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LAW ENFORCEMENT

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 15, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesAfrican Americans in the city of Buffalo (population 257,000) are disproportionately arrested for low-level marijuana possession offenses, according to an analysis of arrest data by the advocacy group Partnership for the Public Good.

    Researchers evaluated marijuana arrest data for Erie County, New York for the years 2012 to 2016. Countywide, blacks comprised 71 percent of all low-level marijuana offenders, despite comprising only 13.5 percent of the population. In the city of Buffalo, 86 percent of those arrested for minor marijuana possession violations were either African American (80 percent) or Hispanic (six percent). Blacks and Hispanic represent fewer than 50 percent of the city’s population.

    “[T]he disparities in the number of marijuana possession arrests cannot be explained by a higher use among black or Hispanic people,” authors concluded. “Legalizing marijuana would reduce low-level drug arrests by ten percent, and help reduce racial disparities in overall arrest numbers.”

    Recent analyses from other states, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, have similarly identified racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. Nationwide, African Americans are approximately four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana, despite members of both ethnicities using the substance at similar rates.

    Full text of the report, “Advancing Racial Equity and Public Health: Smarter Marijuana Laws in Western New York,” appears online here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director November 14, 2017

    Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 7.32.58 PMDuring a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted his Department of Justice would be required to abide by budget amendments that restrict their use of funding to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs.

    Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) grilled Sessions on a number of his Reefer Madness talking points including his comments stating marijuana consumers are not “good people” and if he believed that he would be bound by budget amendments, like Rohrabacher-Blumenauer and McClintock-Polis, that ban him from using DOJ funds to target state marijuana laws. Sessions agreed.

    This explains why he was vigorously lobbying Republican members of the House to oppose these amendments earlier this year. We know full well that Jeff Sessions despises marijuana and is a die-hard drug warrior from the Just Say No era. While these restrictions remain in place, he cannot pursue his lifelong dream of returning us to old, failed drug war policies.

    Unfortunately, these budget amendments need to be renewed on an annual basis, and so far they have not been for 2018. If these protections go away, there is no guarantee that the Department of Justice won’t begin to implement federal prohibition laws in states that have moved in a more common sense direction on marijuana policy.

    The good news is: YOU CAN HELP STOP SESSIONS IN HIS TRACKS.

    CLICK HERE TO SEND AN URGENT EMAIL TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE TO URGE THEM TO PROTECT STATE MARIJUANA LAWS NOW!

    The best defense is a good offense and we need to make our voices heard loudly and clearly now, before it is too late. Take a minute today to stand up for respecting state marijuana laws and tell Sessions we won’t accept any attempts to crack down on these important programs. Send a message NOW.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director October 26, 2017

    Jeff_Sessions_(29299022521)In an interview with conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his position against marijuana, his commitment to enforcing its prohibition, and expressed an openness to use RICO suits against businesses that handle the plant.

    Earlier this year Cully Stimson of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank that has a tremendous amount of influence within the leadership of the Republican Party, penned an 11-point plan advising the Justice Department on how to crack down on the states, businesses, patients, and consumers of marijuana. So far, Sessions has followed the first 4 points and the 9th is the implementation of RICO suits.

    Just because the Justice Department has yet to make overt policy changes or action in the first 9 months of the administration, it certainly does not mean that it is not coming. You can see it in the words of the Sessions himself. We have already seen them issue new guidelines to rev up charges against those suspected of drug-related crimes, pursue maximum sentences for those charges, and an escalation in the department’s ability to utilize civil asset forfeiture to deprive those charged of their possessions.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative and demand a descheduling of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to end federal prohibition. 

    Below is the transcript of the exchange (emphasis added):

    HH: I hope they’re looking. It’s becoming a little bit chilling how big they are. Let me turn to marijuana, Mr. Attorney General. A lot of states are just simply breaking the law. And a lot of money is being made and banked. One RICO prosecution of one producer and the banks that service them would shut this all down. Is such a prosecution going to happen?

    JS: I don’t know that one prosecution would be quite as effective as that, but we, I do not believe that we should, I do not believe there’s any argument, because a state legalized marijuana that the federal law against marijuana is no longer in existence. I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.

    HH: But one prosecution that invokes a supremacy clause against one large dope manufacturing concern, and follows the money as it normally would in any drug operation and seizes it, would shut, would chill all of this. But I haven’t seen on in nine months, yet. Is one coming?

    JS: Really analyze all those cases, and I can’t comment on the existence of an investigation at this time, Hugh, you know that, so, but I hear you. You’re making a suggestion. I hear it.

    HH: I’m lobbying.

    JS: (laughing) You’re lobbying.

     

  • by NORML October 2, 2017

    marijuana_gavelToday, Atlanta City Council voted to pass Ordinance 17-O-1152, decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. This measure amends the local law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $75 fine — no arrest, jail time, or criminal arrest record.

    Annually, over 30,000 Georgians — many of whom reside in Atlanta — are arrested and charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Those arrested and convicted face up to one-year in prison, a $1,000 fine under state law, or up to six months in jail under local statutes. National statistics indicate that African Americans are an estimated four times as likely as whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws, despite using marijuana at rates similar to Caucasians.

    “Court costs, the jail time, ruining young people’s lives, they lose their scholarships, it breaks up families, and it wastes our tax dollars. That’s the reason for doing this,” said Kwanza Hall, a city Councilman and candidate for Mayor.

    With the passage of this measure, citizens of Atlanta no longer have to fear unnecessary jail time for possessing a drug that should not be illegal in the first place. However, because the law only applies to Atlanta city limits, it conflicts with the state law that calls for jail time and gives police leeway in deciding which law (state or city) should be enforced.

    However, Atlanta has now joined the growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. This new ordinance may not be perfect, but it is a victory nonetheless.

    “Atlanta is celebrating a big win for their community, for their future. Citizens should be aware of the actual law not just assume they can use Cannabis unfettered across the city. There will be a learning curve and we at Peachtree NORML will do everything we can to make sure the citizens are educated as we continue our work at the State level. For now, 800 arrests will not occur next year if this ordinance stays true to what the essence was meant to accomplish,” said Sharon Ravert, founder of Peachtree NORML.

     

    Follow Peachtree NORML on Facebook, Twitter, and visit their website.

  • by NORML

    MarijuanaArrestsTimelineEighty years ago, on October 2, 1937, House Bill 6385: The Marihuana Tax Act was enacted as law. The Act for the first time imposed federal criminal penalties on activities specific to the possession, production, and sale of cannabis – thus ushering in the modern era of federal prohibition.

    “The ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.”

    Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of the Marihuana Tax Act, which largely consisted of sensational testimony by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Director Harry Anslinger. He asserted before the House Ways and Means Committee, “This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.” His ideological testimony was countered by the American Medical Association, whose legislative counsel Dr. William C. Woodward argued that hard evidence in support of Anslinger’s hyperbolic claims was non-existent.

    Woodward testified: “We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. … You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes.  No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it.” He further contended that passage of the Act would severely hamper physicians’ ability to prescribe cannabis as a medicine.

    Absent further debate, members of Congress readily approved the bill, which President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed into law on August 2, 1937. The ramifications of the law became apparent over the ensuing decades. Physicians ceased prescribing cannabis as a therapeutic remedy and the substance was ultimately removed from the US pharmacopeia in 1942. United States hemp cultivation also ended (although the industry was provided a short-lived reprieve during World War II). Policy makers continued to exaggerate the supposed ill effects of cannabis, which Congress went on to classify alongside heroin in 1970 with the passage of the US Controlled Substances Act. Law enforcement then began routinely arresting marijuana consumers and sellers, fueling the racially disparate, mass incarceration epidemic we still face today.

    Despite continued progress when it comes to legalizing or decriminalizing the adult use of marijuana, data from the recently released Uniform Crime Report from the FBI revealed that over 600,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016.

    After 80 years of failure, NORML contends that it is time for a common sense, evidence-based approach to cannabis policy in America.

    “Despite nearly a century of criminal prohibition, the demand for marijuana is here to stay. America’s laws should reflect this reality and govern the cannabis market accordingly,” stated NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, “Policymakers ought to look to the future rather than to the past, and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”

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