Thursday, January 05, 2017
Marijuana reform and clemency conversations at the state and federal level
Two new lengthy pieces combining news and commentary on the clemency and marijuana fronts further reinforces my view that marijuana reform is a form of sentencing reform. Here are the extended headlines and links to these two interesting reads:
From the Christian Science Monitor here, "Vermont governor pardons 192 marijuana offenders. Will other states do the same?: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin pardoned nearly 200 nonviolent offenders convicted of marijuana possession under the state’s old laws. Will other state executives follow his lead?"
From Politico here, "The Big Statement Obama Could Make On Legalizing Pot: Pardoning a 73-year-old marijuana kingpin would please thousands of voters, but probably not the next attorney general."
Sunday, January 01, 2017
Any astute thoughts about the sentencing year that was or the year that will be?
A variety of other (mostly non-work) engagements have prevented me from having the time to do any elaborate year-in-review or year-to-come posts about sentencing topics. That said, as I take my 2016 calendars down and replace them with the 2017 versions, two matters come to mind that implicate both the year that was and the year to come:
1. SCOTUS transition: though representing only one vote, Justice Scalia's voice and impact on sentencing and criminal justice jurisprudence was far larger than his voting record. The impact and import of his legacy and his absence, along with the coming character of his SCOTUS replacement, cannot be readily overstated.
2. Marijuana reform (but few other big sentencing reforms): with four more states voting for full recreational reform and nearly a dozen others enacting or enhancing medical regimes, in 2016 marijuana reform continued at a remarkable clip while broader drug war and other sentencing reform stalled (at least at the federal level). What the new GOP executive leaders in DC will now do on these fronts is among the most interesting and dynamic and uncertain story to watch in 2017.
As always, I welcome reader throughout on these topics and any others about the year that ended yesterday or the new one getting started today.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
So many states with so many interesting marijuana reform stories ... only partially covered at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Especially since the election, I have found the stories and debates surrounding capital and non-capital sentencing reforms to be filled with even more intrigue and uncertainty than usual. And yet, even as sentencing law and policy gets even more dynamic, I continue to find legal and policy and practice developments in the marijuana reform space to be on a whole different level. Part of this reality comes from the fact that marijuana reform right now is such a diverse state-by-state story nationwide, with big new developments occurring literally from corner to corner of the United States. For example, in this new round-up of notable headlines at my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform blog, there is news of note from Alaska and California and Florida and Maine (as well as from fly-over states like Ohio and Montana).
Of course, all criminal justice reform stories are ultimately state-by-state stories in the United States. Still, the fact that we see so much state-level reform an innovation in the teeth of continued federal blanket prohibition seems to me an important reminder of how decentralized power in this great country can be if folks take the time to try to avoid undue obsession with the laws and policy that emerge only from inside the Beltway. And here are a few more more recent posts from MLP&R further reinforcing this essential story:
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Vermont Gov promising to pardon all marijuana offenses on his way out of office
As reported in this local article from Vermont, "before he leaves office, Gov. Peter Shumlin is planning to pardon people who were convicted of possessing up to one ounce of marijuana." Here are the details:
Vermont removed criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession in 2013. Shumlin said in a statement that pardoning the convictions now is "the right thing to do," and he hopes to review as many applications as possible before he leaves office in the new year. [The official statement is here.]
“Decriminalization was a good first step in updating our outmoded drug laws," Shumlin said. "It makes no sense that minor marijuana convictions should tarnish the lives of Vermonters indefinitely.”
The governor will consider pardons for people who have never been convicted of "violent criminal Vermont convictions or felonies," according to a news release. The governor's office believes as many as 10,000 people are eligible for pardons, said James Pepper, a policy adviser and director of intergovernmental affairs for Shumlin....
People interested in a pardon for marijuana possession can apply through the governor's website before Dec. 25 [link here]. The website cautions applicants that their applications may be considered public records and that a pardon "will not necessarily erase a conviction or the record of that conviction."
"If you are requesting a pardon because you believe the pardon will have certain legal consequences for you, you should talk to a lawyer," the governor's website states....
A 2015 Vermont law allows people in certain circumstances to expunge criminal records of acts they committed before age 25 that are no longer criminal, including possession of small amounts of marijuana. Shumlin believes Vermont should legalize recreational marijuana. A legalization bill passed the state Senate this year but did not pass the House of Representatives.
This story provides further reinforcement of my long-standing view that marijuana reform = sentencing reform and that everyone interested in sentencing reform should be a supporter of marijuana reform. And, of course, for more on marijuana law, policy and reform, my other blog has been covering these stories:
Friday, December 02, 2016
Reviewing another week of developments and questions from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Absent complaints from readers, I think I am going to return to my habit of closing up my "blogging work-week" in this space by providing a round-up of posts of note from blogging over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. So:
- Given latest opioid death data, should Ohio officials be fast-tracking access to medical marijuana?
- Highlighting how in California marijuana legalization = sentencing reform
- Some notable new stories and discussions of NFL policies and NFL players' use of marijuana
- "Marijuana advocates sceptical about Canada path to legal pot"
Saturday, November 26, 2016
So many marijuana reform developments and questions, with so many more on 2017 horizon
Though I blogged a bit in this space about marijuana reform right around the election (see here and here), over the last few weeks I have been content to cover this issues just over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. But this new post about this new article about the thousands of Californians getting sentencing relief thanks to the state's passage of a major marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64, reminded me that I should be reminding readers about the close links between marijuana reform in particular and sentencing reform in general.
The first post linked below tells the sentencing reform story, and some other postings from my other blog tell a whole lot of other interesting and dynamic stories about the current state and possible future of marijuana reform in the United States:
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Did death penalty initiatives make it easier for significant prison reforms to pass in California and Oklahoma?
The sets of death penalty initiatives on state ballots this year received lots of attention, and the pro-death-penalty side received lots of voter support in both "red states" like Nebraska and Oklahoma as well as in the in "blue state" of California. (And I am very excited, as previewed here, that tomorrow at Northwestern Law I be part of a symposium that will be seeking to sort out what this means for the future of the death penalty in the US.) But, as Randy Balko notes in this Washington Post piece headlined "Believe it or not, it was a pretty good night for criminal-justice reform," the death penalty outcomes should be looked at in the context of other criminal justice reform measure that also got significant support from voters in both red and blue states. Here are excerpts from his piece with one word highlighted by me for commentary to follow:
The death penalty was on the ballot in three states last night, by way of four separate initiatives. In all of them, the death penalty won.... But it wasn’t just in red states. California voters weighed in on two death penalty initiatives — one to repeal it, and one to speed it up. The former failed, the latter passed. This is a state that Hillary Clinton won by 28 points. Americans still revere the death penalty....
But there was also a lot of good news last night. Marijuana won in 8 of the 9 states in which it was on the ballot — including outright legalization in California, Massachusetts and Nevada. Those states all went blue in the presidential race, but red states Montana, Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota all legalized medicinal marijuana. The lesson here appears to be that pot has finally transcended the culture wars, but the death penalty hasn’t. [My other blog, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, is where I obsess on this reality.]
There are a couple of other important reform measures that passed. Ironically, both were in states that strengthened the death penalty. California voters approved Prop 57, which expands parole (as opposed to prison) and time off for good behavior for nonviolent offenses, and lets judges (instead of prosecutors) determine whether juveniles should be tried in adult courts. And in Oklahoma, voters approved of a measure to reclassify certain property and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. They also approved a measure that would use the money saved from reclassifying such crimes to fund rehabilitation, mental health treatment and vocational training for inmates. New Mexico voters passed a bail reform measure that, while poorly drafted, at least indicates that there’s an appetite in the electorate for such reforms.
As the question in the title of this post is meant to suggest, I do not think it "ironic" that the very different states of California and Oklahoma with very different voters acted in the same way here. Indeed, I think it quite sensible for voters to be eager to, at the same time while voting, express support for tougher sentencing for the very worst criminals (terrible murderers) and for smarter sentencing for the lesser criminals (nonviolent and drug offenders). I make this point to stress not only that (1) these results make perfect sense to "average" voters at this moment in our national criminal justice discourse, but also that (2) it was practically shrewd for politicians in California and Oklahoma to put prison reforms in front of voters at the same time they were considering death penalty issues.
1. As a matter of political mood, I suspect the "average" voter now is not too troubled by historic problems with the administration of the death penalty, largely because some recent big capital cases involve mass murderer with no concerns about a possible wrongful conviction or terrible defense lawyering. High-profile capital cases like James Holmes (the Aurora movie theater mass murderer), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the Boston Marathon bomber) and Dylann Roof (the Charleston Church mass murderer) have all involved crimes in which guilt seems clear beyond any doubt and in which the defendants have had the benefit of spectacular defense lawyers.
At the same time, while the "average" voter is seemingly not keen on taking the death penalty completely off the table for mass murderers like Holmes, Tsarnaev and Roof, she seems to be growing much more keen on reducing reliance on incarceration for nonviolent and drug offenders. National discussions of the expense and inefficacy of the drug war and other concerns about modern mass incarceration has, it seems, made prison reform for certain lower-level offenders politically popular even in a red state like Oklahoma.
2. As a matter of practical realities, especially in a state like California in which "tough on crime" prison initiatives have historically garnered vocal support from law enforcement groups and prosecutors and prison unions, I suspect having a death penalty initiative for the "tough-and-tougher" crowd to focus on created a window of opportunity for supporters of prison reforms to dominate the messaging for voters on "lower salience" issues like expanding parole eligibility or reducing some crimes to misdemeanors. Though I was not in California or Oklahoma to experience their initiative campaigns directly, I know just from reading Crime & Consequences that Kent Schneidegger, a very effective tough-on-crime advocate, was much more focused on Prop 62 and 66 (the capital initiatives in California) than on Prop 57 (the parole initiative that he called "Gov. Brown's Jailbreak Initiative").
November 10, 2016 in Death Penalty Reforms, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
Sentencing reform's (uncertain?) future after huge election wins for Republicans, the death penalty, marijuana reform and state sentencing reforms
It is now official that Republican have retained control of both houses of Congress, and it seems now a near certainty that Donald Trump will soon officially be our nation's President Elect. What that might mean for the future of federal sentencing reform will be the subject of a lot of future posts. For now, I just want to wrap up the story of dynamic state ballot initiatives in the states by spotlighting that they showcase a pretty consistent national criminal justice reform message for all local, state and national officials.
1. The death penalty still has deep and broad support in traditionally conservative states like Nebraska and Oklahoma, and clearly still has majority support even in a deep blue state like California.
4. Recreational marijuana reform has seemingly significant support in blue states after winning this year in California and Massachusetts and Nevada and probably Maine, but in the red state in Arizona it could not garner a majority this year.
Fascinating mixed criminal justice initiative results developing in California
Though a little under 40% of all precincts have been reported, the early results on all the criminal justice reform ballot initiatives in California reported here indicate this fascinating mixed bag of criminal justice reform developments:
Proposition 57 reforming "Criminal Sentences & Juvenile Crime Proceedings" is winning 64% to 36%
Proposition 62 "Repeal of Death Penalty" is losing 45% to 55%
Proposition 64 enacting "Marijuana Legalization" is winning 56% to 44%
Proposition 66 providing for "Death Penalty Procedure Time Limits" is winning 51.5% to 48.5%
In other words, the largest state in our Union has voted again against repealing its death penalty and seems to be voting for a competing reform intended to speed up the path of condemned murderers from death row to the execution chamber. At the same time, this state has enacted via initiative yet another significant reform to its non-capital sentencing system that seems likely to further reduce the state's modern heavy reliance on incarceration. And the state with a huge population and a "local" economy that is of truly global significance will now be fully turning away from the criminalization of recreational marijuana use by adults.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
Notable new analysis of marijuana arrest rates and patterns acorss the nation
This new post at Marijuana.com, under the headline "Marijuana Decrim Doesn’t Stop Discrimination, New Data Shows," appears to be reporting and analyzing some important new data on the impact of marijuana reform on some key criminal justice metrics. Here are excerpts from the lengthy entry:
Marijuana arrest rates are plummeting as a growing number of far-reaching state policy reforms like legalization and decriminalization are enacted; however, stark racial disparities in cannabis law enforcement remain, a new Marijuana.com analysis of policing data uncovers. The data provided an illuminating follow-up to the 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report which made headlines by showing that, while African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly equivalent rates, blacks are much more likely to be arrested for it.
Public records requests submitted via MuckRock to all 50 states for data pertaining to marijuana-related arrests show, on average, a significant decrease in possession offenses in the years since the publication of the ACLU report, which was based on 2010 data. But despite the apparent shift in focus away from the enforcement of marijuana possession laws, the racial bias in arrest rates uncovered by the ACLU remains intact.
The new data also revealed that decriminalization measures may have become an unintentional barrier to transparency in marijuana law enforcement. The classification of marijuana as a less serious offense in many states has resulted in a deprioritization of tracking critical information regarding who is stopped, and how often.
Among the key findings of the new Marijuana.com analysis are:
- In New York, despite significant drops in arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, black people are more than 13 times as likely as white people to be arrested for it.
- Despite significant drops in overall arrest rates, Florida increased the number of people arrested for marijuana possession since 2010.
- States with a large racial disparity in arrests – New York, North Carolina and South Carolina – also tend to be the states with higher overall arrest rates.
- The largest drops in overall arrest rates since 2010 occurred in Nevada, Alaska, Connecticut and New York.
In all, data were received from 25 states; 12 states provided arrest numbers for local and state police — many not filtered by agency — while 13 either separated local and state police data or provided numbers only for state police. The remaining states for which data were not obtained either do not keep track of marijuana offenses as distinct from other drug-related crimes, do not keep track of marijuana offenses on a state level or charged prohibitively high fees for the same data which other states provided for free.....
The data we are able to report here do not tell the whole story of marijuana users’ clash with the law in this age of decriminalization and legalization. Public opinion toward marijuana has shifted dramatically, particularly within the last several years. A few states have legalized possession of small amounts, while others have instead opted to reclassify possession of similar amounts from felonies to misdemeanors or from misdemeanors to civil infractions, to reflect this change in perception.
While this shift has been a laudable victory for advocates pushing for full legalization of recreational use, it has also resulted in increased difficulty in tracking important data. Finding the answer to a relatively simple question, such as, “How many people in this state were caught with marijuana in the year 2014?” has become all the more arduous. Researchers are forced to track down data for misdemeanors and felonies at the state level in addition to approaching individual law enforcement agencies directly for data on civil infractions, hoping they keep track of those numbers at all.
Consequently, the data reported here reflect only the marijuana possession offenses which are reported at the state levels; the number of civil infractions in states which have decriminalized possession are evidenced only by the significant drop in arrest rates (misdemeanors) following such a change in the law....
Taken as a whole, the new numbers obtained by Marijuana.com add to the debate about the effects of both prohibition and the decriminalization policies that advocates have succeeded in enacting in a growing number of jurisdictions, and the data (or in some cases lack thereof) shed light on the difficulty in tracking many of those effects.
I find this report and its data quite interesting, but it is a bit opaque and ultimately further convinces me that one of the first (and non-controversial?) priorities for the new federal administration should be to try to collect and analyze data on modern marijuana enforcement nationwide . Of course, I think a priority for everyone interested in the marijuana reform space must include checking out my other blog where you can find these recent posts on various related topics:
- "'The Mellow Pot-Smoker': White Individualism in Marijuana Legalization Campaigns"
- Would federal marijuana reform get a real "boost" if Democrats gain control of the US Senate?
- "Future is hazy for marijuana and the workplace"
Monday, October 31, 2016
"Defendant in U.S. opioid kickback case claims constitutional right to smoke pot"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new argument about a notable motion filed in federal district court case. Here are the details:
A U.S. ex-pharmaceutical sales representative accused of paying kickbacks to induce doctors to write prescriptions for an opioid drug is asserting he has a constitutional right to continue smoking marijuana so he can remain clear-headed for his defense.
In a filing Friday, lawyers for Jeffrey Pearlman asked a federal judge for the U.S. District Court in Connecticut to modify his bail conditions so that he can continue using marijuana that was prescribed to him by a New Jersey doctor to help him kick his opioid addiction. "Forcing him off the medical marijuana and forcing him to return to addictive opioids would impair his Sixth Amendment right to participate fully in his defense and his Fifth (Amendment) right to due process," his attorneys Michael Rosensaft and Scott Resnik of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP wrote.
The novel request is one of only at least three such attempts in a federal court to permit the use of medical marijuana. It is possibly the only motion of its kind to assert a Sixth Amendment defense that the failure to permit medical marijuana use could re-trigger an opioid addiction and impede a person's ability to participate in his own defense....
A variety of state laws have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, but federal law still prohibits it. The drug is classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning it is addictive and serves no medical purpose. Many opioids, by contrast, fall under Schedule II, meaning they are addictive, but have medical uses.
Pearlman, a former Insys Therapeutics, was charged criminally in September for allegedly arranging sham speaker programs designed to encourage medical professionals to write prescriptions for a fentanyl spray. His lawyers say Pearlman became addicted to opioids used to treat severe back and leg pain and the drugs made him "foggy" and unable to think clearly.
After being prescribed marijuana in August, they said, his pain has subsided and he is able to "think more clearly." Whether the judge will grant Pearlman's request remains to be seen. Two defendants in other federal courts previously lost their bids to continue using medical marijuana, though the facts and circumstances in those cases were different.
In this case, the U.S. Attorney's Office has not opposed the request. A spokesman for the office declined to elaborate further.
There are so many drug war ironies baked into this story, I am not sure I know where to start my fuzzy commentary on the highlights of this case. For now, I will be content to note the remarkable fact that the U.S. Attorney's Office's has here not opposed a request by a federal fraud defendant to be able to break federal drug laws while on bail.
October 31, 2016 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Famous "war on drugs" voice now voicing support for marijuana reform: any questions?
This new MarketWatch article, headlined "War on drugs spokesman now supports marijuana legalization," gives me an excuse to flag an iconic 1980s public service announcement while reporting on its new symbolic significance:
The voice behind one of the war on drugs’ most iconic ads has cast a vote to legalize marijuana. During the height of the ’80s war on drugs that gave rise to the “Just Say No” campaign, actor John Roselius stared in an antidrug TV ad for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The ad featured Roselius frying an egg in a skillet to portray what happens to the brain while using drugs.
Roselius, who is now 72, recently told Colorado-based Rooster Magazine he voted “yes” on California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Prop 64, which would legalize and regulate the use and sale of the plant to adults. “I’m 100% behind legalizing it, are you kidding? It’s healthier than alcohol,” Roselius told the publication.
And he’s not alone. Just ahead of the Nov. 8 election — in which five states will vote on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and four will vote on legalizing medical marijuana—a Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans support legal marijuana use. That’s the highest percentage of support recorded in the 47-year trend, with support rising among all age groups in the past decade.
That follows a separate poll by Pew Research earlier in the month which found 57% of Americans support legalization. “The topline number obviously bodes well for the marijuana measures on state ballots next month,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, an organization tasked with educating people and fighting for marijuana legalization. “More politicians — presidential candidates included — would do themselves a big favor to take note of the clear trend and then vocally support legislation catering to the growing majority of Americans who support modernizing failed marijuana policies.”
Roselius told Rooster Magazine he’d smoked marijuana in the ’60s, and that when he made the ad, he knew it didn’t fry the brain like an egg.
The war on drugs has been one of the most scrutinized and debated policies to come out of the Reagan era. Drug dealers were cast as violent villains and were blamed for devastating some of America’s cities. Incarceration rates shot higher and disproportionately affected men of color.
The cannabis industry has since fought back against that portrayal, calling for an end to arrests for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. Roselius’ vote to legalize marijuana in California could help push one of the most important states in the movement to the forefront.
Of course, if you do have question about these matter, my blog Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform has a lot more coverage. And, with that intro and a good excuse now, here is a review of some recent posts there (many of which are the fine work of my relatively new co-blogger):
- "The Hazy Rollout of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program"
October 26, 2016 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, October 21, 2016
New Gallup poll reports notable trends in "tough-on-crime" public polling perspectives
This new Gallup item, headlined "Americans' Views Shift on Toughness of Justice System," details the results of its latest annual Gallup poll on on crime and punishment opinions. Here are the highlights:
Americans' views of how the criminal justice system is handling crime have shifted considerably over the past decade. Currently, 45% say the justice system is "not tough enough" -- down from 65% in 2003 and even higher majorities before then. Americans are now more likely than they have been in three prior polls to describe the justice system's approach as "about right" (35%) or "too tough" (14%).
Incarceration rates in the U.S. have soared over the past few decades, and political leaders, justice officials and reform advocates have sought criminal justice reform as a result. With this, Americans' views of the criminal justice system have shifted with the national conversation, with less than a majority now saying the system is "not tough enough." Although considerably higher than in the past, relatively few believe the system is "too tough."
Views of the justice system's toughness vary across racial and political party lines. The majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say it is "not tough enough" (65%), with most of the rest describing it as "about right" (30%). Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, on the other hand, are most likely to say the system is "about right" (42%), with the rest dividing about evenly between saying it is "too tough" (22%) or "not tough enough" (29%).
A majority of whites (53%) say the system's handling of crime is "not tough enough," while a third (32%) say it is "about right." One in 10 whites say the system is "too tough." Nonwhites -- who as a group make up a disproportionate percentage of the U.S. incarcerated population -- are more than twice as likely as whites to say the system is "too tough" (23%). They are also more likely than whites to say it is "about right" (40%). Meanwhile, 30% of nonwhites say the system's handling of crime is "not tough enough."
Against a backdrop of bipartisan efforts in Congress to reform drug sentencing in 2016, 38% of U.S. adults describe guidelines for sentencing of people convicted of routine drug crimes as "too tough." A slightly smaller percentage say they are "not tough enough" (34%), while a quarter say they are "about right" (25%). Fifty percent of Democrats say drug crime sentencing guidelines are "too tough" -- twice as high as the percentage of Republicans (26%) who say the same. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to describe drug crime sentencing as "not tough enough" (47%).
Differences in views between whites and nonwhites are less pronounced on drug crime sentencing guidelines compared with their views of the criminal justice system's handling of crime more generally. Both whites and nonwhites have sizable percentages, ranging from 21% to 39%, of those who describe drug crime sentencing guidelines as "too tough," "not tough enough" or "about right."
Americans' views about the toughness of the criminal justice system have clearly shifted in recent decades, with less than a majority now saying the system is "not tough enough" and more Americans describing it as "about right" or "too tough." Although more than in the past believe the system is overly tough, this view is still held by a relatively small minority. U.S. adults are much more likely, however, to describe drug crime sentencing guidelines as "too tough" compared with their opinions of the system's handling of overall crime, and this is the case among both racial and political party groups.
The folks over at Crime & Consequences have these two notable posts discussing these new Gallup data (though I cannot help but note they did not comment on other recent Gallup polling data reporting record-high majoritarian support for the legalization of marijuana):
Thursday, October 13, 2016
New empirical study suggests "recreational cannabis caused a significant reduction of rapes and thefts"
As regular readers surely surmise, I tend to support modern efforts to repeal in part or in whole blanket marijuana prohibitions largely because I am hopeful that modern marijuana reforms will produce more net societal benefits than harms. Consequently, I often am (too?) quick to take note of reports and studies extolling the benefits of marijuana reforms; but, I also try to make sure I am equally quick to take note of what might be formal or informal biases in any reports and studies extolling the benefits of marijuana reforms.
Against that backdrop, I would be grateful to hear from readers with some empirical chops to help me better assess whether I should be forcefully extolling (or forcefully questioning) this notable new empirical study authored by a group of economists (and available via SSRN) titled "Recreational Cannabis Reduces Rapes and Thefts: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment." Here is the abstract that, based on the line I have highlighted, seems almost too good to be true for supporters of significant marijuana reform:
An argument against the legalization of the cannabis market is that such a policy would increase crime. Exploiting the recent staggered legalization enacted by the states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014) we show, combining difference-in-differences and spatial regression discontinuity designs, that recreational cannabis caused a significant reduction of rapes and thefts on the Washington side of the border in 2013-2014 relative to the Oregon side and relative to the pre-legalization years 2010-2012.
A few recent and past posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform exploring links between marijuana reform and non-drug crime:
Friday, October 07, 2016
Am I crazy to actually be expecting a marijuana (or drug war/opioid) question during Sunday's town-hall Prez debate?
Especially because neither marijuana reform nor the opioid epidemic came up during the the first Prez debate (or the VP debate), I am actually anticipating that these topics will be raised in some way during the town-hall debate scheduled for this coming Sunday. As regular readers of my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform blog might guess, I think the very best question to ask the candidates could link these topics. Specifically, here is the question I would love to see asked on Sunday:
"Given the evidence emerging from a number of early studies that opioid use and abuse has generally been reduced in those states that have reformed their marijuana laws, will you commit your Administration in its first 100 days to move federal law away from blanket marijuana prohibition?"
I welcome readers to suggest their own questions on these topics in the comments (and recent posts at my other blog provides plenty of ideas for all sorts of possible questions):
- "Marijuana really can be deadly – when encountering police officers"
Monday, September 26, 2016
"Ask the Candidates if They Are Ready to Legalize Marijuana — and, if Not, Why?"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent Nation piece, from which comes these excerpts:
Presidential debates, as organized by the lamentable Commission on Presidential Debates, are deliberately boring. Most of the questions asked of the candidates are little more than invitations to repeat their most shopworn talking points. And, worse yet, there has been a recent trend toward asking candidates to critique their opponents — literally asking for more of the talking-head punditry that extinguishes whatever enthusiasm might be generated by a clash of ideas.
What to do? Why not ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump some pointed questions about legalizing marijuana? Arizona will be voting this fall on whether to legalize the possession and consumption of marijuana by persons who are 21 years of age or older. If passed, Proposition 205 (The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act) would establish a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana....
While manufacturers of synthetic painkillers and other corporate interests oppose the measure, it has earned support from educators, physicians, public-health advocates and supporters of criminal-justice reform. Among the statements filed in support of a “yes” vote with the Arizona secretary of state is a reflection from a pair of retired Drug Enforcement Agency agents, Michael Capasso and Finn Selander....
So how about these two questions for Clinton and Trump:
1. Both of you have campaigned in Arizona, where polls suggest the presidential race is close. On the same November 8 ballot where voters will be asked to choose between your candidacies, they will also be asked whether they would like to legalize marijuana and establish a strictly regulated system for its cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation and sale. By this point, both of you should be well aware of the arguments for and against legalizing marijuana. If you were voting in Arizona, how would you cast your ballots: “yes” for legalization or “no” for continued prohibition?
2. If either or both of the candidates answer “no,” or try to waffle on the issue, read the statement from the retired DEA agents, and then ask: How do you respond to the arguments of people with experience, such as Agents Capasso and Selander, who write that prohibition doesn’t keep marijuana off our streets or decrease use but that it does does result in billions of dollars in profits flowing to drug cartels? Aren’t there sound domestic and foreign-policy arguments for legalization?
Yes, of course, Donald Trump might still argue that a wall would somehow solve every problem. Hillary Clinton might still try to suggest that settled issues need more study. (And viewers might really start to wish that Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein were on the stage to present alternative views.) But the debate about legalizing marijuana, which has for too long been neglected at the highest levels of American politics, would finally be given the hearing it deserves.
I really like this proposed framing of a marijuana reform question, although first-debate moderator Lester Holt could also find lots of ideas for other sharp marijuana reform questions from a number of these recent posts at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform:
- Appreciating the northeastern midwest's magical medical marijuana research opportunities
Friday, September 23, 2016
Great new US Sentencing Commission report on "simple possession" federal drug cases raises array of hard follow-up questions
I find crime and punishment data so interesting and so important in large part because (1) even seemingly basic and simple data often can only be fully understood after one takes time to examine closely the backstories that surround that data, and (2) only if and when a researcher or advocate has deep understanding of data can that person even start to appreciate all the challenging policy and practical questions that important data implicate. These realities are on full display in the context of an interesting and important new report released this week by the US Sentencing Commission titled "Weighing the Charges: Simple Possession of Drugs in the Federal Criminal Justice System." Here is the introduction to the short report, which explains the notable backstories concerning a dramatic recent change in the number of federal "simple possession" cases:
The simple possession of illegal drugs is a criminal offense under federal law and in many state jurisdictions. The offense occurs “when someone has on his or her person, or available for his or her use, a small amount of an illegal substance for the purpose of consuming or using it but without the intent to sell or give it to anyone else.”
Simple drug possession is a misdemeanor under federal law which provides that an offender may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than one year, fined a minimum of $1,000, or both. However, if an offender is convicted of simple possession after a prior drug related offense has become final, the offender can be charged with a felony simple possession offense.
The number of federal offenders whose most serious offense was simple drug possession increased nearly 400 percent during the six-year period between fiscal years 2008 and 2013. A change of this magnitude over a relatively short period of time triggered further investigation into these cases using data on offender and offense characteristics routinely collected by the United States Sentencing Commission (“the Commission”), as well as additional data collected specifically for this project.
At first, this dramatic increase in the number of offenders sentenced for the simple possession of drugs seems to suggest a substantially increased focus on this offense by federal law enforcement personnel. Further analysis, however, does not support such a conclusion. A closer inspection of the data demonstrates that this increase is almost entirely attributable to a single drug type — marijuana — and to offenders who were arrested at or near the U.S./Mexico border (a group almost entirely composed of offenders from the District of Arizona). For simple possession of marijuana offenders arrested at locations other than the U.S./Mexico border, the median quantity of marijuana involved in the offense was 5.2 grams (0.2 ounces). In contrast, the offense conduct of simple possession of marijuana offenders arrested at that border involved a median quantity of 22,000 grams (48.5 pounds or 776.0 ounces) — a quantity that appears in excess of a personal use quantity.
In other words, the USSC noticed data showing a huge increase in the charging of misdemeanor federal drug crimes, which at first might suggest a curious new commitment by federal prosecutors to pursue low-level drug offenders. But, upon closer examination, the USSC discovers that what is really going on is that a whole lot of (low-level?) drug traffickers (mules?) found with huge quantities of marijuana are having their cases prosecuted through "simple possession" charges even though that label hardly seems like a factually fitting description of their drug crimes.
I am extraordinarily pleased to see the USSC detailing and explaining this interesting new data trend, and I am extraordinarily interested to hear from readers as to whether they think federal prosecutors in border regions ought to be praised or pilloried for their new misdemeanor approach to dealing with marijuana offenders arrested at the border with an average of 50 pounds of mary jane. This USSC report not only documents one tangible way that state marijuana reforms would seem to be having a profound impact on how the federal government is now waging the so-called "war on weed," but it also prompts a lot of hard questions about whether the new behaviors by federal drug prosecutors are appropriate given the absence of any formal changes to federal drug laws.
September 23, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)
Friday, August 26, 2016
"Where Recreational Marijuana Is Legal, Should Those in Prison for Weed Crimes Get a Puff, Puff, Pass?"
The question in the title of this post is not only one that I have given a lot of thought to in recent years, but also the headline of this recent article from The Root. The piece usefully highlights that California's marijuana legalization initiative to be voted upon in November speaks a bit to this issue. Here are excerpts from the piece:
Twenty years ago, Rico Garcia was 21 when he got caught up in a marijuana sting in Colorado with a friend who wanted to buy some weed. The seller turned out to be a police informant, and Garcia and his friend were arrested. “The police came and arrested us and said we were selling weed,” says Garcia, now a 41-year-old marijuana advocate who runs Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education. “My friend said it was his, but … under Colorado law at the time, 8 ounces was possession with intent and I got a felony.”
Garcia says he was a first-time offender and a public defender got him to agree to accept a plea deal. He didn’t realize the full ramifications of having such a charge on his record. “They said, ‘No jail’ — that’s how they get brown people — and I said, ‘That sounds nice,’” recalls Garcia, who is Puerto Rican. He says he got four years’ probation and was released from it in two years, but the felony is still affecting his life. “You’re pretty much disqualified for housing. … Most who could give you a loan for a car or house give you a different rate or simply won’t lend to you. You can’t own a firearm, even in a pro-gun state; you can’t get any government grants or hold certain occupational licenses.”
Even though medical and recreational use of marijuana is legal under most circumstances in Colorado, Garcia’s felony precludes him from being part of the weed boom the state is enjoying, a problem that plagues many people of color trying to get into the weed business. There’s also a debate about the fate of nonviolent offenders currently incarcerated for weed crimes in states where recreational marijuana is now legal. Some marijuana advocates support the idea of state pardons for offenders incarcerated for such crimes as more states consider legalizing recreational marijuana....
[T]here has been some debate among marijuana advocates over whether lawmakers and voters would support such an effort involving weed crimes because they had to walk such tightropes to get legislation for medical and recreational marijuana approved in the first place. California — where most advocates expect Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, to pass in November in a state that has had a medical-marijuana program for 20 years — could set a national standard for the fate of nonviolent marijuana offenders caught up in the prison system.
Not only does Proposition 64 reduce the current penalty for selling marijuana for nonmedicinal purposes from up to four years in prison to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500, but it also includes big changes for those previously convicted of marijuana crimes. Those serving sentences for activities that are either legal or subject to lesser penalties under the new measure would be eligible to be resentenced. Plus, those who have already done their time could apply to have their convictions removed from their records....
But the politics surrounding whether nonviolent marijuana users should be pardoned or allowed to have their records expunged completely are complicated. In Colorado, Andrew Freeman says, people can apply to have their felony conviction for a marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under Amendment 64 changed to a misdemeanor. But that stays on your record.
Freedman notes that few of the people still in prison in Colorado for marijuana are there only for a single, nonviolent offense, which would make it easy for them to be released. According to a 2014 report (pdf) by the state’s Department of Corrections, there are only 71 nonviolent marijuana offenders among Colorado’s 20,300 inmates....
Tom Angell at the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Marijuana Majority breaks it down even further, saying that the pardoning of nonviolent marijuana offenders has been part of a general debate among advocates about what is the best, most comprehensive marijuana-reform proposal that can be put on the ballot and garner the support of voters.
“I think there’s some question as to whether a sufficient number of voters would be skittish about the notion of releasing people from prison en masse,” Angell says. “In an ideal world, we want to release all the marijuana offenders yesterday! We absolutely do. But this is politics and reality, and you can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We need to achieve what is achievable today and build on those victories and keep getting wins on the scoreboard.”
This Root story usefully highlights why folks interested in criminal justice and sentencing reform ought to keep a special eye on discussions and developments with marijuana reform in California this election season. Moreover, as this review of some recent posts from my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog should highlight, I see no shortage of interesting marijuana reform issues that ought to interest criminal justice and civil rights folks:
August 26, 2016 in Clemency and Pardons, Collateral consequences, Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Preparing for pot professing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Ninth Circuit panel rules appropriations rider precludes federal prosecution of individuals in complaince with state medical marijuana laws
A Ninth Circuit panel today finally ruled in US v. McIntosh, No. No. 15-10117 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016) (available here), on a series of appeals concerning "whether criminal defendants may avoid prosecution for various federal marijuana offenses on the basis of a congressional appropriations rider that prohibits the United States Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their own medical marijuana laws." Here is a key passage from the heart of the opinion:
DOJ, without taking any legal action against the Medical Marijuana States, prevents them from implementing their laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana by prosecuting individuals for use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana that is authorized by such laws. By officially permitting certain conduct, state law provides for nonprosecution of individuals who engage in such conduct. If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct.
We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.
Some previous related posts:
- Defense moves to postpone federal marijuana sentencing based new law ordering DOJ not to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws
- Should ALL federal marijuana sentencings be postponed now that Cromnibus precludes DOJ from interfering with state medical marijuana laws?
- Notable developments in dispute over meaning and application of Section 538 limiting DOJ funding
- Federal judge decides (finally!) that Congress has limited DOJ prosecution of state-legal marijuana businesses
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Realistic (though incomplete) discussion concerning how marijuana reform is not a panacea for mass incarceration
Marc Mauer has this timely and effective new commentary in The Hill headlined "Can Marijuana reform end mass incarceration?". Any regular reader of this blog knows that the only simple and accurate answer to this question is "no," but the commentary provides a fuller accounting of some reasons why I see many possible positive synergies between sentencing reform and marijuana reform movements. Here are excerpts:
This week’s DEA decision to keep marijuana classified as a Schedule I drug (categorized as having no medical potential and a high potential for abuse) has disappointed advocates for drug policy reform. They contend that marijuana is less dangerous and addictive than drugs like cocaine and heroin, or even alcohol. But many reformers also argue that marijuana reform is the first step in ending mass incarceration. In many respects this appears to be wishful thinking.
There’s no question that the “war on marijuana” is overblown and unproductive. Since the early 1990s the focus of drug arrests nationally has shifted from a prior emphasis on cocaine and heroin to increasing marijuana arrests. By 2014 marijuana accounted for nearly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests nationally. But while this elevated level of marijuana enforcement is counterproductive in many respects, there is little evidence to indicate that it has been a substantial contributor to mass incarceration. Of the 1.5 million people in state or federal prisons, only about 40,000 are incarcerated for a marijuana offense. The vast majority of this group is behind the walls for selling, not using, the drug, often in large quantities. We could debate whether even high-level marijuana sellers should be subject to lengthy incarceration, but they constitute less than 3% of the prison population.
In other respects, though, marijuana law enforcement imposes substantial costs on the justice system. Few marijuana arrests may result in a prison term, but they consume enormous resources through police time making arrests and court appearances, probation and parole revocations, and time spent in local jails following arrest or serving a short sentence. And all of this activity comes with public safety tradeoffs. Time spent by police making marijuana arrests is time not spent responding to domestic violence disputes or guns on the streets.
While it may be misleading to portray the marijuana reform movement as the beginning of the end of mass incarceration, there are ways in which we could transform the national dialogue to make a more direct link. For a start, we should call attention to the parallels between marijuana and the overall drug war. In particular, the drug war has prioritized supply reduction through international interdiction campaigns and a heavy-handed law enforcement response. This approach has had little impact on either drug availability or price, and has drained resources from more effective allocations to prevention and treatment programming.
The racial disparities of marijuana law enforcement are emblematic of the drug war as well, with African Americans more than three times as likely to be arrested for a marijuana offense as whites, despite similar rates of use. Such outcomes bring to mind the vast disparities in crack cocaine arrests, as well as the use of “stop and frisk” policing tactics often premised on drug law enforcement, and exacting a substantial toll in communities of color....
There is reason for hope that change may be at hand. National drug policy is shifting toward a greater emphasis on treatment approaches to substance abuse, and thoughtful leaders in law enforcement are serving as models for how to engage communities in collaborative efforts for promoting public safety. The national debate on drug policy is worthwhile on its own, but we should also seek to extend that conversation into the realm of mass incarceration.
For reasons both practical and political, it is appropriate for Mauer and others to be quick to note that marijuana reform will not "end" mass incarceration. At the same time, given that a wealth of other reforms at the state and national level over the last decade has done no more than keep incarceration levels flat, a reduction of 40,000 prisoners in state and federal prisons would still mark a significant achievement in these modern times. Moreover, and as Mauer suggested, national marijuana reform not only could help demonstrate that public-health and regulatory approaches to drug issues are more cost-effective than criminal justice prohibitions, but also could provide a significant source of new public revenue for prevention and treatment programming.
One of many reasons I have become so interested in marijuana reform developments is because I have grown so frustrated in recent years at the seeming inability (or unwillingness) of elite policy-makers (especially in DC) to take bold action to deal with modern mass incarceration. Tellingly, modern marijuana reform in the United States is a ground-up movement that has been engineered at the local and state level despite disconcerting and persistent opposition by elite policy-makers (such as the Obama Administration at its DEA). I continue to fear that elite policy-makers will continue to fail to see that the vast marijority of Americans are eager to move dramatically away from blanket federal marijuana prohibition, though I also expect a lot of significant developments in this space once we get through the 2016 election cycle. With nearly 25% of the US population in numerous states that will be voting on marijuana reforms this November (most notably California and Florida), this election year will be the closest possible to a national referendum on marijuana prohibition. If reform wins big with voters in most states this fall, I think elite policy-makers will finally fully appreciate which way these reform winds are now blowing.
In the meantime, here are some recent highlights on related front from my blogging efforts of late over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
August 14, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Preparing for pot professing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Some mid-summer highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Because federal statutory sentencing reform has stalled in Congress and with the Supreme Court now on its extended summer break, major new sentencing stories are relatively rare these days. In contrast, over at my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog, I have been struggling greatly to keep up with all the marijuana reform news. These recent posts from the last few weeks highlight just some of the significant summer stories that seem worth following:
Monday, June 27, 2016
Some recent highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Especially because there is likely to be a lot more marijuana reform news to cover (both in Congress and in the states) in the coming months than statutory sentencing reform news, I am likely this summer to make a habit of weekly reviews of recent postings from my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog. These recent posts highlight these realities:
Thursday, June 23, 2016
"For aficionados of pointless formalism, today’s decision is a wonder, the veritable ne plus ultra of the genre."
The title of this post is one of a number of Justice Alito's spectacular comments in his dissent in the latest Supreme Court ruling on ACCA, Mathis v. United States, No. 15–6092 (S. Ct. June 23, 2016) (opinion here, basics here). In addition to a number of great rhetorical flourishes, Justice Alito's dissent in Mathis explains how messy ACCA jurisprudence has become and reinforces my sincere wish that folks in Congress would find time to engineer a (long-needed, now essential) statutory ACCA fix. Here are passages from Justice Alito's Mathis dissent that frames effectively the mess that ACCA has become and builds up to the sentence I am using as the title of this post:
Congress enacted ACCA to ensure that violent repeat criminal offenders could be subject to enhanced penalties — that is, longer prison sentences — in a fair and uniform way across States with myriad criminal laws....
Programmed [via prior ACCA rulings], the Court set out on a course that has increasingly led to results that Congress could not have intended. And finally, the Court arrives at today’s decision, the upshot of which is that all burglary convictions in a great many States may be disqualified from counting as predicate offenses under ACCA. This conclusion should set off a warning bell. Congress indisputably wanted burglary to count under ACCA; our course has led us to the conclusion that, in many States, no burglary conviction will count; maybe we made a wrong turn at some point (or perhaps the Court is guided by a malfunctioning navigator). But the Court is unperturbed by its anomalous result. Serenely chanting its mantra, “Elements,” see ante, at 8, the Court keeps its foot down and drives on....
A real-world approach would avoid the mess that today’s decision will produce. Allow a sentencing court to take a look at the record in the earlier case to see if the place that was burglarized was a building or something else. If the record is lost or inconclusive, the court could refuse to count the conviction. But where it is perfectly clear that abuilding was burglarized, count the conviction.
The majority disdains such practicality, and as a resultit refuses to allow a burglary conviction to be counted even when the record makes it clear beyond any possible doubt that the defendant committed generic burglary.... As the Court sees things, none of this would be enough. Real-world facts are irrelevant.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Some highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform . . . for Fathers' Day(?)
I am not sure if it is in any way fitting to be blogging about marijuana reform topics on Fathers' Day, but polls do pretty consistently show that men are generally more supportive of reform than women. That reality aside, this review of some recent postings from my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog highlights that fathers and mothers, sons and daughters all ought to be paying attention to this dynamic arena of law and policy:
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Minnesota survey suggests marijuana reform can help with opioid issues ... and other recent highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Anyone interested and concerned about the so-called "war on drugs" or the relationship between criminal justice reform and public health has to be concerned these days with the national opioid problems. And one of many reasons I am a supporter of state experiements with various forms of marijuana reform is my hope that such reforms might be one of many ways to try to address opioid problems. Consequently, I was very intrigued to see the details of a lengthy report on a survey done by the Minnesota Department of Health (here in full) showing that a number of health care practitioners reported that some medical patients were able to decrease their use of prescription opioids. I report on this report in the first of the links below providing recent highlights from my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog:
Friday, May 27, 2016
Ohio legislature passes medical marijuana reform and other highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Among this past week's reform highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform is the big local news for me as the Ohio General Assembly finally finalized a medical marijuana bill to send to Gov John Kasich. But, as these links reveal, there were notable stories emerging from other jurisdictions as well:
Friday, May 20, 2016
Reviewing another notable week at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Regular readers know that I will sometime close out my work-week blogging here by reviewing recent blogging at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. This week will be another one of those times:
Friday, May 13, 2016
Reviewing a notable week at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Regular readers know they should be regularly checking out my blogging at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform for updates on marijuana reform stories. This past week, like most these days, included a number of notable developments highlighted in these posts:
Thursday, May 05, 2016
Lots of new and notable recent state marijuana reform developments
Regular readers know they should be regularly checking out my (not-so) regular postings at my other active blog Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform for updates on marijuana reform stories. This week there have been particularly notable reform developments in notable states from coast to coast that I thought merited highlighting here:
Even for those folks only interested in marijuana reform as a small piece of broader criminal justice reform policies and politics, I think developments in big state California and swing state Ohio are especially important to watch. In particular, if there were to be big marijuana reform wins at the ballot in November (e.g., if voters were to approve reforms by 60% or more) in both states --- and also, say, in at least one other big swing state like Arizona or Florida --- I think it would thereafter prove close to impossible for the next President not to make some kind of federal marijuana reform a priority in 2017.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Reviewing the week that was at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Regular readers are familiar with my periodic collecting of posts from my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform blog, and lots of recent content on that site are collections of materials put together by terrific students in my Ohio State College of Law seminar. Sadly, this seminar wrapped up this week, so this will be the last collection of MLP&R links that include student-generated postings:
Monday, April 18, 2016
Colorado Department of Public Safety releases "Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings"
This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Fewer Coloradans seek treatment for pot use, but heavier use seen," reports on this notable new official state government report from Colorado (which I believe was just released today, but bears a cover date of March 2016). Here is a basic summary via the Denver Post piece:
Colorado's treatment centers have seen a trend toward heavier marijuana use among patients in the years after the state legalized the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The 143-page report released Monday is the state's first comprehensive attempt at measuring and tracking the consequences of legalization.
In 2014, more than a third of patients in treatment reported near-daily use of marijuana, according to the report. In 2007, less than a quarter of patients reported such frequency of use. Overall, though, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana has dropped since Colorado voters made it legal to use and possess small amounts of marijuana. The decrease is likely due to fewer people being court ordered to undergo treatment as part of a conviction for a marijuana-related crime.
The finding is among a growing body of evidence that marijuana legalization has led to a shift in use patterns for at least some marijuana consumers. And that is just one insight from the new report, which looks at everything from tax revenue to impacts on public health to effects on youth. Among its findings is a steady increase in marijuana use in Colorado since 2006, well before the late-2000s boom in medical marijuana dispensaries. The report documents a sharp rise in emergency room visits related to marijuana. It notes a dramatic decline in arrests or citations for marijuana-related crimes, though there remains a racial disparity in arrest rates.
But the report, which was written by statistical analyst Jack Reed, also isn't meant as a final statement on legalization's impact. Because Colorado's data-tracking efforts have been so haphazard in the past, the report is more of a starting point. "[I]t is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes," Reed writes, "and this may always be difficult due to the lack of historical data."
It's not just the lack of data from past years that complicates the report. Reed also notes that legalization may have changed people's willingness to admit to marijuana use — leading to what appear to be jumps in use or hospital visits that are really just increases in truth-telling. State and local agencies are also still struggling to standardize their marijuana data-collection systems. For instance, Reed's original report noted an explosive increase in marijuana arrests and citations in Denver, up 404 percent from 2012 to 2014. That increase, however, was due to inconsistent data reporting by Denver in the official numbers given to the state.
Intriguingly, though this lengthy report comes from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, not very much of the report discusses general crimes rates at much length. But what is reported in this report is generally encouraging:
Colorado’s property crime rate decreased 3%, from 2,580 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 2,503 in 2014.
Colorado’s violent crime rate decreased 6%, from 327 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 306 in 2014.
Cross-posted at Marijuana, Law, Policy & Reform
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Would Congress be wise to pursue sentencing reform through DOJ spending limitations?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Reason piece by Jacob Sullum headlined "DOJ Accepts Decision Saying It May Not Target State-Legal Medical Marijuana Suppliers: The feds had argued that a spending rider left them free to shut down dispensaries." Here are the details:
The Justice Department has abandoned its appeal of a ruling that said federal prosecutors are breaking the law when they target medical marijuana providers who comply with state law. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued that ruling last October, when he said enforcing an injunction against a state-legal dispensary would violate a spending rider that prohibits the DOJ from interfering with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. The Justice Department initially asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to overturn Breyer's decision but later changed its mind, and on Tuesday the court granted its request to withdraw the appeal.
That decision leaves in place Breyer's ruling, which involved the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), without establishing a circuit-wide precedent. Presumably the DOJ worried that the 9th Circuit would agree with Breyer's reading of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which says the department may not use appropriated funds to "prevent" states from "implementing" their medical marijuana laws. The DOJ argues that prosecuting medical marijuana suppliers, seizing their property, and shutting them down does not prevent implementation of laws authorizing them. Breyer said that interpretation "defies language and logic."
The rider that Breyer considered expired last year, but the same language was included in the omnibus spending bill for the current fiscal year. If Congress continues to renew the amendment and other courts agree with Breyer's understanding of it, medical marijuana growers and suppliers who comply with state law will have less reason to worry about raids, arrests, and forfeiture actions, although uncertainty will remain in states where the rules for dispensaries are unclear. For the time being, that remains true in California, although state regulations aimed at clarifying the situation are scheduled to take effect in 2018.
In other words, now that DOJ has (sort-of) accepted a broad reading of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, this DOJ spending limitation has (sort-of) achieved indirectly what Congress has been unwilling or unable to do directly, namely authorize states and individuals to move forward with a responsible medical marijuana program without persistent concerns that DOJ may raid and prosecute participants. Of course, this spending limitation can and will expire if not consistently renewed by Congress. But still, as this Sullum piece highlights, even a short-term spending limit can end up having some real bite.
In light of this intriguing "spending limit" back-door form of congressional marijuana reform, I am now wondering if this approach should be pursued sentencing reformers/advocates growing frustrated Congress has not yet been able to pass a significant statutory sentencing reform bill. Though some clever drafting might be needed, I could imagine a provision in a federal budget bill that prohibited the Department of Justice from, say, expending any funds to prosecute a non-violent drug offender using statutes that carry any mandatory minimum sentencing term or expending any funds to continue to imprison anyone whose prison sentence would have been completed had the Fair Sentencing Act been made retroactive.
My suggestion here might ultimately be more of a Swiftian "modest proposal" than a real suggestion for how real work can get done on sentencing reform in Congress. Nevertheless, as the prospect of major federal statutory sentencing reform semes to grow ever darker with each passing week, I am ever eager to consider and suggest whatever it might take to turn the enduring bipartisan sentencing reform talk into some consequential legislative action.
Friday, April 15, 2016
More praise of my Ohio State students (and Ohio legislators and others) for research on marijuana law, policy and reform
Regular readers are familiar with my periodic collecting of posts from my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform blog. And, as highlighted in this prior post, a lot of recent content on that site involve ideas and collections of materials put together by terrific student in my Ohio State College of Law seminar as they gear up for class presentations on an array of fascinating marijuana law and policy and reform topics. In addition, just as my class is starting to wind down, it seems that the debate over medical marijuana reform is really heating up in Ohio and elsewhere. This collection of links to recent posts at MLP&P reflect these realities:
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Two timely stories of marijuana reform not yet helping those serving "Outrageous Sentences For Marijuana"
From two very different media sources today, I see two very notable stories of defendants convicted of marijuana-related offenses serving extreme sentences for a type of behavior that is now "legal" at the state level in some form throughout much of the United States.
First, the New York Times has this new editorial headlined "Outrageous Sentences for Marijuana," which starts this way:
Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain, was arrested in July 2011 for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s house in Dothan, Ala., where he lived. For this crime, Mr. Brooker was given a life sentence with no possibility of release.
Alabama law mandates that anyone with certain prior felony convictions be sentenced to life without parole for possessing more than 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of marijuana, regardless of intent to sell. Mr. Brooker had been convicted of armed robberies in Florida two decades earlier, for which he served 10 years. The marijuana plants collected at his son’s house — including unusable parts like vines and stalks — weighed 2.8 pounds.
At his sentencing, the trial judge told Mr. Brooker that if he “could sentence you to a term that is less than life without parole, I would.” Last year, Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called Mr. Brooker’s sentence “excessive and unjustified,” and said it revealed “grave flaws” in the state’s sentencing laws, but the court still upheld the punishment.
On Friday, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether to hear Mr. Brooker’s challenge to his sentence, which he argues violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The justices should take the case and overturn this sentence.
Second, AlterNet has this new piece with this lengthy headline, "As Marijuana Goes Mainstream, California Pioneers Rot in Federal Prison: Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes opened a dispensary in Modesto. Now they're doing 20 years in federal prison. Their families want them home. " Here is how it starts:
Behind the headlines about President Obama’s historic visit to federal prisons and highly publicized releases of non-violent drug offenders, the numbers tell a different story. Despite encouraging and receiving more clemency petitions than any president in U.S. history — more than the last two administrations combined, nearly 20,000 — very few federal prisoners are actually being granted clemency.
Nowhere is this irony more glaring than in the world of legal cannabis. Cannabis is now considered the fastest-growing industry in the nation, yet remains federally illegal. The sea change from the Department of Justice since 2009 has allowed state-legal cannabis industries to thrive. Federal solutions seem to be around the corner and for the first time cannabis businesses are being publicly traded and receiving legal Wall Street investment.
Ricardo Montes and Luke Scarmazzo are two of the 20,000 federal prisoners appealing to President Obama for clemency. They have exhausted their appeals and are serving 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for openly running a dispensary in the early days of California’s pioneering medical cannabis law. The irony isn’t lost on them that their crimes are now legal and profitable, but their appeals for clemency aren’t based on justice anymore — they just want to be home with their kids. Their daughters, Jasmine Scarmazzo, 13, and Nina Montes, 10, are appealing directly to President Obama to release their fathers via a Change.org petition.
Given that the Supreme Court has often stated and held that the Eighth Amendment's "scope is not static," but "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958), I think both these cases should be pretty easy constitutional calls if courts and/or executive branch officials took very seriously a commitment to updating and enforcing Eighth Amendment limits on lengthy prison terms in light of the obviously "evolving standards of decency" concerning medical use of marijuana throughout the United States and the world. But, while hoping for some judicial or executive action in this arena, I am not holding my breath that any of these medical marijuana offenders will be free from incarceration anytime soon.
April 14, 2016 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Restrictive medical marijuana reforms proposed by Ohio legislature in shadow of broader initiative effort
As a bellwether state with a long history of picking White House winners, I often feel very lucky to be in Ohio in big election years to observe how local, state and national politics surrounding various criminal justice issues play out in the Buckeye State. But this year, given my particular interest in marijuana reform, law and policy and the coming (brokered?) GOP convention in Cleveland, my Buckeye political and policy cup is already running over.
I bring all this up today because, as detailed in this new local article, "Ohio state lawmakers release plan to legalize medical marijuana," local GOP legislative leaders in Ohio are now actively peddling an important (but restrictive) medical marijuana reform proposal at the same time the national Marijuana Policy Project is gathering signatures and building a campaign for (much broader) medical marijuana reform in the form of a November 2016 voter initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution. Here are the basics and latest in these dynamic ongoing Buckeye marijuana reform developments:
Ohio state lawmakers released plans today to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill being considered would allow doctors to write notes for marijuana for medical use. It would still allow for drugfree workplaces.
People who use medical marijuana, could still be fired from their job, according to the bill. The bill will not allow for home growing of marijuana.
Doctors would be required to periodically report to the state why they are prescribing marijuana instead of other drugs. Anyone taking medical marijuana under the age of 18 would require parental consent.
Ohio lawmakers are also asking the federal government to change marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug. Hearing will start soon on the legislation and there could be as many as two hearings a week. No word yet on where Gov. John Kasich stands on the legislation.
The move comes as groups start collecting signatures to put an issue on the ballot before voters in November.... [and] polls show that legalizing marijuana just for medical use is popular across the state....
Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is backed by a national group, expects to spend $900,000 collecting 306,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform (where in coming days I will do some anaylsis of the Ohio bill and reactions thereto).
Thursday, April 07, 2016
In praise of my Ohio State students and their research on marijuana law, policy and reform
Regular readers are familiar with my periodic collecting of posts from my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform blog. Today, however, I have the pleasure of collecting and praising the posts which have been done in recent weeks by my Ohio State College of Law seminar students in that space as they make class presentations on an array of fascinating topics:
Monday, April 04, 2016
Senators Grassley and Feinstein convening hearing on whether DOJ is "Adequately Protecting the Public" from state marijuana reforms
This recent press release from US Senate's Caucus on International Narcotics Control details that this caucus has a hearing scheduled to explore how the federal government is keeping an eye on state-level marijuana reforms. (Exactly what this has to do with international control is unclear, but big-government drug warriors on both sides of the political aisle like Senators Grassley and Feinstein have never really been too keen to worry about limiting government growth in this arena.) Here are the basic details on what is prompting this hearing:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, will hold a hearing entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”
In August 2013, the Obama Administration decided to effectively suspend enforcement of federal law on marijuana in states that legalized it for recreational use. But to disguise its policy as prosecutorial discretion, the Administration also announced federal priorities that it claimed would guide its enforcement going forward. These priorities include preventing marijuana from being distributed to minors, stopping the diversion of marijuana into states that haven’t legalized it, and preventing adverse public health effects from marijuana use. At the time, the Justice Department warned that if state efforts weren’t enough to protect the public, then the federal government might step up its enforcement or even challenge the state laws themselves. This put the responsibility on the Department of Justice to monitor developments in these states, develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, and change course if developments warranted.
But a report from the Government Accountability Office that Grassley and Feinstein requested found that the Administration doesn’t have a documented plan to monitor the effects of state legalization on any of these priorities. Moreover, according to the report, officials at the Department could not even say how they make use of any information they receive related to these priorities. Grassley and Feinstein are convening this hearing to explore this problem.
What I find most notable and disconcerting about this hearing is that it claims to be exploring whether the big federal government bureaucrats inside the Beltway at DOJ who are very far removed from direct public accountability are "protecting the public" from state reforms in Alaska and Colorado and Oregon and Washington which were enacted directly by the public through voter initiatives.
Cross posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Lots of food for marijuana reform thought via Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
The biggest news this week in the marijuana reform space was the "dog-not-barking" decision by the Supreme Court to deny the "motion for leave to file a bill of complaint" brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado for its recreational reforms (basics here). But, as highlighted by students in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana laws and reform via readings assembled for in-class presentations, there are lots of other topics for marijuana reformers (and their opponents) to be concerned with these days.
Here is a round up of just some of the many interesting reform-related stories flagged recently over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform:
Monday, March 21, 2016
SCOTUS rejects original lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over marijuana reform
Legal gurus closely following state-level marijuana reforms have been also closely following the lawsuit brought directly to the Supreme Court way back in December 2014 by Nebraska and Oklahoma complaining about how Colorado reformed its state marijuana laws. Today, via this order list, the Supreme Court finally officially denied the "motion for leave to file a bill of complaint" by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado. This is huge news for state marijuana reform efforts, but not really all that surprising. (It would have been bigger news and surprising if the motion was granted.)
Notably, Justice Thomas authored an extended dissent to this denial, which was joined by Justice Alito. Here is how this dissent stats and ends:
Federal law does not, on its face, give this Court discretion to decline to decide cases within its original jurisdiction. Yet the Court has long exercised such discretion, and does so again today in denying, without explanation, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s motion for leave to file a complaint against Colorado. I would not dispose of the complaint so hastily. Because our discretionary approach to exercising our original jurisdiction is questionable, and because the plaintiff States have made a reasonable case that this dispute falls within our original and exclusive jurisdiction, I would grant the plaintiff States leave to file their complaint....
Federal law generally prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, and possession of marijuana. See Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 84 Stat. 1242, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §§812(c), Schedule I(c)(10), 841–846 (2012 ed. and Supp. II). Emphasizing the breadth of the CSA, this Court has stated that the statute establishes “a comprehensive regime to combat the international and interstate traffic in illicit drugs.” Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 12 (2005). Despite the CSA’s broad prohibitions, in 2012 the State of Colorado adopted Amendment 64, which amends the State Constitution to legalize, regulate, and facilitate the recreational use of marijuana. See Colo. Const., Art. XVIII, §16. Amendment 64 exempts from Colorado’s criminal prohibitions certain uses of marijuana. §§16(3)(a), (c), (d); see Colo. Rev. Stat. §18–18–433 (2015). Amendment 64 directs the Colorado Department of Revenue to promulgate licensing procedures for marijuana establishments. Art. XVIII, §16(5)(a). And the amendment requires the Colorado General Assembly to enact an excise tax for sales of marijuana from cultivation facilities to manufacturing facilities and retail stores. §16(5)(d).
In December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed in this Court a motion seeking leave to file a complaint against Colorado. The plaintiff States — which share borders with Colorado — allege that Amendment 64 affirmatively facilitates the violation and frustration of federal drug laws. See Complaint ¶¶54–65. They claim that Amendment 64 has “increased trafficking and transportation of Coloradosourced marijuana” into their territories, requiring them to expend significant “law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources” to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana. Id., ¶58; Brief [for Nebraska and Oklahoma] in Support of Motion for Leave to File Complaint 11–16. The plaintiff States seek a declaratory judgment that the CSA pre-empts certain of Amendment 64’s licensing, regulation, and taxation provisions and an injunction barring their implementation. Complaint 28–29.
The complaint, on its face, presents a “controvers[y] between two or more States” that this Court alone has authority to adjudicate. 28 U. S. C. §1251(a). The plaintiff States have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State. Whatever the merit of the plaintiff States’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
"Make No Mistake: Hillary Clinton is a Drug Warrior"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary authored by Romain Bonilla that I just came across on the Marijuana Politics website. Here are excerpts:
Hillary Clinton’s record on the War on Drugs sets her apart from other the other candidates — and not in a good way. From her criminal justice agenda as First Lady to her foreign policies as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be one of the greatest drug warriors of our generation. At a time when two-thirds of Americans support ending the War on Drugs, it’s crucial for her record on the issue to be brought to light.
Over the course of Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary Clinton publicly supported tough-on-crime criminal justice reforms that escalated and emboldened the War on Drugs. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton pushed for the largest crime bill in the history of the United States: the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This 1994 crime bill called for 100,000 more police officers, provided billions of dollars of funding to prison construction, and ramped up the use of mandatory minimum sentences. This law became a signature accomplishment of Bill Clinton’s presidency....
Hillary Clinton’s involvement with the War on Drugs didn’t stop there. As Secretary of State, Clinton waged the War on Drugs abroad. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department fueled the Mexican Drug War by funding efforts to combat drug trafficking. Through its Mérida Initiative, Clinton’s State Department hired American defense contractors to take part in the conflict and sold billions worth of weapons to Mexico — leading it to become one of the world’s top purchasers of U.S. military arms and equipment. Over the course of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the Mexican Drug War spiraled into chaos, killing over 160,000 people and displacing millions of others.
Worse still: As Clinton’s State Department gave billions in drug war aid to Mexico, it turned a blind eye to the widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the country’s government. Even as the United Nations acknowledged that Mexican authorities were involved in kidnappings and disappearances, Clinton’s State Department continued to support the offensive.
Now aiming for the presidency, in the Democratic race against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton describes herself as a progressive leader who will end mass incarceration. As she campaigns for the Democratic nomination, Clinton appears to have “evolved” on issues of drug policy, and gives lip-service to some of the things drug policy reformers have been saying for years. In a January debate, for instance, she stressed the importance of treating addiction as a health issue rather than a crime, hinting at an understanding of the failures of the drug war.
While Hillary Clinton is willing to speak vaguely against the War on Drugs, she refuses to embrace meaningful reforms to current drug policies. While most Americans agree that marijuana should be legal, Clinton supports rescheduling it to Schedule II, the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine. This proposal would do little to end the War on Drugs, but would facilitate research on medical marijuana and allow pharmaceutical companies to sell cannabinoid drugs.
Hillary Clinton’s drug policies are completely in line with those of the wealthy special interests that fund her campaign, like the private prison lobby and Big Pharma. Under Clinton’s marijuana policy, users would still be prosecuted for mere possession (as is the case for cocaine and methamphetamine users), but drug companies would get a free pass to profit off of marijuana’s medicinal value.
This position on marijuana policy is certainly not enough to redeem Clinton’s record of tough-on-crime legislation and drug warmongering abroad. Though she didn’t declare it, Hillary Clinton has been a champion of the War on Drugs. Her policies have sacrificed millions of lives to the failed ideal of a drug-free America and her contribution to mass incarceration haunts this nation to this day. Viewed as a whole, Hillary Clinton’s record reveals her to be a staunch drug warrior — and if she won’t push for meaningful reforms now, it’s unlikely she’ll ever get around to it.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Some marijuana reform developments (with seasonal politics) via Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
It has been a few weeks since I highlighted here developments in the marijuana reform space, and recent posts from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform highlight just some of the reasons why the on-going 2016 election (and the football season just completed) provide a number of marijuana reform angles and stories worth keeping an eye on:
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Lots of notable new year marijuana reform developments via Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
It has been some time since I highlighted here developments in the marijuana reform space, and these recent posts from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform highlight just some of the reasons why 2016 is already full of marijuana reform stories worth keeping an eye on:
Thursday, January 07, 2016
Are there any clear data patterns linking marijuana reforms and broader criminal justice developments?
The somewhat cumbersome question in the title of this post is prompted by the number crunching appearing in this interesting data-focused new piece by Jon Gettman via High Times titled ""Pot Matters: Marijuana in the Larger Context of Criminal Justice Reform." Here are excerpts:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics has recently release their annual data on correctional populations in the United States, comparing the latest data (from 2014) with prior years. This data on people under correctional supervision consists of totals of people incarcerated in either jail or prison, those on probation, or released on parole. This data does not include information on the offenses committed by people under correctional supervision. The big headline is that the total population of people under the watchful eye of the correctional supervision is declining.
In 2014, there were 6,851,000 people in the system, a decline of 52,200 offenders from 2013. The overall rate of 2.8 percent of adults in the United States being under some form of correctional supervision is the lowest since 1996. The correction population has been declining by an annual average of one percent since 2007. The incarcerated population increased slightly (by 1,900) in 2014, and most of the decrease over time has been in the area of community supervision (probation and parole). Reducing the number of marijuana arrests in a jurisdiction is an easy way to reduce the burden on probation officers given that many marijuana possession offenses result in probation....
From 2005 to 2014, the total correctional population in the United States fell by 241,000 from 7,055,600 to 6,814,600. Actually, the federal population increased by 33,500 in this period, but the state population fell by 274,500. However, the correction population increased in 26 states by a total of 283,100. It fell in 24 states and the District of Columbia by 557,300.
So which states are increasing their correctional populations? The biggest increases from 2005 to 2014 were in Georgia (48,000), Pennsylvania (47,500), Kentucky (30,700), Colorado (25,500) and Tennessee (20,600). The other states rounding out the top 10 were Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Arizona and Iowa.
The biggest decreases in correctional populations were in California (-160,700), Massachusetts (-101,800), Florida (-49,300), New York (-38,400) and Texas (-34,500). The rest of the top 10 in reduced correctional populations were New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, Connecticut and North Carolina.
There is no clear pattern here with respect of state marijuana laws, but there is an interesting trend worth noting. States that rely more on community supervision than incarceration often have reformed their marijuana laws....
Of the 15 jurisdictions with the highest levels of community supervision, in addition to Georgia, seven of them have decriminalized or legalized marijuana (Washington D.C., Minnesota, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon and Maryland). Increasing the list to 16 adds Colorado. Other states in this group of 16 have medical marijuana laws (Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Jersey, Vermont and Michigan).
Marijuana law reform and legalization are sound policies with great merit, but they are also part of a larger issue in the United States, the reform of the criminal justice system in ways that reduce the number of people under correctional supervision. This has always been part of the argument for legalizing cannabis — the justice system should stop wasting resources on marijuana users and divert them to violent offenders.
The recent trends in correctional supervision data present good news and bad news when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. The good news is that many states are receptive to criminal justice reform, particularly ones that have already made a commitment to community supervision as an alternative to incarceration. These states, and states that are reducing their correctional populations, may be the most receptive to ending arrests for marijuana offenses.
The bad news is that other states remain committed to increasing arrests and increasing correctional populations. These states, their criminal justice professionals and their political leaders will present the greatest challenges to the legalization of cannabis throughout the United States.
I would be very eager for readers to point me to any other research or data sets starting to look at whether and how a state's approach to marijuana reform may (or may not) be incfluencing other criminal justice developments in the state. And, of course, anyone just generally interested in marijuana reform ought to be regularly checking out my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog. Here are links to a few recent posts from that locale:
- Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?
- Two different prespectives on the coming marijuana reform future
- Gearing up for historic 2016 in the arena of marijuana law, policy and reform
- MPP Director provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform achievements in 2015
- SAM Prez provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform difficulties in 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Justice Department urges SCOTUS to refuse to take up original suit about marijuana brought by neighbor states against Colorado
As discussed here by Rob Mikos over at my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog, late yesterday the US Solicitor General filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court concerning the suit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado seeking various kinds of legal relief in the wake of Colorado's legalization of recreational marijuana. Rob provides this basic background and summary of the filing:
Per its practice, SCOTUS had requested the SG’s input. The brief can be found via this link. (To provide some background, the SG handles all litigation involving the United States before SCOTUS, and it also commonly files amicus briefs in SCOTUS cases in which the U.S. is not a party. The SG’s positions can be quite influential on the Court.) For earlier postings on this case, see here, here and here.
In a nutshell, the SG argued that SCOTUS should refuse to exercise original jurisdiction over the action. Why? Perhaps most importantly, the SG suggested that the NE / OK suit didn’t fit the mold of cases over which SCOTUS had traditionally exercised original jurisdiction – namely, cases in which one state had directly harmed another. Importantly, the SG argued that CO hadn’t directly injured its neighboring states, e.g., by exporting marijuana or authorizing private citizens to do so. Rather, any injury NE / OK have suffered is more directly traceable to the actions of private parties who buy marijuana in CO and then take it outside the state.
Because it focused on SCOTUS practice, the SG did not need to weigh in on the merits of the underlying action. But I think the argument the SG makes favors CO, if SCOTUS (or another court) ever had to decide the matter. After all, if CO is not directly responsible for the injury to NE / OK’s regulatory interests, it’s hard to see why CO could be held responsible for any injury to federal regulatory interests. In other words, if CO isn’t responsible for people using marijuana in NE / OK, then it arguably isn’t responsible for people using marijuana in CO either.
As the SG itself notes, even if SCOTUS declines original jurisdiction over the suit, NE / OK could still file it in a federal district court. Of course, it would have to overcome some daunting procedural hurdles there as well (e.g. ,standing), as noted in the SG brief.
I am hopeful I will have time in the coming days to closely analyze this SG amicus brief and to post some additional commentary at the Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog or here. In the meantime, here is how the Discussion section of the SG's brief gets started:
The motion for leave to file a bill of complaint should be denied because this is not an appropriate case for the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction. Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here — essentially that one State’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another State — would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this Court’s original jurisdiction.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Mixed outcomes for marijuana reform efforts in latest omnibus spending bill from Congress
Though there are a number of federal marijuana reform bills kicking around Congress, it seems very unlikely any of these bills will be moving forward anytime soon. In the meantime, though, marijuana reform issues and proposals keep coming up in debates over government spending bills. And, in the wee hours last night, Congress passed a big new spending bill that included (and failed to include) some notable marijuana reform provisions.
Representative Earl Blumenauer, a supporter of federal marijuana reforms, issued today this press release summarizing what appears and does not appear in the omnibus bill. Here is part of the text of this release:
Representative Blumenauer is pleased to see the inclusion of the following provisions in the omnibus package:
- The policy championed by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in the ability of states to implement legal medical marijuana laws (Division B, Title V, Section 542)
- Language that supports industrial hemp research allowed under Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (Division B, Title V, Section 543 and Division A, Title VII, Section 763)
Representative Blumenauer is disappointed, however, that the bill falls short by not including provisions that:
- Make it easier for banks to do business with state-legal marijuana businesses
- Allow Veterans Health Administration providers to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in accordance with state law, a provision he championed in the House
Representative Blumenauer is also disappointed to see the continuation of a rider that interferes with Washington, DC's ability to pass laws dealing with the sale of marijuana for adult use.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Lots of interesting marijuana reform developments via Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
It has been a couple of weeks since I highlighted here nationally and internationally developments in the marijuana reform space, and these recent posts from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform discusses just some of these developments:
- Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development
Sunday, November 08, 2015
"How Doctors Helped Drive the Addiction Crisis"
The title of this post is the headline of this extended New York Times op-ed authored by Richard Friedman, which reinforces my long-standing view that drug use/abuse and related social ills are most properly considered and addressed as public health concerns rather than criminal justice issues. Here are excerpts:
There has been an alarming and steady increase in the mortality rate of middle-aged white Americans since 1999, according to a study published last week. This increase — half a percent annually — contrasts starkly with decreasing death rates in all other age and ethnic groups and with middle-aged people in other developed countries.
So what is killing middle-aged white Americans? Much of the excess death is attributable to suicide and drug and alcohol poisonings. Opioid painkillers like OxyContin prescribed by physicians contribute significantly to these drug overdoses.
Thus, it seems that an opioid overdose epidemic is at the heart of this rise in white middle-age mortality.... Driving this opioid epidemic, in large part, is a disturbing change in the attitude within the medical profession about the use of these drugs to treat pain....
[S]tarting in the 1990s, there has been a vast expansion in the longterm use of opioid painkillers to treat chronic nonmalignant medical conditions, like lowback pain, sciatica and various musculoskeletal problems. To no small degree, this change in clinical practice was encouraged through aggressive marketing by drug companies that made new and powerful opioids, like OxyContin, an extendedrelease form of oxycodone that was approved for use in 1995....
The consequences of this epidemic have been staggering. Opioids are reported in 39 percent of all emergency room visits for nonmedical drug use. They are highly addictive and can produce significant depressive and anxiety states. And the annual direct health care costs of opioid users has been estimated to be more than eight times that of nonusers.
But most surprising — and disturbing — of all is that there is actually very weak evidence that opioids are safe or effective for the longterm treatment of nonmalignant pain. So how did they become so popular for these uses? A large review article conducted between 1983 and 2012 found that only 25 of these were randomized controlled trials and only one study lasted three months or longer. The review concluded that there was little good evidence to support the safety or efficacy of longterm opioid therapy for nonmalignant pain....
What is really needed is a sea change within the medical profession itself. We should be educating and training our medical students and residents about the risks and limited benefits of opioids in treating pain.... It is physicians who, in large part, unleashed the current opioid epidemic with their promiscuous use of these drugs; we have a large responsibility to end it.
This commentary fittingly highlights that, in modern times, doctors and Big Pharma are the most significant (and potentially dangerous) drug dealers for most Americans. It also informs my own disinclination to defer completely to doctors and Big Pharma when they express concern about the potential harms of marijuana reform or to trust politicians when they suggest doctors and Big Pharma should guide us through modern marijuana reform debates. When it comes to pain management and the developments of safe drugs to treat chronic pain, doctors and Big Pharma have a track record in recent decades that should prompt much more suspicion than confidence.
Some prior related posts:
- "Drug Dealers Aren't to Blame for the Heroin Boom. Doctors Are."
- Gendered perspective on Ohio's challenges with opioids and prison growth
- "Prisons Are Making America's Drug Problem Worse"
- Following the money behind sustaining pot prohibition
- "Fatal Re-Entry: Legal and Programmatic Opportunities to Curb Opioid Overdose Among Individuals Newly Released from Incarceration"
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Some more highlights from a busy week at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Though I previously highlighted here my reactions to this past week's big Ohio vote on a controversial marijuana reform initiaitve, lots more of note happened nationally and internationally this past week in the marijuana reform space. Here are some posts covering some of the developments from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform:
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
My (too quick) post-election reaction to Ohio marijuana reform efforts
As promised in this prior post, today I have been blogging some more detailed reactions to the big Ohio vote on a controversial marijuana reform initiaitve over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. Here are some of my first few posts (on which I would welcome reactions here or there):
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
Controversial marijuana reform initiative loses big in Ohio
As reported in this local article, headlined "Ohioans reject legalizing marijuana," the controversial ballot initiative which sought to convince Ohio voters to go from blanket marijuana prohibition to full legalization is losing badly as the votes get counted tonight. Here are the basics:
Ohio voters strongly rejected legalizing marijuana today, despite a $25 miillion campaign by proponents. The Associated Press called State Issue 3 a loser about 9:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the first results were released by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office.
The issue to legalize pot for recreational and medical use is going down 65 percent to 35 percent, losing in all 88 counties with more than 48 percent of the statewide vote counted.
“At a time when too many families are being torn apart by drug abuse, Ohioans said no to easy access to drugs and instead chose a path that helps strengthen our families and communities,” said Gov. John Kasich in a statement.
Curt Steiner, campaign director for Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, said, “Issue 3 was nothing more and nothing less than a business plan to seize control of the recreational marijuana market in Ohio ... Never underestimate the wisdom of Ohio voters. They saw through the smokescreen of slick ads, fancy but deceptive mailings, phony claims about tax revenues and, of course, Buddie the marijuana mascot.”
However, State Issue 2 is passing 53 percent to 47 percent. Some counties voted against Issue 2, including Athens County. Issue 2 is an amendment proposed by state lawmakers to make it more difficult for special economic interests to amend the Ohio Constitution in the future.
From the very start of the initiative effort, I kept repeating my view that the framing of any marijuana reform proposal in Ohio would likely determine its fate. Specifically, I thought that if voters saw Issue 3 as a referendum on blanket marijuana prohibition, the issue would have a chance to prevail; if it was seens as a referendum on a corporate take-over of the marijuana movement, it was sure to lose. Based on the mainsteam and social and activist coverage, it seems many voters who might have supported ending prohibition were too turned off by the ResponsibleOhio model to vote yes on Issue 3.
Because it seems like Issue 3 is going down by a very significant margin, I suspect (and fear) that this result in bellwether Ohio will significantly energize both local and national opponents of marijuana reform. Indeed, here is the text of an email I already received from SAM, the leading anti-marijuana reform group:
We did it! Despite a flood of celebrity endorsements and being outspent 15 to 1, Ohio voters weren't fooled. Tonight, they defeated legalization by one of the widest margins of victory any marijuana measure has seen in decades.
This is huge! This proves that our movement is thriving -- and we have many more victories in front of us.
A heartfelt thanks to Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, which our SAM Action Ohio affiliate was a big part of, for delivering this important victory tonight. It proved that legalization is not inevitable, and we will take every grain of knowledge we learned from this campaign into other states moving forward.
I will have lots more coverage and analysis of this notable Ohio result and its local and national implications at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform in the days ahead.