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LAW ENFORCEMENT

  • by NORML May 7, 2020

    Police are less likely to conduct searches for illicit contraband during a traffic stop following the enactment of adult-use marijuana legalization, according to data published in the journal Nature: Human Behavior.

    A team of researchers affiliated with Stanford University and New York University assessed the effects of statewide legalization laws in Colorado and Washington on traffic stop outcomes.

    Investigators reported, “After the legalization of marijuana, the number of searches fell substantially” in both states as compared to rates in 12 control states (jurisdictions that did not amend their marijuana laws). In addition, “the proportion of stops that resulted in either a drug-related infraction or misdemeanor fell substantially in both states after marijuana was legalized.”

    However, despite the overall decline in traffic stop-related searchers, authors reported that African Americans and Hispanics continued to be subject to vehicle searches at disproportionate rates. “We found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization,” they wrote. “The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions.”

    Nationwide, African Americans’ and Hispanics’ vehicles are searched about twice as often as are those of white motorists.

    Authors concluded, “We find that legalization reduced both search rates and misdemeanor rates for drug offenses for white, black, and Hispanic drivers – though a gap in search thresholds persists.”

    Their findings are similar to those reported in 2017 by The Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting. In that study, researchers similarly reported that traffic stop-related searches fell among both whites and African Americans post-legalization, but that blacks still remained two-to-three times more likely to have their vehicles searched.

    Commenting on the new study, NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal said, “While we are pleased to see the total number of traffic stop-related searches decline in legal cannabis states, we must not overlook the reality that people of color continue to be policed in a racially disparate manner. While legalization is one tool that appears to lessen some of these disparities, it is not a panacea to solve the structural problems of systemic racism that persist in America.”

    The full text of the study, “A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States,” appears in Nature: Human Behavior.

  • by NORML April 14, 2020

    Federal law enforcement agents and their partners made fewer marijuana-related arrests in 2019, but seized a far greater number of plants than they did the year before, according to annual data compiled by 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 four million marijuana plants in 2019 – up from 2.8 million in 2018.

    By contrast, marijuana-related marijuana arrests compiled by the DEA fell to 4,718 in 2019 – a decrease of 16 percent from 2018’s totals. It was the second-lowest number of arrests reported by the DEA in the past decade. In 2011, for instance, the DEA seized over 8.7 million marijuana plants and made over 8,500 annual arrests as part of its nationwide Eradication/Suppression activities.

    Commenting on the longer-term trends, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Following the enactment of statewide adult-use cannabis legalization laws, both DEA-related marijuana arrests and seizures have fallen dramatically. That said, these totals affirm that targeting marijuana-related growing operations still remains a DEA priority, even at a time when most Americans have made it clear that they want cannabis policies to head in a very different direction.”

    Much of the spike in plant seizures in 2019 was attributable to an increase in activity in California. In 2019, law enforcement eradicated 1,344 outdoor grow sites statewide — up from 889 in 2018, and seized nearly 3.2 million plants, nearly twice the previous year’s total.

    In 2018, the same year that California began permitting licensed adult-use sales of cannabis, marijuana plant seizures fell nearly 30 percent from the prior year. In February 2019 however, the Governor announced the deployment of national guard troops to track down on illicit marijuana grow operations, an effort which may have played a role in the sudden uptick in seizures in 2019.

    According to the DEA, “The DCE/SP began funding eradication programs in Hawaii and California in 1979. The program rapidly expanded to include programs in 25 states by 1982. By 1985, all 50 states were participating in the DCE/SP. … In 2020, the DEA continued its nation-wide cannabis eradication efforts, providing resources to support the 127 state and local law enforcement agencies that actively participate in the program.”

    DEA data for 2019 is online here.

  • by David Holland, Executive Director of Empire State NORML April 2, 2020

    Marijuana LawsJohn Knock, now 72 years old, has been in custody and already served 24 years towards his interminable bit of two life sentences plus twenty years for his first offense and involvement in a non-violent marijuana distribution conspiracy.  Those draconian sentences were handed down in the year 2000 by the District Court of the Northern District of Florida. Since those harsh sentences were handed down, 33 states have legalized the sale of cannabis in some form and 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it’s adult-use.

    In a recent motion filed by Empire State NORML Executive Director and NLC member, David C. Holland, Esq., relief for Knock is being sought from the federal sentencing District Court under the First Step Act. You can find the materials here: www.hollandlitigation.com/resources/

    This motion was filed after the Warden’s untimely rejection of John’s request for compassionate release based on his age, deteriorating health, and changes in the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act and modern sentencing trends.

    Holland argues that Knock’s extreme sentences were the result of the “trial penalty” or sentencing enhancement for having forced the Government to go to trial to prove its jurisdiction over the case and the quality of the co-conspirator/cooperating witness evidence against him. Others charged in the same conspiracy, who pled guilty rather than proceed to trial, were released with sentences as low as 3 years. Knock’s motion argues that the sentences were driven by a vindictive government and the inflexibility of the mandatory federal Sentencing Guidelines which militated life sentences. Holland further argues that since that time, the Sentencing Guidelines have become advisory and that federal sentencing policies have become far more lenient due to state based commercial albeit federally illegal marijuana distribution programs. Graphs and charts developed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission readily demonstrate that modern day first time offenders receive average sentences below 10 years – which is nearly 2 ½ times less than Knock has already been behind bars.

    The motion also charts out that notorious marijuana dealers involved in other distribution conspiracies, including Howard “Mr. Nice” Marx, faced or actually received moderate sentences of 10 years or less for pleading guilty to charges despite being dubbed “the world’s largest distributor” or having engaged in the “world’s biggest” conspiracies.

    Knock’s First Step Act motion argues that the time has come for District Courts to immediately reduce the sentences of lifers like him in order to reverse the ‘trial penalty’ and to fall into line with modern sentencing trends.  In Knock’s, he seeks to be resentenced to time served.  Given the government’s modern tolerance of state cannabis programs, more lenient sentencing trends, and empowerment of the federal District Court’s to entertain such humanitarian motions after all other post-conviction and administrative remedies has failed should prompt the Northern District of Florida to grant the motion and release John Knock before COVID-19 becomes a serious threat and causes his untimely and unnecessary demise.

    This motion echoes the words of Michael Kennedy, John’s trial counsel: “No one should do life for pot!” Hopefully the District Court will finally hear them.

  • by Chris Goldstein, Regional NORML Organizer January 28, 2020

    Preliminary data*, released on request from the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System, reveals that overall arrests for marijuana possession showed a decline in 2019.

    In 2018 there were nearly 24,000 adults arrested for less than 30 grams of cannabis. The new data shows 19,990 adults arrested for the same offense in 2019.

    Chris Goldstein, a writer and regional organizer for NORML, has gathered Pa. cannabis arrest data since 2008. He called this “a significant shift.”

    “Previously, there were steady annual increases in arrests for cannabis possession – thousands more every year – while other drug arrests had plateaued. Now, there is a clear downward trend in arresting marijuana consumers.”

    “This is likely the result of two major policy changes: More than twenty decriminalization or penalty downgrade ordinances passed by city councils across the Commonwealth, and approximately a quarter of a million registered medical marijuana patients,” said Goldstein.

    Philadelphia instituted civil fine tickets in 2014, starting a wave of municipal action to stem cannabis arrests. The largest cities followed suit such as Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Erie and York. Most recently, in January, Norristown joined the list. Pennsylvania began offering registration for the medical cannabis program in 2017.

    Lehigh Valley NORML Executive Director Jeff Riedy helped pass several ordinances, and noted that Allentown’s has yet to be implemented.

    “We are clearly going to legalize marijuana and tax it here in the Keystone State, so we should stop these arrests right now,” said Reidy.

    Andy Hoover, spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that the data shows incremental progress but more remains to be done.

    “At the very least, this means less people who are cannabis consumers are getting tied up in the criminal legal system. That’s a positive,” Hoover said. “The damage that is done when a person is arrested is significant, and it’s people of color who are disproportionately impacted, despite the fact that cannabis consumption is the same across races. Ultimately, the state legislature can stop these arrests from happening altogether by wiping marijuana possession from the commonwealth’s criminal law. For now, at least police in Pennsylvania are arresting fewer people.”

    Although the data points to a promising new trend, Pennsylvania still ranks in the top five states where cannabis consumers face frequent arrest and prosecution. A recent report from Pew Research noted that Northeast states account for 53 percent of the nation’s 663,000 marijuana arrests –  9 out of 10 were for possession.

    Reporting from every corner of Pennsylvania has documented the injustices happening every day:

    • Police aggressively searching property, vehicles and people on the premise of marijuana.
    • Those who face arrest or even summary offenses for possession are often made to undergo questionable and expensive drug treatment programs to avoid further prosecution.
    • Constant THC testing sending people into an endless cycle of probation violations.
    • Cannabis consumers – even registered medical patients –  regularly enduring deep discrimination by property owners and employers.

    NORML Chapters and policy reform groups across the commonwealth are calling for immediate action from the General Assembly, Governor Tom Wolf, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro stop police from targeting more than a million local cannabis consumers for arrest and discrimination.

    “Marijuana prohibition will end in Pennsylvania. Law abiding cannabis consumers deserve better than getting arrested right until the moment we’re taxed,” said Lehigh Valley NORML’s Jeff Reidy.

    * Preliminary data as released on request from the PAUCRS, these numbers may change slightly when the Annual Uniform Crime Report is published in the fall. 

    For more information, please contact Jeff Riedy, 610-533-0906, lehighvnorml@gmail.com or NORML Regional Organizer Chris Goldstein 609 726 6030.

    Lehigh Valley NORML is a local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a non-profit organization, fighting to reform cannabis laws nationwide. Their efforts include education, community outreach, and working with lawmakers.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 16, 2020

    Marijuana CultivationFederal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes fell significantly from September 30, 2018 to September 30, 2019, according to a recently released report from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

    The 2019 end-of-year report finds that the number of federal defendants charged with cannabis-associated crimes declined by 28 percent. By contrast, total filings for drug crimes increased five percent over the same time period, totaling over 83,000 cases in 2019.

    Separate data reported by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in July reported a decline in DEA-led marijuana seizures, but showed an increase in DEA arrests for marijuana violations in 2018. State-level arrests for marijuana violations have increased year-over-year since 2016, according to annual data reported by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Full text of the 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary is online here.

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