• by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 20, 2020

    The enactment of adult-use cannabis legalization laws is not associated with an increase in marijuana-related youth drug treatment admissions, according to data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

    A pair of researchers from Temple University assessed annual drug treatments admissions among youth for the years 2008 to 2017.

    Investigators reported: “Over all states in the analysis, the rate of adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use declined significantly over the study period, with the mean rate falling nearly in half. The decline in admissions rate was greater in Colorado and Washington compared to non-RML (recreational marijuana law) states” following the enactment of adult-use legalization policies.

    Authors speculated that a variety of factors could have influenced the decrease in admissions, including potential changes in youth use patterns and/or shifts in cultural attitudes toward marijuana consumption in general.

    They concluded: “To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the effect of recreational legalization of marijuana in the US on adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use. Our results indicate that RML in Colorado and Washington was not associated with an increase in treatment admissions. Rather, we observe a substantial decline in admissions rates across US states, with evidence suggesting a greater decline in Colorado/Washington following RML as compared to non-RML states. … While we are encouraged that rates of new treatment admissions for marijuana use among adolescents exhibited a general decline in the states we examined, it is unclear whether this finding reflects trends in the prevalence of CUD (cannabis use disorder) or, rather, changes in treatment seeking behaviors due to changing perceptions of risk and public attitudes towards marijuana use.”

    Separate studies have reported a dramatic and consistent decline in the prevalence of so-called cannabis use disorder over the better part of the past two decades. Self-reported use of marijuana by young people has also been in decline both nationally and in legal marijuana states.

    Historically, nearly half of all young people admitted to drug treatment for marijuana were referred there by the criminal justice system.

    The abstract of the study, “Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana following recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington,” is online here. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, ‘Marijuana Regulation and Teen Use Rates.”

  • 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 Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 8, 2020

    Empire State NORML and others are suing the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) so that qualified patients may access medical cannabis products while on probation.

    The lawsuit – filed by NORML Legal Committee member David Holland on behalf of Empire State NORML, a nurse practitioner, and several state-registered patients – contends that the DOCCS and its subsidiaries are in violation of state law by prohibiting petitioners access to cannabis while they serve out their term of probation supervision.

    Petitioners argue that the state’s medical cannabis access law explicitly forbids state officials from taking discriminatory actions against qualified patients. Petitioners reject the DOCCS’ claim that allowing medical cannabis use to those on probation will subject the agency to federal reprisals, such as the loss of federal funds.

    Petitioners opine: “DOCCS’ reliance upon the safe harbor provision, … which does not compel an individual or entity to ‘act’ or otherwise take action which violates federal law or may cause the loss of federal finding, … is misplaced. Congress has passed legislative and budgetary appropriation measures restricting federal law enforcement from utilizing federal funds to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act in New York and [in] the other 32 states that have legalized medical marijuana. These purposeful restrictions passed and imposed by Congress itself on the enforceability of the federal CSA against the investigation and prosecution of state compliant medical marijuana programs renders the federal law a nullity. … [Therefore,] Respondents … cannot properly rely upon the ‘safe harbor’ provision … as a means to strip Probationer Petitioners of their protected status under the Compassionate Use Act.”

    Petitioners seek a declaratory judgment from the state Supreme Court against the DOCCS determining petitioners “rights and privileges under Public Health Law 3369(2).”

    In Decembers, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the right of patients to access medical cannabis products while on probation unless there exists material evidence to show that prohibiting such use “is necessary and appropriate” to accomplish explicit sentencing goals. Justices on the Supreme Court for the state of Pennsylvania are deliberating over a similar suit, and are anticipated to rule on the matter this year.

    The case is Empire State NORML et al. v. New York State department of Corrections and Community Services et al. Additional information is available from Empire State NORML.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 28, 2019

    Marijuana LawsManufacturing and possessing concentrated forms of cannabis are legally protected activities under the state’s medical cannabis access law, according to a unanimous decision issued today by the Arizona Supreme Court. The decision reverses a 2018 ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

    Writing for the Court, justices opined: “AMMA (the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) defines ‘marijuana’ as ‘all parts of [the] plant.’ The word ‘all,’ one of the most comprehensive words in the English language, means exactly that. Taken together, ‘all parts’ refers to all constituent elements of the marijuana plant, and the fact the resin must first be extracted from the plant reflects that it is part of the plant.”

    They added: “Proposition 203 was intended to allow the use of marijuana in connection with a wide array of debilitating medical conditions. … It is implausible that voters intended to allow patients with these conditions to use marijuana only if they could consume it in dried-leaf/flower form. Such an interpretation would preclude the use of marijuana as an option for those for whom smoking or consuming those parts of the marijuana plants would be ineffective or impossible. Consistent with voter intent, our interpretation enables patients to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating medical conditions, in whatever form best suits them, so long as they do not possess more than the allowable amount.”

    The ruling vacates the conviction of Rodney Jones, a state-registered patient, who was sentenced two-and-one-half years in prison for the possession of 0.05 ounces of hashish.

    NORML Legal Committee member Tom Dean filed an amicus brief in the case.

    The case is State v Jones (No. CR-18-0370-PR).

  • by NORML March 15, 2019

    Minor marijuana possession offenders will no longer be criminally prosecuted in Hennepin County, Minnesota, according to a new policy announced Thursday by County Attorney Mike Freeman. An estimated 1.2 million people live in the County, which includes the city of Minneapolis.

    Commenting on the new policy, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The Hennepin County Attorney is to be commended for taking this proactive stance. Branding individuals — many of whom are at an age when they are just beginning their professional careers — as lifelong criminals, and in some cases felons, for minor marijuana possession offenses results in a litany of lost opportunities including the potential loss of employment, housing, professional licensing, and student aid, and serves no legitimate societal purpose. This change is a recognition that marijuana criminalization is a disproportionate public policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a public health concern. But it should not be a criminal justice matter.”

    Under the policy, prosecutors will not criminally charge anyone for marijuana offenses involving the possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis. Rather, defendants will be ordered to complete a diversion program or partake in community service. Under state law, marijuana possession offenses involving over 42.5 grams are classified as felony offenses – punishable by up to a five-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.

    Under special circumstances, such as if the defendant possessed a firearm or is a habitual offender, prosecutors may still file criminal charges.

    Freeman said the policy change was necessary because he believes that the state law is overly punitive and produces racial disparities in incarceration rates. “My job is to determine if people are charged and how to spend my resources,” Freeman said. “Spending resources on these cases is just wrong.”

    The County Attorney for Ramsey County (population 500,000), which includes the city of St. Paul, enacted a similar policy earlier this year.

    Similar actions have been taken in recent months by prosecutors in Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Norfolk, among other metropolitan areas.

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