, and future,” said Dean. “This is a victory for all Arizona voters and especially for medical marijuana patients.”

    The ruling sets aside the felony conviction of defendant Andrew Lee Maestas, who was initially charged and found guilty of the possession of 0.4 grams of marijuana despite his status as a state-registered medical cannabis patient.

    The case is Arizona v Maestas, No. CR-17-0193-PR.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    Seizures of indoor and outdoor cannabis crops in the United States fell nearly 40 percent between the years 2016 and 2017, according to annual data compiled by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

    According to figures published in the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report, the agency and its law enforcement partners confiscated an estimated 3.38 million marijuana plants nationwide in 2017. This total represents a 37 percent decrease from the agency’s 2016 totals, when it eradicated some 5.34 million plants.

    As in past years, the majority of seizures nationwide (72 percent) took place in California, where law enforcement seized and estimated 2.45 million plants. That total was 35 percent lower than in 2016, when law enforcement confiscated an estimated 3.78 million plants. California voters in November 2016 legalized adult use marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales.

    Law enforcement seized 472,927 plants in Kentucky (down 15 percent from 2016), 74,599 plants in West Virginia (down 40 percent), 62,323 plants in Arkansas (up 93 percent), 60,658 plants in Indiana (up five percent), and 34,646 plants in Tennessee (down 73 percent).

    The agency and its partners reported making 4,502 arrests in conjunction with their cannabis eradication efforts – a 20 percent decline from 2016.

    The DEA also reported seizing some $20.5 million in assets during their confiscation efforts – a 60 percent reduction from the previous year.

    You can click here to send a message to your member of Congress to support pending legislation known as the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act to reduce the DEA’s enforcement policies even faster. 

    Full data from the DEA’s 2017 report, as well as past years’ reports, are available online here.

  • by David Holland, Executive Director of Empire State NORML May 17, 2018

    In a surprise joint press conference, Cyrus Vance Jr. and Eric Gonzalez, the respective District Attorneys of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City, both announced that with limited exception low-level marijuana-related offenses would no longer be prosecuted.  Both cited a six-month-long study that revealed that there was no discernible impact upon issues of public health and safety by ending the prosecution of these minor cannabis offenses.  The positive side of this new policy is the discontinuance of the persecution of communities predominated by people of color who have been disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for these low-level cannabis offenses.  As such, both District Attorneys publicly vowed that as of August 1, 2018, they would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession and consumption cases.    The talismanic significance of that delayed date is unknown as New York City needs this program implemented now, not weeks from now.

    This new approach comes on the heels of past mayoral pledges that sought to relax enforcement policies.  Until recent years, an individual caught smoking marijuana was required to be arrested and processed through the system resulting in criminal misdemeanor charges. Often the amount of time elapsing between arrest and arraignment would be anywhere from 12-24 hours or more before a defendant would be produced before the court to answer the charges.  Many of those charged with a cannabis misdemeanor would nonetheless have their cases effectively dismissed by moving under the Penal Law for an “ACD” which meant that the defendant’s case would be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal provided that they not be rearrested during a 6-month post-arraignment period.  The costs for in man hours and salaries to pursue even a single soon to be dismissed arrest was staggering.

    Under Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio the process was significantly truncated where an individual would be arrested and processed at the police precinct and released with a “DAT” which was a desk appearance ticket advising the defendant to show up in court on a particular day in the future and answer the charges. Those DAT cases most often resulted in ACD status meaning that there was no criminal conviction for the defendant and the arrest would be stricken from their record after the probationary period of time.  But, it appears that prosecution approach was not equally applied to people of color who were still disproportionately arrested and given DATs even though the statistics show that marijuana use is relatively equal across all ethnicities.  It is this continued evident disparity that has prompted the pronouncement of the District Attorneys.

    In a subsequent interview with a reporter at NY-1 news station, Cyrus Vance Jr., the DA for Manhattan, stated in sum and substance that the criminal prosecution of cannabis was essentially futile because there was no further intervention by the legal system which would otherwise admonish or assist the criminal defendant who’s case would eventually be dismissed in any event.

    Under the new policy, the individual arrested would be issued a summons for a violation which is not a crime and the punishment being a monetary fine and/or a maximum of 15 days in jail rather than the 1 year period for a criminal misdemeanor conviction for cannabis.

    While this is definitely a positive development it still waits to be seen if this new policy is applied more fairly and equally regarding people of color.  As the goal of the violation is for the city to not to continue to incur the expenses of futile criminal prosecutions, it is the goal of the city by means of violations to fill its coffers with monies collected from fines.  These are monies that would not otherwise be collected during the course of a criminal prosecution resulting in an ACD.

    It will only be a matter of time to review the statistics to determine if people of color are finally be treated more fairly and equally in the newly proclaimed cannabis friendly administrations.

    David Holland, Esq is the Executive and Legal Director of Empire State NORML in New York. You can visit their website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter

     

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