Sunday, September 27, 2015
Could crime be significantly reduce if marijuana tax revenues were all devoted to public safety?
The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by this new local article out of Colorado headlined "Aurora's Smoking New Budget: City puts pot, public safety resources in play for funding 2016." Here are snippets:
For 2016, the City of Aurora will be adding a new line item to its budget: marijuana. City officials project Aurora will make $2.7 million in 2015 based on 18 retail stores and 5 cultivation facilities slated to be up and running by the end of this year....
City officials project that all 24 stores allowed under Aurora’s recreational marijuana ordinance will be open by next year. City officials said they expect to make $5.4 million in 2016 based on 24 stores and 10 cultivation operations being open....
The 2016 proposed budget for the general fund is $305.7 million, up 5 percent from the 2015 budget of $291 million. The 2016 proposed budget calls for big increases in Aurora’s public safety spending, in part by adding eight police officers for administrative duties and to support field operations. It also calls for seven more fire medics.
I remain hopeful that the repeal of marijuana prohibition in the 21st century, like the repeal of alcohol prohibition in the 20th century, will directly improve public safety by reducing the crimes and violence often associated with black markets in illegal comnmodities. But this local article highlights how marijuana reform, by generating new tax revenues for various jurisdictions, might provide an additional boost to public safety through new resources that can be devoted to proven strategies to reduce criminal activities.
For those interested in marijuana reform topics beyond taxes and public safety, here are some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform:
Friday, September 04, 2015
Are you ready for some college football ... and highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
I have plans to watch a lot of college football over the long weekend, which culminates Monday night with my Ohio State Buckeyes beginning their national championship defense at Virginia Tech.
I assume a lot of college students also plan to watch a lot of football, and some recent research reported via this post at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform indicates that college students are now more likely to be smoking marijuana than to be smoking cigarettes when they are taking study breaks. With that terrible segue, here are some more recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform:
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by a chart reprinted here that accompanies this extended article concerning the variety of possible impacts of marijuana reform in Washington state. The article is headlined "Is marijuana dragging us down?: Here's a look at marijuana's role in traffic fatalities, quality-of-life issues, crime," and here are criminal justice excerpts (with key line emphasized):
When recreational marijuana was legalized, Washington entered the unknown, triggering questions — and predictions — about what might happen. Would drug dealers hang around the pot shops? Would it bring riffraff into the neighborhood and make shops easy crime targets? Would people abuse the drug? Or smoke and drive, putting others in harm's way?...
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that marijuana has increasingly become a factor in fatal crashes. Most drivers in fatal collisions are tested for drugs. In 2014, among 619 drivers involved in fatal crashes, 89 tested positive for cannabis, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Of those marijuana-positive drivers, 75 had active THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) in their blood, meaning they had recently used the drug. That's twice as many drivers with active THC in their blood than there were in 2010. About half of those 75 drivers were above the legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the traffic safety commission said. The driver with the highest THC level tested at 70 nanograms of marijuana per milliliter of blood — 14 times the legal limit.
Half of last year's THC-positive drivers were also under the influence of alcohol, and most were above the 0.08 blood alcohol concentration limit, the traffic safety commission said. Marijuana and alcohol used together has a compounding effect.
Shelly Baldwin, spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, said drugs have surpassed alcohol as factors in fatal crashes. "Marijuana ends up being the most frequent drug, but certainly we see methamphetamine and opiates and cocaine, prescription drugs. There's a long list," Baldwin said....
In 2014, 703 Washington drivers tested positive for being above the legal marijuana limit of 5 ng/mL. That's a fraction of the total DUI violations, which were 25,795 statewide last year. In general, though, driving under the influence violations have gone down in Washington. That means the increase in marijuana detection among drivers is a new, unnerving trend for traffic officials....
The who, what, when, where, why and how of crime is always changing. Officials are hesitant to say what leads to crime, given its ebb and flow, making it difficult to discern whether legalizing pot affected public safety.
Marijuana-related crimes, such as possession and selling of drug paraphernalia, have dropped off, which makes sense given it's now legal to have pot and a pipe. In general, crime has gone down around Clark County, though it increased about 1 percent for the whole state last year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Drug violations accounted for nearly 13,700 crimes reported statewide last year — an uptick from 2013's almost 13,000 violations.
The question in the title of this post is generated by what strikes me as a remarkable — and remarkably significant? — 35% decline in the total number of DUI offenses in Washington state since marijuana was legalized by voter initiative in 2012. Many public health experts have led me to conclude that if a significant segment of the population substitutes marijuana use for alcohol use — instead of supplementing alcohol with marijuana — there will be net public-health benefits because of reduced alcohol-related harms that should surpass any increased marijuana-related harms. These data from Washington state, which do seem to show a small increase in marijuana-related roadway harms, suggest there has been a major overall reduction in dangerous driving and thus net public safety benefits in the Evergreen State since marijuana was legalized.
As I say repeatedly in a variety of settings, it is way too early to reach any firm conclusions about what basic crime and public safety data in marijuana reform jurisdictions really mean for the short- or long-term consequences of legalizations. Nevertheless, even the basic numbers reported here highlight the importance of considering all marijuana-specific data in the context of the broader public safety issues with which they interact.
Dog-day highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
It has been a few weeks since I have flagged some posts over at my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog. Here are just a few recent notable posts from that space:
Thursday, August 13, 2015
What can and should voters know about the criminal justice impact of marijuana prohibition as they consider repeal?
I will be off-line for most of the rest of the day in order to have a meeting with a retired Ohio judge (and perhaps some others) to discuss the question that is the title of this post. The question has become especially salient for Ohio voters today: as detailed in this post at MLP&R, as of yesterday it became official that, in less than 90 days, Ohio voters will be deciding whether to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State for recreational and medical use.
I have spent a fair bit of time trying to rigorously assess, for Ohio and other jurisdictions, just how to measure and describe the "criminal justice footprint" of modern marijuana prohibition and how that footprint can be impacted by marijuana reform. But while I am off-line today, I would be grateful to hear from readers just what they would be eager to know, as a voter considering a reform proposal, about how the criminal justice might change (or not change) due to repeal of marijuana prohibition in a jurisdiction.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Thanks to prior commutation, Missouri marijuana lifer now to get paroled
As reported in this Huffington Post piece, headlined "Man Who Was Serving Life In Prison For Marijuana To Be Set Free," there has been a notable development in a notable drug sentencing case in Missouri. Here are the details:
Jeff Mizanskey, a 61-year-old Missouri man who was serving life in prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses, will be set free in a matter of days, his attorney confirmed Monday to The Huffington Post. "We were notified today that he will be granted parole and be released within '10 to 25 days,'" lawyer Dan Viets said about the Missouri Department of Corrections' decision. Mizanskey had met with the parole board just last Thursday.
After two decades in prison, Mizanskey became eligible for parole in May when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) commuted his life sentence, while granting pardons to five other nonviolent offenders who had already completed their punishments. Parole was an option that Mizanskey did not have previously because he had been sentenced as a "prior and persistent drug offender" under Missouri's three strikes law, which was repealed last year.
All three of Mizanskey's offenses involved marijuana. He was given a life sentence after a conviction for attempting to sell about six pounds of pot in a 1993 police sting operation.
A Change.org petition seeking clemency for Mizanskey had received nearly 400,000 signatures. "Great news everyone... Jeff is coming home this month!" said a post Monday on the Free Jeff Mizanskey Facebook page. "We want everyone to know how greatful [sic] we are for all the support received throughout this whole ordeal."
Marijuana offenses, mainly involving simple possession, account for roughly half of all drug-related crimes. According to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, 88 percent of the more than 8 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 were for possession alone. There were more arrests in the U.S. for marijuana possession in 2011 than for all violent crimes combined, according to the FBI's uniform crime report. The ACLU report also found significant racial disparities in the arrest patterns. While black and white Americans use marijuana at about the same rates, blacks were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana during the years examined.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
New York Times says: "Congress and Obama Are Too Timid on Marijuana Reform"
A little more than a year ago, as first reported here, the New York Times editorial board ran a provocative serious of editorial calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. I had hoped that in the following weeks and months the NYTimes editorial board would become a vocal and aggressive advocate and cheerleader for state marijuana reforms and federal reform proposals, but it seems there was relatively little editorial follow-up on this front subsequently. This new editorial, headlined "Congress and Obama Are Too Timid on Marijuana Reform," perhaps makes up for some lost time by effectively chastising federal policy-makers for falling behind on the marijuana reform front. Here are excerpts:
Even as support for ending marijuana prohibition is building around the country, Congress and the Obama administration remain far too timid about the need for change.
Last year, residents in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia voted to join Colorado and Washington State in making recreational use of marijuana legal. Later this year, residents of Ohio are expected to vote on a ballot measure that would legalize it. Nevadans will vote on a legalization proposal next year. And Californians could vote on several similar measures next year.
Instead of standing by as change sweeps the country, federal lawmakers should be more actively debating and changing the nation’s absurd marijuana policies, policies that have ruined millions of lives and wasted billions of dollars. Their inaction is putting businesses and individuals in states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana in dubious legal territory — doing something that is legal in their state but is considered a federal crime. Many growers, retailers and dispensaries also have to operate using only cash because many banks will not serve them, citing the federal prohibition....
Congress has taken a few positive steps, like approving a provision that would prevent the Justice Department from using federal funds to keep states from carrying out their own medical marijuana laws. And some senior Republicans, including Mr. Grassley and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, have expressed support for the medical use of a compound known as cannabidiol, which is found in the cannabis plant but is not psychoactive. The Obama administration recently made it easier for scientists to study marijuana by removing a requirement that studies not funded by the federal government go through an additional review process, beyond what is required for researchers working with other drugs.
But both Congress and the White House should be doing more. Specifically, marijuana should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is classified as a Schedule I drug like heroin and LSD, and considered to have no medical value. Removing marijuana from the act would not make it legal everywhere, but it would make it easier for states to decide how they want to regulate it.
Even as Washington demurs, efforts to legalize marijuana continue in the states.... Direct democracy can sometimes produce good results. But it would be far better for Congress and the president to repeal failed laws and enact sensible drug policies.
Kudos to the Times for encouraging some proactive federal work in this arena, and I have long believed that an (easy?) first step for the feds might be to create some kind of marijuana reform task force or commission (or even a drug policy reform commission) along lines akin to the Colson Corrections Task Force recently created by Congress or the 21st Century Policing Task Force recently created by the President. There is so much state reform activity going on (and so much confusions about the impact of these reforms), I think the feds could and should at this point at least try to create an neutral institution that will study and assess all the rapid developments taking place at the state level.
As long-time readers know, one way for the feds and others to keep an eye on some highlights of state-level developments is by following my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog. Here are just a few recent notable posts from that space:
Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Shouldn't front-runner Donald Trump be asked about drug war and federal marijuana policies at GOP debate?
Now that all the GOP polls show a significant number of Republican voters are taking Donald Trump's candidacy seriously, I think it would be especially valuable at tomorrow's big GOP debate for candidate Trump to be asked some seriously hard questions about federal laws and policies. Back in June, I had this pose on my marijuana reform blog highlighting that Trump had once suggested full legalization would be the only way to "win" the drug war, and I wondered aloud "Just what is Donald Trump's position now on modern marijuana reforms (and the modern drug war)?". Especially now that Trump is, according to the polls, the GOP front-runner, I think this would be an especially good issue to bring up with him.
Notably, a few media outlets have just recently picked up on Trump's not-so-clear and not-at-all-consistent statements about federal drug policy:
At the Daily Beast here, "Donald Trump: Legalize ALL the Drugs"
At Westwood here, "Donald Trump on 'Big Problems' with CO Pot Laws, Flip-flop on Legalizing Drugs."
As I have explained in a few prior posts both here and at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform (some of which I have linked below), I think there are lots of good reasons to ask all the GOP candidates lots of good questions about lots of different criminal justice reform issues. But, especially in light of Trump's prior comments and what at times seems to be his libertarian-leaning, less-government-regulation, pro-jobs economic messaging, I would be especially interested now to hear what he thinks about some of the positive economic development news emerging from Colorado and other jurisdictions in conjunction libertarian-leaning, less-government-regulation marijuana and related drug war reforms.
A few recent related posts:
- Just what is Donald Trump's position now on modern marijuana reforms (and the modern drug war)?
- Hoping GOP debates take up criminal justice reforms (including clemency and marijuana policy)
- "Let's hear from the presidential candidates on clemency reform"
- Highlighting GOP leaders' notable new essays on criminal justice reform
- "On Criminal Justice Reform, Ted Cruz Is Smarter Than Hillary Clinton"
- "2016: The Marijuana Election"
- First primary state poll indicating considerable support for marijuana reform
- "Why marijuana legalization is the rare issue that divides the 2016 Republican presidential field"
Friday, July 31, 2015
Politics of pot continuing to heat up (and partially chronicled at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
A new Politico article suggests that Congress is in the midst of a "summer fling With marijuana," and that suggesion only reinforces my view that marijuana should definitely be a topic raised during next week's big GOP debate in Cleveland. And any and everyone interested in the modern politics of modern marijuana reform — which is burning hot at the local, tribal, state and international levels as well as in Congress — should be sure to check out my efforts to keep on top of some of the top stories at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. Here are links to some recent posts of note from MLP&R:
Sunday, July 05, 2015
Updates on pot prohibition reforms at end of weekend celebrating freedom
It seems only fitting to bring a July Fourth weekend to a close by linking to some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform that provide evidence of freedom on the march in a particularly notable arena:
Sunday, June 28, 2015
When might a modern marijuana reform issue get on the SCOTUS docket?
The question in the title of this post is prompted not only by the fact that the Supreme Court is expected to issues its final opinions of the current Term on Monday, but also because some commentators have noticed parallels between quickly changing voter opinions and state laws on gay marriage and quickly changing voter opinions and state laws on marijuana. Of course, the SCOTUS already has before it the challenge brought directly by Oklahoma and Nebraska assailing the spill-over harms from Colorado's reforms. But I believe most informed Court-watchers expect that the Justices will refuse to hear the suit brought by Colorado's neighbors
While we all await the final rulings from SCOTUS on Monday and anticipate some future SCOTUS Term with cases addressing new modern marijuana reforms, here are some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform (including a few reporting on events that could generate some significant litigation):
Friday, June 19, 2015
"Vermont's Prison Chief Says It's Time to Decriminalize Drug Possession"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new article from an independent paper in Vermont. Here is how the lengthy article gets started:
Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito recalled spotting a young woman on a prison tour; he knew she was addicted to heroin, but she wasn't getting treated for it. On another occasion, a former inmate who served five years on a marijuana conviction described his crime to Pallito as "possession of a vegetable."
Pallito has struggled over the years to rein in a DOC budget that has exploded along with the inmate population. All of that has led him to a conclusion shared by few in his field: Pallito believes that possession of all drugs should be decriminalized and that the War on Drugs should be declared a failure, he told Seven Days. The man who supervises Vermont's 1,900 prison inmates believes that many of them shouldn't be behind bars, and that incarceration sets them up for failure.
"Possession of drugs for personal utilization — if somebody is not hurting anyone [else], that should not be a criminal justice matter," Pallito, 49, said in an interview at his Williston office. "I don't think anybody can say that putting somebody with an addiction problem through the corrections system is a good idea."
The DOC commissioner has been following news reports from Portugal, which in 2000 decriminalized all drugs and has since recorded declines in drug abuse and overdose deaths. He's decided it's a brave example that Vermont should emulate. "We should go to the Portugal model, which is to deal with the addiction and not spend the money on the criminal justice system," Pallito said. "We spend so much money on corrections that could be done differently. The only way to do it is spend less on corrections and more on treatment."
Pallito may be the first head of a state prison system to publicly advocate against the prosecution of users of heroin, cocaine and other street drugs. He knows of no one among his peers who has stepped forward. Organizations that question the War on Drugs, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — a group of former and current police officers — have not claimed any state corrections administrators as supporters. "When you're a corrections commissioner, most people think you're tough on crime, law and order, and I am — for certain crimes," Pallito said. He believes that possession of marijuana should be legal, in any quantity. Possession of all other drugs, provided they are in small quantities for personal use, should not result in a criminal charge but rather a small civil fine, along with a mandate to undergo treatment. In essence, he'd treat all drugs in a way that is consistent with Vermont's 2013 marijuana decriminalization law, which stipulates that people found with one ounce or less face a $200 fine but no criminal charge.
Pallito stressed two points: Drug dealers should still face criminal charges. And decriminalization should not happen overnight — there aren't enough drug-treatment providers to handle the effects of such a switch. He would go even further in decriminalizing drug-related activity. The many people who are charged with drug-addiction-related property crimes, such as theft, would not face prison time.
Currently, more than 500 of Vermont's 1,900 inmates are in custody for either property crimes or drug possession. Two of those are being incarcerated for marijuana possession. Freeing such inmates would dramatically reduce the prison population, saving the state several million dollars annually and enabling it to end the controversial program that ships 300 overflow inmates to privately run out-of-state prisons.
Further, Pallito said, decriminalization would allow people to take advantage of effective treatment programs and to avoid criminal convictions that prevent them from rebuilding their lives. "I think you will find a lot of people in the criminal justice system who have been there for a number of years understand its faults most acutely," said Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, who seemed a little taken aback by news of Pallito's stand. "The best policy is front-end work, and Andy sees that, and it's consistent with his progressive ideology."
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
As Gov Jindal talks up sentencing reform and medical marijuana in Iowa, should we wonder what "The Donald" has to say on these issues?
The question in the title of this post captures some notable news from the GOP campaign trail this week. The seemingly more serious news is discussed in this NOLA.com article, headlined "Bobby Jindal talks medical marijuana, sentencing reform with The Des Moines Register." Here are the details from that report:
Gov. Bobby Jindal doubled down on his commitment to sign two pieces of state legislation related to marijuana during a video interview with The Des Moines Register. "We are going to sign both bills. They've made it through the process. They are going to make to my desk in the next few days," Jindal told The Des Moines Register....
Jindal backs legislation to establish a framework for access to medical marijuana in Louisiana. Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in the state for years, but there's never been rules written to regulate growing, prescribing or dispensing it. The new law, should Jindal sign it, would set up those regulations. "Look, if it is truly tightly controlled and supervised by the physicians, I'm ok with that," Jindal said.
The governor also said he would approve a bill that reduces maximum sentences allowed for many types of marijuana offenders. As governor, Jindal said he has increased penalties for people who violent offenders -- sex crime perpetrators and others -- but is in favor of reducing penalties for people who commit nonviolent crimes. "At the federal level, I think there is a bipartisan effort to look at sentencing reform. I think that makes sense," Jindal said.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, a decision by a high-profile individuals to throw his hat in the GOP presidential ring has garnered the most media attention this week. And this ABC News report highlights some reasons why Donald Trump's views on sentencing and marijuana reform may really be consequential in the coming months:
[T]here’s a slice of voters, not insignificant in the Republican primary race, who despise Washington and politicians more broadly. Every candidate likes to try to channel that, but none bring the bluster that Trump does.... Trump is a sideshow, but one whose act will spill on to the main stage, particularly if he earns a debate invitation or three....
From Facebook: “In the 24 hour period between 12:01 a.m. ET June 16 and 12:01 a.m. ET June 17, 3.4 million people on Facebook in the U.S. generated 6.4 million interactions (likes, posts, comments, shares) related to Donald Trump and his announcement. Note: over the last 90 days, conversation about The Donald has been generated by an average of about 39,000 unique people per day.”
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Notable new data and other recent posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
I am pleased to see that the growing state, national and interenation marijuana reform movement is leading to much more research on marijuana use and law enforcement activities (in Colorado and elsewhere). I have revently reported on some notable new research at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, and here are links to those posts (and a few other recent posts of note):
- Colorado Supreme Court affirms statutory interpretation permitting dismissal of medical marijuana user
Friday, June 12, 2015
"Marijuana & Ohio: Past, Present, Potential"
The title of this post is the title of the lengthy research report that was formally released (and extensively discussed) yesterday at the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium which I help organize yesterday. The report and related information about Marijuana Policies of Ohio Task Force that released the report can be found at this webpage.
The report is much longer and more data-heavy than anything else previously written about marijuana reform in Ohio, but this AP article discussing its findings also highlights why the report has also become the subject of criticism. The AP piece is headlined "Economics of effort to legalize pot in Ohio in crosshairs," and here are excerpts:
A Republican prosecutor who is heading a task force on marijuana legalization in Ohio said the analysis of potential impacts released by his group Thursday presents a balanced look at the issue, a claim questioned by the state auditor. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters was asked to chair the Marijuana Policies of Ohio Taskforce by ResponsibleOhio, the group advancing a legalization amendment toward the November ballot.
He said ResponsibleOhio has allowed experts on his task force the editorial freedom to put together a “straightforward assessment” of how legalization might affect law enforcement, public safety, public health and Ohio’s overall economy. “Our report doesn’t make recommendations, and it doesn’t pull any punches,” Deters said. “We’ve made a concerted effort to remain objective, take an even-handed approach and lay out both the good and the bad of legalization.”
The report estimates legalization would create 34,791 jobs in Ohio representing $1.6 billion in labor income in connection with nearly $7 billion in output from the cultivation, extraction, processing and sale of marijuana. The report said research shows legalization doesn’t lead to drastic increases in crime, in adult or teen marijuana use, or in workplace injuries -- a finding Auditor Dave Yost called rosy at best.
“There are unquestionably going to be health and safety impacts,” Yost, an opponent of legalizing marijuana, said. “This task force was stacked like a BLT. Really, in 30 days? This debate has been going on for 50 years and they did a comprehensive study in 30 days?”
The report came the same day a committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission was reviewing draft language that would amend Ohio’s constitution to ban changes to the constitution that create monopolies or further the economic interests of select individuals. It comes partly in reaction to a piece of ResponsibleOhio’s proposal that would establish 10 grow sites, some of which investors have already purchased.
Because I spent all of yesterday at the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium talking about this Taskforce report, I am not going to add extra commentary here yet (though lots will follow before too long at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform). But I am hopeful that the report can help advance public information and understanding as the debate over marijuana reform heats up in Ohio and nationwide in the months ahead. Indeed, a letter from the Chair of the Taskforce, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, stresses this point at the front of the document:
The question of changing Ohio’s approach to marijuana policy may soon be put before voters -- most likely on the November 2015 ballot. The rapid pace of change in marijuana policy across the country, however, has made it difficult to keep up with the experiences, research, and practices occurring in different states. Political arguments from all sides of this debate have made it even more challenging to separate fact from opinion....
Ohio cannot afford to make decisions about marijuana policy and law based on unsubstantiated and often unsupported talk on both sides of the issue. Ohioans need and deserve an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that ending marijuana prohibition may have, so they can make up their own minds....
I look forward to continuing this important discussion throughout Ohio in the coming weeks and months.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Sooooo excited for Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium
As I mentioned in this post, not only has my own Ohio lately become a hot state for dynamic conversations about marijuana reform, I have had the honor and privilege of helping bring together an interesting groups of speakers for today's Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium taking place at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. (Because there is no charge for attending, I encourage anyone interested to make it over to the College of Law ASAP as the panels start at 10:30am.)
I have the honor and privilege of giving brief opening remarks for the event, and I plan to start my remarks this way:
Marijuana reform is a very serious issue. But, until recently, it has been hard to get serious people to take this issue very seriously. Disconcertingly, it seems elected officials are especially eager to ignore (or even make jokes) about the very serious issue of marijuana reform even as more and more citizens and voters, young and old, healthy and sick, keep saying in polls and keep showing on election day that they are troubled by blanket criminal prohibition and are eager to have significant legal reforms seriously considered.
For those who share my interest and excitement for these issues but unable to get to Ohio State, you can spend some time checking out these notable recent postsfrom Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform:
Monday, June 08, 2015
Can any significant federal prison sentence truly be "reasonable" for any of the Kettle Falls Five marijuana defendants?
The question in the title of this post is a serious question I have in light of the remarkable federal marijuana prosecution that reaches sentencing in Washington state later this week. The case involves the so-called "Kettle Falls Five," a group of medical marijuana patients subject (somewhat mysteriously) to aggressive federal criminal prosecution. Regular readers may recall prior posts about the case; this new lengthy Jacob Sullum Forbes piece, headlined "In A State Where Marijuana Is Legal, Three Patients Await Sentencing For Growing Their Own Medicine," provides this review and update:
During their trial at the federal courthouse in Spokane last March, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and her two fellow defendants—her son, Rolland Gregg, and his wife, Michelle Gregg—were not allowed to explain why they were openly growing marijuana on a plot in rural northeastern Washington marked by a big green cross that was visible from the air. According to a pretrial ruling, it was irrelevant that they were using marijuana for medical purposes, as permitted by state law, since federal law recognizes no legitimate use for the plant. But now that Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs have been convicted, they are free to talk about their motivation, and it might even make a difference when they are sentenced next Thursday.
Federal drug agents raided the marijuana garden, which was located outside Firestack-Harvey’s home near Kettle Falls, in 2012. In addition to the three defendants who are scheduled to be sentenced next week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington charged Firestack-Harvey’s husband, Larry Harvey, and a family friend, Jason Zucker. Dubbed the Kettle Falls Five, all had doctor’s letters recommending marijuana for treatment of various conditions, including gout, anorexia, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and chronic pain from a broken back. Last February prosecutors dropped the charges against Harvey because he has terminal cancer. Zucker, who had a prior marijuana conviction, pleaded guilty just before the trial and agreed to testify against the other defendants in exchange for a 16-month sentence, which was much shorter than the 15-year term he could have received in light of his criminal history....
In the end, after hearing testimony for five days and deliberating for one, the jurors acquitted the defendants of almost all the charges against them, which could have sent them to prison for 10 years or more. “They all saw what was going on,” Telfeyan says. “They understood what the facts were, and they came back with a verdict exactly consistent with what actually happened, which was just a family growing medical marijuana for their own personal use.”
The jury rejected allegations that the defendants distributed marijuana and conspired to do so, that they grew more than 100 plants (the cutoff for a five-year mandatory minimum) over the course of two years, that they used firearms (the Harveys’ hunting guns) in connection with a drug crime (another five-year mandatory minimum), and that Firestack-Harvey maintained a place (i.e., the home she shared with her husband) for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing marijuana. The one remaining charge — cultivation of more than 50 but fewer than 100 plants — does not carry a mandatory minimum penalty, which gives Rice broad discretion when he sentences Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs next Thursday. He can even consider the reason they were growing marijuana.
“But for state-sanctioned medical prescriptions authorizing each member of the family to grow 15 marijuana plants, this family would not be before the Court today,” the defense says in a sentencing memo filed last week [available here]. “Due to the exemplary contributions each family member has made to this society, their lack of criminal records, and the unique role state-sanctioned medical authorizations played in this case, Defendants respectfully seek a probationary sentence with no incarceration.”
The federal probation office recommended sentences of 15 to 21 months, while the prosecution is seeking 41 to 51 months [gov sentencing memo here], based mainly on allegations that were rejected by the jury, including cultivation in 2011 as well as 2012. To give you a sense of how realistic the government’s assumptions are, it estimates that each plant grown in 2011 produced more than a kilogram of marijuana. As the defense notes, that figure “flies in the face of both empirical reality and legal precedent,” since “numerous courts have recognized that a marijuana plant cannot yield anywhere near 1 kilogram of usable marijuana.” At one point in its sentencing memo, the prosecution even claims the defendants somehow managed to produce “1000 kilograms per plant.” I assume that’s a typo, but who knows? The government also thinks the 2012 harvest should be measured by the weight of the plants, including leaves, stems, water, and clinging dirt.
The prosecution’s insistence that Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs deserve to spend at least three and a half years in prison is puzzling, as is its willingness to posit super-productive, science fictional marijuana plants in service of that goal. But this case has been a puzzle from the beginning.
I assume that this federal prosecution started because federal authorities thought the defendants here were doing a whole lot more than what the feds were able to prove in court. For that reason, I can sort of understand why the feds started this prosecution way back in early 2012. But now, three years later, with the defendants acquitted on most charges (and now with lots of persons selling lots of recreational marijuana within the state), I have a very hard time understanding just how the feds can think a lengthy prison sentence is "not greater than necessary" for these defendants in light of the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of these defendants.
I have in the excerpt above links to the parties' sentencing briefs, and I sincerely seek input on the question in the title of this post in light of some of the arguments made thereing. Notably, the government's sentencing memo is only focused on dickering over the applicable guideline range; it does not appear to make any formal arguments for a signficant prison sentence in light of all the 3553(a) sentencing factos that judges now must consider after Booker. So I suppose it is still possible that even the government will, come the actual sentencing later this week, acknowledge that this remarkable case does not justify any significant federal prison sentence for any of the defendants with no criminal history. But if the government seeks a prison term, and if the judge imposes a prison term, I would be ready and eager to argue on appeal for these defendants that such a punishment cannot possibly be reasonable in light of all the sentencing commands Congress put into 3553(a).
Prior related posts:
- Family of medical marijuana patients in Washington turn down plea and set up notable federal trial
- New York Times op-ed laments Kettle Falls 5 federal marijuana prosecution
- Three of "Kettle Falls Five" convicted on least serious federal marijuana charges in Washington
June 8, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
Saturday, June 06, 2015
How has, can, should and will marijuana reform impact the work of defense attorneys?
The question in the title of this post is the central topic of a presentation I am honored to be giving today at the Cuyahoga Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's annual meeting.
As is often true when I speak to a group of experienced defense attorneys, I expect I will learn more from the assembled participants than I am likely to teach them. But, in part because Ohio has not (yet) reformed its marijuana laws in any way, I am cautiously hopeful I can give the group some useful insights about the inevitability of legal and practical uncertainties, especially in the criminal law arena, as to what really happens in a state after it formally repeals blanket marijuana prohibition in some way.
Based on case rulings, policy reports and conversations with lawyers in the field in states like Colorado, I have a general sense of various possible answers to the multi-dimensional query in the title of this post. But I would be especially eager to hear from any and all persons in reform states if they have distinctive experiences or thoughts in reaction to my question.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Friday, June 05, 2015
Q: What do the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney and the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy have in common?
A: They are both featured speakers at the Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium taking place June 11, 2015 at The Ohio State University.
As I have noted before, my own Ohio has lately become a hot state for dynamic conversations about marijuana reform. And I have had the honor and privilege of helping bring together an interesting groups of speakers for what should be an informative and interest event next week at my own Moritz College of Law. This registration page provides more information about some of the speakers and provides a brief preview:
The Marijuana Policies of Ohio Taskforce, chaired by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, will present the findings of its comprehensive research at a symposium on June 11 hosted at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. The Taskforce’s research report assesses and analyzes proposed marijuana legalization initiatives in four key areas - public safety and law enforcement, the economy, public health, and regulatory impact. The symposium will also include a panel discussion with national recognized experts in marijuana policy and law.
A press briefing will precede the event. For more information, please contact Kathy Berta at kathy @ rstrategygroup.com
As of this writing, there is no charge for attending this event, but space in the auditorium can get limited so I highly encourage everyone interested in attending to pre-register via this webpage ASAP.
Thursday, June 04, 2015
Rounding up recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
I am likely to be off-line from much of the rest of today because of the official start of an unofficial holiday weekend in my neighborhood. So while I am spending some time watching the world's best players on well-manicured grass, readers interested in reform developments surrounding another type of grass might want to check out some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. Here is an abridged listing of MLP&R posts that might be of special interest to sentencing fans:
I have highlighted the last two items on this list because I continue to believe Ohio is going to be an especially exciting state to watch closely in the next few months. And I think the "Ohio Marijuana Policy Reform Symposium" taking place at The Ohio State Moritz College of Law a week from today is likely to advance in a thoughtful way the dynamic conversations about marijuana reform now taking place in the Buckeye State.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Two notable voices from the (far?) right calling again for drug war and sentencing reform
The two recent stories about recent comments by notable advocates reinforce my sense that more and more traditional (and not-so-traditional) conservative voices are feeling more and more confortable vocally criticizing the federal drug war and severe drug sentencing:
Money Quotes: If you told me a year ago that I [Grover Norquist] would be speaking out in favor of one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's top priorities, I would have said you were crazy. The governor is a tax-and-spend liberal and I have spent my entire career fighting high taxes and wasteful government spending. Yet, just as a broken clock gets it right once in a while, Gov. Malloy is right about the need to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Contrary to their original intent, mandatory minimum laws have done little to reduce crime. They have, however, been significant drivers of prison overcrowding and skyrocketing corrections budgets. That's why conservatives and liberals in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses all across the country are coming together to repeal and reform these one-size-fits-all laws. Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Florida are just a handful of the states where conservatives have not simply supported, but led, the efforts to scale back mandatory minimum sentences.
Conservatives in Connecticut should support the governor's mandatory minimum proposals for two reasons. First, the reforms are very modest — addressing only drug possession. In some states, such as Connecticut's neighbor, Rhode Island, and Delaware, lawmakers have repealed mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses. Still more states have enacted significant reform to their drug mandatory minimum laws so that judges have discretion to impose individualized sentences that fit the crime. In all of these states, crime rates have dropped.
Conservatives in Connecticut also should embrace sentencing reform because of the state's awful budget mess. For too long, fiscal hawks have turned a blind eye to wasteful law enforcement spending. Not wanting to appear "soft on crime," they have supported every program and policy to increase the prison population without subjecting those ideas to cost-benefit analysis.
Those days are over. After watching state spending on prisons skyrocket more than 300 percent over the last two decades, state leaders across the country seem to understand that they can no longer afford to warehouse nonviolent offenders in prison.
Money Quotes: Today on Glenn Beck's radio (and TV) show, I [Jacob Sullum] debated marijuana prohibition with Robert White, co-author (with Bill Bennett) of Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America. The conversation turned to the war on drugs in general and also touched on federalism, the Commerce Clause, the nature of addiction, and the moral justification for paternalistic interference with individual freedom. Reading from my recent Forbes column, Beck said he is strongly attracted to the Millian principle that "the individual is sovereign" over "his own body and mind," which rules out government intervention aimed at protecting people from their own bad decisions. "I'm a libertarian in transit," he said. "I'm moving deeper into the libertarian realm.... Inconsistencies bother me." By the end of the show, Beck was declaring that the federal government should call off its war on drugs and let states decide how to deal with marijuana and other psychoactive substances.
Addendum: Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell notes that Beck indicated he favored marijuana legalization back in 2009, saying, "I think it's about time we legalize marijuana... We either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars or we legalize it, but this little game we are playing in the middle is not helping us, it is not helping Mexico and it is causing massive violence on our southern border... Fifty percent of the money going to these cartels is coming just from marijuana coming across our border." As far as I know, however, this is the first time Beck has explicitly called for an end to federal prohibition of all the other currently banned drugs.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
I have not recently done in this space a round-up of posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform in a few weeks. Here is an abridged listing of MLP&R posts that might be of special interest to sentencing fans:
Monday, May 11, 2015
Notable Ohio county prosecutor calls pot prohibition a "disastrous waste of public funds"
As reported in this Cincinnati Enquirer article, headlined "Prosecutor Deters OK with legalizing pot," a high-profile prosecutor in Ohio is now publicly getting involved with efforts to reform the state's marijuana laws. Here are the details:
The campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio found an unlikely friend Monday in Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.
Deters, a life-long Republican and law-and-order prosecutor, said he agreed to lead a task force on the potential impact of legalization in part because he's been unhappy for years with the state's marijuana laws. He said they waste taxpayer dollars and target people who typically are not much of a threat to society.
"I think they're outdated and ludicrous," Deters said of marijuana laws. "I don't use marijuana, but I know people who do use marijuana, and I'd rather deal with someone who smoked a joint than someone who drank a bottle of vodka any day of the week."
When asked if he favors legalization, Deters told The Enquirer: "I don't have any problem with it at all."
ResponsibleOhio, the group of wealthy investors campaigning for legalization, asked Deters to lead the task force. Deters said he's not being paid for his work on the task force and agreed to do it because he's interested in the issue and the potential impact on law enforcement.
He said finding an affordable and efficient way to test drivers who are suspected of being impaired by marijuana use is one of his concerns. "There is a public safety element to this," Deters said. His goal is to produce a report on the impact of legalization within a few months....
Deters said he doesn't buy the argument that prisons are filled with low-level drug offenders, but he does think the time and money devoted to marijuana enforcement could be better spent elsewhere. "It's been a disastrous waste of public funds," Deters said....
Deters said he's not taking a position on ResponsibleOhio's proposed business model, but he said it makes sense for the state to regulate and tax marijuana. "You can walk outside your building and buy marijuana in 10 minutes," Deters said. "The question is, do we want schools and local governments getting the money or the bad guys?"
He said it's also wise for the state to prepare for legalization, whether or not ResponsibleOhio succeeds, because voters seem more willing to support it and other states are adopting similar measures. "The days of 'reefer madness' are gone, because that's not the reality," Deters said, referring to the 1950s-era movies that vilified marijuana and those who used it.
He said he's reaching out now to academics, elected officials and law enforcement to participate in the task force.
I have long known and respected the work of Joe Deters, even though we have sometimes disagreed on various professional matters through our work on the Ohio Death Penalty Task Force and in other settings. I had heard from various folks involved with the ResponsibleOhio campaign that they were seeking to have a prominent, knowledgeable person running a task force to examine these important marijuana reform topics, and I am especially pleased to see that Joe Deters is now officially and publicly at the helm.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Friday, May 08, 2015
"We clearly need criminal-justice reform" says GOP Prez candidate Carly Fiorina
This Des Moines Register article (and video) details some notable new comments on criminal justice reform and drug policy from a notable new GOP Prez candidate. Here are excerpts:
The nation should stop overreacting to illegal drug use and stop doling out jail sentences that are way too long, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said in Iowa on Thursday.
"We know that we don't spend enough money on the treatment of drug use," said Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard. "When you criminalize drug abuse, you're actually not treating it. We had a daughter who died of addictions, so this lands very close to home for me." Fiorina's daughter Lori, a drug and alcohol addict, died in 2009.
The "three strikes and you're out" law doesn't work well, and all the drug laws affect African-Americans more than others, Fiorina told The Des Moines Register's editorial board during an hourlong meeting.
"I don't think that overreacting to illegal drug use is the answer," said Fiorina, who officially entered the 2016 race on Monday and is the only woman in the GOP field. She has never held elected office, but ran unsuccessfully for U.S. senator in California.
Asked whether she favors decriminalizing marijuana, Fiorina answered: "No, I do not think we should legalize marijuana."...
Asked whether, as president, she'd direct the U.S. attorney general to enforce federal drug laws in states such as Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, Fiorina said she wouldn't. "I believe in states' rights," she said. "They're within their rights to legalize marijuana, and they're conducting an experiment I hope the rest of the nation is looking closely at."
May 8, 2015 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
How many federal prison years are being served by defendants who (plausibly?) claimed compliance with state medical marijuana regimes?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article from Michigan headlined "West Michigan man sent to prison for purported medical marijuana grow operation." Here are the basics of this story with some follow-up data/questions:
One of the two leaders of a medical marijuana grow operation has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. Phillip Joseph Walsh, 54, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo. Betty Jenkins, described as his "life partner" in court records, will be sentenced June 29.
The Kent County residents were convicted at trial of running a marijuana grow operation that prosecutors say brought in $1.3 million. The two, along with eight others, including a doctor who authorized patients for use of medical marijuana, were arrested last year for growing marijuana in multiple places in West Michigan.
The government contended that much of the marijuana grown was sold outside of Michigan. Jenkins was considered the leader of the organization. The defendants argued they acted within the guidelines of Michigan's medical marijuana law but were not allowed to use the law as a defense to the federal charges.
Kent County Area Narcotics Team and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used multiple search warrants to raid numerous properties, including apartment buildings in Gaines Township. Police seized 467 marijuana plants and 18 pounds of processed marijuana.
Defense attorney Joshua Covert said his client, a father of four daughters, was "very nervous" after reviewing advisory sentencing guidelines that called for 151 to 188 months in prison. He said that Walsh has been a good, caring father and a hard worker and has led a productive life. "Mr. Walsh and his life partner, Ms. Jenkins, lived a comfortable but certainly not lavish or extravagant life that was financed by rental income from property Ms. Jenkins obtained through her divorce," the attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
"The endeavor of manufacturing marijuana was not particularly successful for Mr. Walsh from a financial standpoint because it proved to be difficult and expensive to manufacture marijuana," he wrote.... He said his client "is not seeking sympathy or pity" but asked for leniency "given the relaxed attitude toward marijuana nationwide and specifically Michigan in regards to marijuana."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Courtade said Walsh and Jenkins began manufacturing marijuana on Forest Hill Avenue SE in 2010. Walsh hired a man to help with the grow operation before both were convicted for their roles. The other man quit, "but Walsh and Jenkins carried on, unfazed," Courtade said.
"Defendant Walsh developed the 'marketing scheme' that ensnared many of the codefendants in this case," the prosecutor wrote.... He said that Walsh tried to insulate himself by staying he was only "'building grow rooms' ... his real motivation was far more nefarious."
He said Walsh grew marijuana for profit, with some sold in Ohio, some in Rhode Island. Courtade also said that Walsh could not document wages he earned — he reported remodeling and roofing homes — but he managed to hired his own attorneys, pay for a co-defendant's expert witnesses and build numerous manufacturing operations. He recommended a sentence within guidelines.
This story of a lengthy federal prison sentence for major marijuana dealing in a medical marijuana state itself highlights the challenges of coming up with a satisfactory answer to the question in the title of this post. The defendants here were apparently quick to claim that they were acting in accord with Michigan state medical marijuana laws, but the facts reported suggest little basis for this defense claim of state-law compliance.
That said, I know there are at least a handful (and perhaps more than a handful) of the roughly 5000 federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking sentenced in federal courts each year involving defendants who truly have a plausible claim to being in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. A low "guestimate" that an average of 10 federal marijuana defendants in each of the last 10 years have been been sentenced to an average of 10 years in federal prison for medical marijuana activities would, in turn, suggest that 1000 years in federal prison are being served by defendants who plausibly claimed compliance with state medical marijuana regimes.
That is a lot of federal prison time (which would be costing federal taxpayers roughly $30 million because each prison year costs roughly $30,000). And I have an inkling the number could be higher.
Monday, May 04, 2015
SCOTUS asks for views from US Solicitor General on original lawsuit between states over marijuana reform
Via this order list, the US Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General in the original case of Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado. That is the case, as readers may recall from posts here and here back in December, in which two states filed suit directly in the Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution."
I am not sure what the usual timelines tend to be for submission of CVSG briefs during this time of year, but I would think this request from the Justices will just now further slow the resolution of a suit that was filled five months ago and will remain in limbo now until the Solicitor General weighs in.
Prior related posts:
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
- Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Saturday, May 02, 2015
Considering clemency for federal marijuana offenders and other posts of note at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
This new post about a new commentary headlined "Do marijuana prisoners deserve amnesty?" reminded me that I have not recently done in this space a round-up of posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. Here is an abridged list of April MLP&R posts that might be of special interest to sentencing fans:
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Is resignation of current DEA head a very big moment for federal marijuana policy?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by a number of stories I have seen in the wake of yesterday's news that Michele Leonhart is resigning as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Here are links to some of these stories:
From Bloomberg here, "Marijuana Activists Cheer Michele Leonhart's Exit from the DEA"
From the Daily Caller here, "Marijuana Advocates Thrilled At DEA Administrator’s Expected Resignation"
- From The Hill here, "Marijuana advocates push for new pot-friendly DEA chief"
The last story linked here highlights what will really determine the answer to the question in the title of this post: if President Obama nominates somebody for this position who expresses openness to federal marijuana reforms and a serious commitment to a more public-health oriented approach to all drug enforcement issues (e.g., Dr. Sanjay Gupta?), the transition at the top of DEA could end up being a very big deal.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Distinct comments on marijuana policy from Prez Obama and one wanna-be successor
Two notable new stories about notable new marijuana comments made by notable chief executives caught my eye this morning. Here are the headlines, links and the basics:
- From The Daily Caller here, "Obama Reiterates Enthusiastic Support Of Medical Marijuana":
In a CNN special to be aired on Sunday, not only will President Barack Obama state his full support of medical marijuana, he’ll also advocate for alternative models of drug abuse treatment which don’t involve incarceration. The television special, called “Weed 3,” features CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon who came to support medical marijuana after reviewing the evidence. This time around, he’ll be delving into the politics of medical marijuana research and interviewing President Barack Obama, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
- From Hot Air here, "Chris Christie: As president, I’ll enforce federal drug laws in states where selling marijuana is legal":
Even within the GOP, which remains skeptical of liberalization on drugs, a majority thinks the feds should defer to the states. You can indeed be anti-marijuana and pro-federalism. Screw that, says Christie. When it comes to deciding whether marijuana’s too dangerous for the citizens of a state to sell, he’ll happily trump your state legislature and local PD. And to think, they call him a big-government Republican.
It is both notable and telling, of course, that a President often accused of trampling state and individual rights is here saying he respects on-going state reforms, while a state Governor representing from a party that claims it favors a smaller federal Government is asserting he wants to make sure states do not even try to forge a different part with respect to the war on drugs. And this is why I find marijuana law, policy and reform so politically interesting: it help reveal, in a way few other issues do, just which particular policies and which particular principles are ultimately most important to which particular politicians.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Effective coverage of legal land mine created by DOJ spending restriction in medical marijuana cases
As previously noted in posts here and elsewhere, a provision buried in H.R. 83, the 1700-page Cromnibus spending bill passed late last year, directed the US Department of Justice not to use any funds to interfere with state-legalized medical marijuana regimes. Today, the New York Times has this extended and informative discussion of this federal congressional directive and its uncertain meaning and impact four months after its enactment. The article is headlined "Legal Conflicts on Medical Marijuana Ensnare Hundreds as Courts Debate a New Provision," and here are excerpts:
In December, in a little-publicized amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill that one legal scholar called a “buried land mine,” Congress barred the Justice Department from spending any money to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
In the most advanced test of the law yet, [medical marijuana defendant Charles] Lynch’s lawyers have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to “direct the D.O.J. to cease spending funds on the case.” In a filing last month, they argued that by continuing to work on his prosecution, federal prosecutors “would be committing criminal acts.”
But the Justice Department asserts that the amendment does not undercut its power to enforce federal drug law. It says that the amendment only bars federal agencies from interfering with state efforts to carry out medical marijuana laws, and that it does not preclude criminal prosecutions for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
With the new challenge raised in several cases, federal judges will have to weigh in soon, opening a new arena in a legal field already rife with contradiction....
The California sponsors of the December amendment, including Representatives Sam Farr and Barbara Lee, both Democrats, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, say it was clearly intended to curb individual prosecutions and have accused the Justice Department of violating its spirit and substance. “If federal prosecutors are engaged in legal action against those involved with medical marijuana in a state that has made it legal, then they are the ones who are the lawbreakers,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
Mr. Farr said, “For the feds to come in and take this hardline approach in a state with years of experience in regulating medical marijuana is disruptive and disrespectful.” The sponsors said they were planning how to renew the spending prohibition next year.
Some prior 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?
- Impact of the 2015 federal budget's medical marijuana spending restriction remains unclear
Sunday, April 05, 2015
March marijuana reform madness covered at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
March has been a crazy-busy month for not only basketball, and my own busy schedule has prevented me from keeping up with many March marijuana reform developments here or at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. But a brief respite provided by a holiday weekend enables me to highlights some notable posts from ML&P which at least details some of the March marijuana reform madness:
- A New York teen dies as a consequence, arguably, of marijuana prohibition
Thursday, March 26, 2015
New report documents huge drop in Colorado marijuana arrests since legalization
While the impact, both good or bad, of marijuana law reform is now widely discussed and debated, there is still relatively little hard reliable data about the public health and economic consequences of these reforms. But this new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, headlined "Marijuana Arrests in Colorado After the Passage of Amendment 64," highlights that legalization in one state has had a profound impact on arrest data. This DPA press release provides an overview and summary of the report, and here are excerpts:
The report compiles and analyzes data from the county judicial districts, as well as various law enforcement agencies via the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The report’s key findings include:
- Since 2010, marijuana possession charges are down by more than 90%, marijuana cultivation charges are down by 96%, and marijuana distribution charges are down by 99%.
- The number of marijuana possession charges in Colorado courts has decreased by more than 25,000 since 2010 – from 30,428 in 2010 to just 1,922 in 2014.
- According to raw data from the NIBRS, drug-related incidents are down 23% since 2010, based on a 53% drop in marijuana-related incidents....
- Marijuana distribution charges for young men of color did not increase, to the relief of racial justice advocates wary of a ‘net-widening’ effect following legalization. The black rate for distribution incidents dropped from 87 per 100,000 in 2012 to 25 per 100,000 in 2014.
- Racial disparities for still-illegal and mostly petty charges persist for black people when compared to white people, primarily due to the specific increase of charges for public use combined with the disproportionate rates of police contact in communities of color. The marijuana arrest rate for black people in 2014 was 2.4 times higher than the arrest rates for white people, just as it was in 2010.
- The report also reveals a decline in synthetic marijuana arrests, presumably because people are less likely to use synthetic marijuana when marijuana itself is no longer criminalized.
“It’s heartening to see that tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Coloradans have been spared the travesty of getting handcuffed or being charged for small amounts of marijuana,” said Art Way, Colorado State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “By focusing on public health rather than criminalization, Colorado is better positioned to address the potential harms of marijuana use, while diminishing many of the worst aspects of the war on drugs.”
“The overall decrease in arrests, charges and cases is enormously beneficial to communities of color who bore the brunt of marijuana prohibition prior to the passage of Amendment 64,” said Rosemary Harris Lytle, Regional Chair of the NAACP. “However, we are concerned with the rise in disparity for the charge of public consumption and challenge law enforcement to ensure this reality is not discriminatory in any manner.”
“What is often overlooked concerning marijuana legalization is that it is first and foremost a criminal justice reform,” said Denise Maes, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Colorado. “This report reminds us of how law enforcement and our judiciary are now able to better allocate time and energy for more pressing concerns.”
Some prior related posts:
- "The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests"
- New report details arrests and NYC police time spent on low-level marijuana offenses
- "Marijuana Possession Arrests Exceed Violent Crime Arrests"
- Would legalizing marijuana be a huge step toward a less racialized criminal justice system?
- "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests" (huge ALCU report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests)
March 26, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Thursday, March 12, 2015
"Will Patrick Kennedy and SAM come out in support of the CARERS Act?" and other highlights from MLP&R
The question title of this post is the question I ask in this lengthy new post from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. I have a lot of respect for the leading group opposing significant marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (which Patrick Kennedy helped start) because SAM proclaims repeatedly a commitment to charting a "middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added). In addition, the SAM group advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana." My post at MLP&R explains why I think the stated commitments of Patrick Kennedy and SAM should result in them supporting expressly and vocally the a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill introduced this week by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand known as the CARERS Act.
As detailed below, in addition to providing lot of CARERS coverage, there are lots of other recent posts of note at MLP&R that sentencing fans may want to check out:
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Fascinating press conference introducing federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act
I am watching the press conference (streamed here) with presentations by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing their new federal medical marijuana reform bill, the CARERS Act. Fascinating stuff.
Senator Booker started by noting veterans' interest in using medical marijuana, Senator Paul spoke of the need for more research and banking problems for state-legal marijuana business, and Senator Gillibrand was the closer by stressing the need for families to have access to high-CBC medicines for children suffering from seizure disorders.
Adding to the power of the press conference is a set of testimonials from a mom eager to have CBC treatments for her daughter (who had a small seizure during the press conference!), and an older woman with MS eager to have access to marijuana to help her sleep. Senator Paul followed up by introducing a father of one of his staffers with MS, who testified from a wheelchair. Senator Booker then introduced a 35-year-old veteran who complained about been deemed a criminal for his medical marijuana use by a country he fought for over six years. Notably, after all the white users/patients advocated for reform, Senator Booker introduced an African-American business owner talking about the problems with having to run a medical marijuana business without access to banking services.
This Drug Policy Alliance press release summarizes what is in the CARERS Act:
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The CARERS Act will do the following:
Allow states to legalize marijuana for medical use without federal interference
Permit interstate commerce in cannabidiol (CBD) oils
Reschedule marijuana to schedule II
Allow banks to provide checking accounts and other financial services to marijuana dispensaries
Allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans
Eliminate barriers to medical marijuana research.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Bipartisan federal medical marijuana bill to be introduced Tuesday
As reported in this new Washington Post entry, headlined "In a first, senators plan to introduce federal medical marijuana bill," a trio of notable Senators have interesting plans for mid-day Tuesday:
In what advocates describe as an historic first, a trio of senators plan to unveil a federal medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, to be introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would end the federal ban on medical marijuana.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a joint statement from the senators’ offices. The bill will also “make overdue reforms to ensure patients – including veterans receiving care from VA facilities in states with medical marijuana programs – access the care they need.” The proposal will be unveiled at a 12:30 p.m. press conference on Tuesday, which will be streamed live here. Patients, their families and advocates will join the senators at the press conference.
The announcement was met with praise by advocates. “This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “It’s long past time to end the federal ban,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. Both describe the introduction of the bill as a first for the Senate....
In December, Congress for the first time in roughly a decade of trying approved an amendment that bars the Justice Department from using its funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws — a significant victory for proponents of the practice.
Potential Republican presidential candidates Rand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have all said they support states’ rights to legalize pot, though they themselves disagree with the policy.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Three of "Kettle Falls Five" convicted on least serious federal marijuana charges in Washington
This AP story reports on the notable mixed verdict in a high-profile federal prosecution of a group of defendants in Washington state who claimed they were growing marijuana only for medical purposes. Here are the details:
Three people were found guilty Tuesday of growing marijuana, but they also were exonerated of more serious charges in a widely-watched federal drug case in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.
The three remaining defendants of the so-called Kettle Falls Five were all found guilty of growing marijuana. But a jury found them not guilty of distributing marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and firearms charges that carried long prison sentences.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice set sentencing for June 10.
The defendants were Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, her son Rolland Gregg and his wife, Michelle Gregg. Firestack-Harvey wiped away tears as she declared victory in the case. "The truth comes out," she said, noting that the defendants were growing marijuana for medical purposes and had cards permitting that use. "We would have loved to be exonerated of all charges."
However, there was no doubt that federal drug agents found marijuana plants growing on their property near Kettle Falls, she said.
Federal prosecutors did not speak with reporters after the verdict, which followed a full day of deliberations by the jury. Prosecutors asked that the three be taken into custody until sentencing, but Rice declined.
"It's a victory, but it's bittersweet," said Jeff Niesen, an attorney for Firestack-Harvey. "They've been convicted of a federal crime." But while the tougher charges carried sentences of a decade in prison, growing marijuana should bring a much lower sentence, Niesen said.
On Monday, attorneys for the defendants asked jurors to throw out what he described as an overzealous and overreaching case. Attorney Phil Tefleyan criticized the government's prosecution of the three, who contend they were growing medical marijuana for personal use in a case that has drawn wide attention over the government's willingness to prosecute marijuana growers. "They roped in this innocent family," Tefleyan told jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks told jurors Monday that Washington state's stance on marijuana doesn't matter. He says the question for the jury is, "Is it legal under federal law?"
The defendants contend they didn't distribute the marijuana. But they were barred from telling jurors their claim that they grew the marijuana only for personal medical use. That issue can be raised during sentencing. Tefleyan said the government could not point to a single sale of the drug by the family. He said the evidence seized by drug enforcement agents during a raid in August 2012 — 4 pounds of marijuana and about $700 in cash — didn't support the conclusion the family was dealing.
The government has argued the family grew the plants in violation of federal law. "I don't believe there's any question in this case that we're talking about the manufacture of marijuana," Hicks told the jury.
Tefleyan placed blame for those plants on Jason Zucker, a former defendant who cut a plea deal last week, just before the trial started. Zucker, 39, testified Friday that he fronted $10,000 in costs to get the operation up and running. Zucker's plea deal called for a 16-month sentence....
Larry Harvey, 71, was recently dismissed from the case after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December.
I believe that these defendants' acquittal on gun charges means that that they are not subject to any mandatory minimum sentencing terms, and the judge's decision to allow them to be free awaiting sentencing suggests to me that they will likely not receive significant (or perhaps any) prison time for these offenses. In addition, these defendants might have various grounds for appealing to the Ninth Circuit (although they many not want to bother if they get relatively lenient sentencing terms).
Prior related posts:
- Family of medical marijuana patients in Washington turn down plea and set up notable federal trial
- New York Times op-ed laments Kettle Falls 5 federal marijuana prosecution
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Friday, February 27, 2015
So many modern marijuana reform stories, so little time (but lots of space at MLP&R)
As briefly noted in a prior post, today I have been attending and participating in the first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference. In part because the conference is so well-conceived and in part because the issues are so dynamic and multi-faceted, I have learned a lot on many fronts relating both to modern tribal law and the many fascinating legal, social and political issues that modern marijuana reform necessarily raises (some event basics here via MLP&R). Though I am not able to process all the issues discussed today, let alone effectively blog about them all, I will close my work week by just linking to some recent posts now up at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform:
NATIONAL/FEDERAL STORIES AND DEVELOPMENTS
STATE/DC STORIES AND DEVELOPMENTS
How might US Sentencing Commission's new Tribal Issues Advisory Group deal with marijuana law and policy?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new US Sentencing Commission press release, which was released on a day I am participating in the first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference (some background here via MLP&R). Here are excerpts from the press release:
The United States Sentencing Commission announced today the formation of a Tribal Issues Advisory Group (TIAG), which will consider methods to improve the operation of the federal sentencing guidelines as they relate to American Indian defendants, victims, and tribal communities.
The TIAG will look at whether there are disparities in how federal sentencing guidelines are applied to defendants from tribal communities or in the sentences received by such defendants as compared to similarly situated state defendants. The group will also examine whether there should be changes to the guidelines to better account for tribal court convictions or tribal court orders of protection and consider how the Commission should engage with tribal communities in an ongoing manner....
The TIAG is composed of federal appointees and at-large members. The federal judge appointees are Judge Diane Humetewa from Arizona, Judge Brian Morris from Montana, Chief Judge Ralph Erickson from North Dakota, and Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken and Judge Roberto Lange from South Dakota. The ten at-large members were selected from a broad array of applicants from across the country, and they represent a wide spectrum of tribal communities and roles in the criminal justice system. The TIAG at-large members include tribal court judges, social scientists, law enforcement officials, defense attorneys, and victims’ advocates.
“I commend the Commission for creating a mechanism to develop insights and information that have the potential to improve the lives of our citizens in Indian Country,” said Chief Judge Erickson. “I look forward to working with the distinguished members of this Group and with the Commission to rationally address longstanding sentencing issues in Indian Country.”
There are literally hundreds of tribal attendees at the tribal marijuana conference because it seems a number of tribal leaders think there is a chance that, despite federal prohibition, marijuana activity on tribal lands might "have the potential to improve the lives of our citizens in Indian Country." Of course, this new USSC advisory group has more than enough challenging issues to consider without getting into marijuana law and policy matters. But, especially because typically only the feds have full criminal jurisdiction in tribal lands, I think it will unavoidable for TIAG to discuss marijuana enforcement issues if (and when?) a number of tribes jump into the marijuana industry in the weeks and months ahead.
February 27, 2015 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Hot action during a cold February concerning marijuana law, policy and reform
Though it has not been too long since my last round-up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, lots of recent action in the field may be of interest to regular readers of this blog:
Friday, February 13, 2015
Is a federal judge about to declare unconstitutional federal marijuana law? And then what?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Reuters report on an on-going federal criminal trial in California. Here is why:
A federal judge hearing the case of nine men accused of illegally growing marijuana in California said Wednesday she was taking very seriously arguments by their attorneys that the federal government has improperly classified the drug as among the most dangerous, and should throw the charges out.
Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she would rule within 30 days on the request, which comes amid looser enforcement of U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize its recreational use in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.
"If I were persuaded by the defense's argument, if I bought their argument, what would you lose here?" she asked prosecutors during closing arguments on the motion to dismiss the cases against the men.
The men were charged in 2011 with growing marijuana on private and federal land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California near the city of Redding. If convicted, they face up to life imprisonment and a $10 million fine, plus forfeiture of property and weapons.
In their case before Mueller in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, defense lawyers have argued that U.S. law classifying pot as a Schedule One drug, which means it has no medical use and is among the most dangerous, is unconstitutional, given that 23 states have legalized the drug for medical use.
Lawyer Zenia Gilg, who represented defense attorneys for all of the men during closing arguments, pointed to Congress' recent decision to ban the Department of Justice from interfering in states' implementation of their medical marijuana laws as evidence of her contention that the drug's classification as Schedule One should be overturned. "It's impossible to say that there is no accepted medical use," said Gilg, who has argued that her client was growing pot for medical use.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Broderick said that it was up to Congress to change the law, not the court. He said that too few doctors believed that marijuana had medical uses for the drug's definition to change under the law. "We're not saying that this is the most dangerous drug in the world," Broderick said. "All we're saying is that the evidence is such that reasonable people could disagree."
Notably, this new Bloomberg article, headlined "Grower’s Case Rivets Investors Seeking Pot of Gold," suggests that those interested in investing in the marijuana industry think that merely "the fact that the judge has agreed to consider the issue is an enormously significant event.” Obviously, this event becomes even more significant if (when?) a federal judge declares unconstitutional the placement of marijuana on Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Saturday, February 07, 2015
Early February highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Though it has not been too long since my last round-up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, I have been posting various topics that may be of interest to regular readers of this blog:
- GOP strategist highlights why "marijuana law reform could be a key issue" for Republicans in 2016
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Some end-of-month highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Though it has been less than two weeks since my last round-up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, a lot of cannabis commotion justifies another link review:
- "Medical or Recreational Marijuana and Drugged Driving"
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Long weekend highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Though it has only been about ten days since I last provided a round up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, an important new report from the RAND Corporation along with lots of other cannabis commotion calls for another link review:
As hinted above, I think this big new RAND report seeking to take stock of the potential benefits and costs of various marijuana reform options for Vermont and other states is a must-read for anyone concerned about marijuana reform (pro or con). Here is a paragraph from the report's abstract:
The principal message of the report is that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington. Legalization encompasses a wide range of possible regimes, distinguished along at least four dimensions: the kinds of organizations that are allowed to provide the drug, the regulations under which those organizations operate, the nature of the products that can be distributed, and price. These choices could have profound consequences for health and social well-being, as well as job creation and government revenue.
Thursday, January 08, 2015
Early 2015 highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
In this recent post, I called 2014 the most interesting and dynamic year in modern history for reform and debate over marijuana laws and policies and then provided some 2014 highlights from my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog. Even though 2015 is barely a week old, the round up below of notable new posts from MLP&R highlights that the buzz over marijuana policy is likely only to grow in the weeks and months ahead:
- "Legal weed brings modest tax boosts in Colorado, Washington"
Monday, January 05, 2015
"Is Obama Finally Ready To Dial Back The War On Drugs?"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Forbes piece by Jacob Sullum, which provides preview of sorts of of some of the biggest federal criminal justice issues to keep an eye on in the year to come. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:
Some critics of the war on drugs — a crusade that Obama had declared “an utter failure” in 2004 — predicted that he would improve in his second term. Safely reelected, he would not have to worry that looking soft on drugs would cost him votes, and he would finally act on his avowed belief that the war on drugs is unjust and ineffective. As Obama embarks on the third year of his second term, it looks like the optimists were partially right, although much hinges on what he does during the next two years. Here are some of the ways in which Obama has begun to deliver on his promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances:
Marijuana Legalization. Although the federal government cannot stop states from legalizing marijuana, it can make trouble for the ones that do by targeting statelicensed growers and retailers. Under a policy announced in August 2013, the Justice Department has declined to do so, reserving its resources for cannabis operations that violate state law or implicate “federal law enforcement priorities.”...
Federal Marijuana Ban.... Contrary to the impression left by the president, the executive branch has the authority to reschedule marijuana without new legislation from Congress. In September, a few days before announcing that he planned to step down soon, Holder said whether marijuana belongs in the same category as heroin is “certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves.” Since the Controlled Substances Act empowers Holder to reclassify marijuana, it would have been nice if he had asked that question a little sooner. Still, Holder was willing to publicly question marijuana’s Schedule I status, something no sitting attorney general had done before.
Sentencing Reform. Obama supports the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would make the 2010 crack penalty changes retroactive, cut the mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses in half, and loosen the criteria for the “safety valve” that allows some defendants to escape mandatory minimums. Beginning last year, Holder has repeatedly criticized our criminal justice system as excessively harsh. Under a new charging policy he established last year, hundreds of drug offenders could avoid mandatory minimums each year....
Clemency. After a pitiful performance in his first term, Obama has signaled a new openness to clemency petitions. Last April an unnamed “senior administration official” told Yahoo News the administration’s new clemency guidelines could result in “hundreds, perhaps thousands,” of commutations. Obama’s total so far, counting eight commutations announced a few weeks ago, is just 18, but he still has two years to go....
A few months ago, Obama chose former ACLU attorney Vanita Gupta, a passionate critic of the war on drugs who emphasizes its disproportionate racial impact (a theme Obama and Holder also have taken up), to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A year before her appointment, Gupta had criticized Holder’s moves on drug sentencing as an inadequate response to mass incarceration. The previous month, she had endorsed marijuana legalization. The next two years will show whether Gupta’s appointment is a sop to disappointed Obama supporters or a signal of bolder steps to come.
If Obama actually uses his clemency power to free thousands, or even hundreds, of drug war prisoners, that would be historically unprecedented, and it would go a long way toward making up for his initial reticence. He could help even more people by backing sentencing reform, which has attracted bipartisan support in Congress. And having announced that states should be free to experiment with marijuana legalization, he could declare the experiment a success....
If none of those things happens, Obama’s most significant drug policy accomplishment may be letting states go their own way on marijuana legalization. Even if our next president is a Republican drug warrior, he will have a hard time reversing that decision, especially given the GOP’s lip service to federalism.
This piece reviews some important basics, though hard-core sentencing fans know that there is a lot more the Obama Administration could be doing to radically reshape the battlefield in the modern federal drug war.
On the marijuana front, for example, DOJ could (and I think should) play an significant role defending Colorado as it gears up a response to the recent Supreme Court suit brought Nebraska and Oklahoma attacking its marijuana reform efforts. In addition, DOJ could (and I think should) be willing to interpret broadly the recent provisions enacted by Congress precluding it from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana reform efforts.
On the broad drug war front, Prez Obama and DOJ could not only support the Smarter Sentencing Act but even try to give renewed life to the Justice Safety Valve Act. The JSVA, which Senator Rand Paul introduced and robustly promoted, would effectively reform the operation of all mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. Also Prez Obama and DOJ, especially in light of renewed concerns about racial biases in criminal justice systems, could (and I think should) return to the issue of crack sentencing reform. Specifically, given the apparent success of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which only reduced the crack-powder disparity from the ridiculous 100-1 ratio to a ghastly 18-1, the Prez ought to get behind what I would call the Fully Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate any and all crack-powder sentencing disparity completely.
January 5, 2015 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Pot Prohibition Issues, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Some (incomplete) year-in-review highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
It seems fair to call 2014 the most interesting and dynamic year in modern history for reform and debate over marijuana laws and policies. It would be impossible to completely summarize the "year in pot" in one post, but linking here to some seasonal highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform perhaps provides at least a flavor of what has transpired on the cannabis front:
- Can President Obama single-handedly legalize marijuana?
- More politicians backing marijuana reform
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- Could marijuana reforms end up making our roadways much safer?
- Federal government issues new guidance to financial industry on how it should deal with the marijuana industry
- Banks suggest recent federal banking guidance changes nothing (and they’re probably right)
- Attention 2016 Prez candidates: new poll says 87% in Ohio support use of medical marijuana
- Which poses the bigger threat: Big Marijuana or Little Marijuana?
- New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association endorses marijuana legalization
- Holder is "cautiously optimistic" about legalization in Colorado and Washington
- How might (rare?) tragedies linked to legal marijuana use impact reform developments?
- Justice Stevens says marijuana should be legal
- "Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent"
- Minnesota about to become 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana
- "Why Republicans are slowly embracing marijuana"
- New York pols work out deal to legalize only smoke-free medical marijuana
- Bill Clinton on medical marijuana: "I think we should leave it to the states"
- Former Florida Gov Jeb Bush conflicted about states' rights and federal pot prohibition
- "White House Says Marijuana Policy Is States' Rights Issue"
- Marijuana legalization campaigns for 2016 in Arizona and California start heating up
- New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"
- "Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid by Painkiller Drug Companies"
- "Is Hillary Clinton ready for marijuana's 2016 push?"
- Former NM Gov and GOP Prez candidate Gary Johnson urges marijuana research to respond to Ebola
- Dynamic Colorado debate over suggestion of near complete ban on marijuana edibles
- Oregon voters create a third state to fully legalize recreational marijuana
- Analyzing how Alaska made 2014 a clean sweep for marijuana legalization initiatives
- Highlighting that "fight against legal marijuana is about big money, not public health"
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
And, last but not least, for some posts focused on reviewing the year that was, check out:
- Effective review of "The Year in Pot" via NBC News
- Reviewing a year of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Some recent highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
It has been a few weeks since I have done a round up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, so here goes:
Friday, December 19, 2014
Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
As detailed in this prior post, yesterday Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit in the US Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution." I find this lawsuit fascinating for any number of reasons, and I am still trying to understand the procedures through which the Justices will consider this case and I am still thinking through some of the implications of the claims being made by Nebraska and Oklahoma. And, as the title of this post suggests, I am wondering if this case might enable advocates for marijuana reform to bring complaints about federal marijuana prohibition directly to the Supreme Court.
This thought occurred to me in part because the SCOTUS filing by Nebraska and Oklahoma relies so very heavily on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Here are passages from the filing to that end:
Congress has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c). Schedule I drugs are those with a high potential for abuse, lack of any accepted medical use, and absence of any accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment. § 812(b)(1)....
Because Congress explicitly found that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and had categorized marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug, the CSA was enacted in order to eradicate the market for such drugs. As such, the United States argued [in Gonzales v. Raich a decade ago], “the CSA makes it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any Schedule I drug for any purpose, medical or otherwise, except as part of a strictly controlled research project.”
There has been lots of litigation in the past attacking in the DC Circuit the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I in light of scientific evidence that marijuana has medical potentials. But all that litigation took place before a majority of states (now numbering well over 30) had formally legalized medical marijuana in some form. In light of all the recent state reform supportive of medical marijuana, I think new claims could (and perhaps should) now be made that it is entirely irrational (and thus unconstitutional) for Congress in the CSA to keep marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
Consequently, it seems to me one possible way (of many) for Colorado to defend its marijuana reform would be to assert a new full-throated attack on federal marijuana prohibition in the Supreme Court in light of the "new evidence" that the majority of US jurisdictions recognize in law the potential value of marijuana as medicine.
I doubt that Colorado will seek to attack Congress or the CSA is defense of its marijuana reform efforts. But perhaps others who in the past have legally attacked the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I will see the special opportunity provided by this notable new lawsuit as an opportunity to take their arguments directly to the Supreme Court.
Recent related post:
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
As reported in this local article, "Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana violates the U.S. Constitution." Here is more on the latest fascinating development in the world of marijuana reform law and policy:
At a press conference Thursday, Bruning said he was being joined in the case by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles."
Bruning said he placed a courtesy call to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers before filing the lawsuit. Suthers said in a news release he was not “entirely surprised” to learn of the lawsuit. “We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Some Nebraska law enforcement officers undoubtedly will welcome Thursday’s action. Anticipating that the attorney general planned to announce a lawsuit, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said Thursday he supports the move. "This stuff is illegal here, it’s coming here and it’s had an adverse effect on our citizens and way of life," Overman said. "Nebraska, from highest elected officials on down, should do something about it."...
He blamed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for not enforcing federal drug laws in Colorado. "I am adamantly against the spread of marijuana across our country," Bruning said. He said he talked recently with a father who said marijuana was a "gateway drug" for his teen.
Colorado’s legalization of pot use has had a significant impact on Nebraska law enforcement agencies. Many departments, particularly in western Nebraska counties along Interstate 80, have seen spikes in their marijuana-related arrests tied to legally purchased pot that transforms into contraband once it crosses the border. At the western tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, authorities regularly apprehend travelers coming from southeast Colorado with marijuana.
During a September hearing on the issue in Ogallala, Nebraska, a panel of lawmakers heard law enforcement authorities express concern about the flow of high-potency pot into Nebraska and increasing numbers of impaired drivers and possession by teens as young as 14. "Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost," Bruning said Thursday. "We can’t afford to divert resources to deal with Colorado’s problem."
Via the Denver Post, the 83-page SCOTUS filing can be found at this link.
Wowsa (and cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform)!
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Defense moves to postpone federal marijuana sentencing based new law ordering DOJ not to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws
California Attorney Ronald Richards today sent me a copy of a fascinating emergency motion he filed this week that seeks a postponement of his client's scheduled federal marijuana sentencing today. Here are excerpts from the four-page memorandum in support of the motion (which can be downloaded below) which highlights why I find it fascinating:
Rarely in any counsel’s career has he or she had to file an emergency motion. However, in the world of marijuana laws, the landscape keeps changing; this time, on a historic level. On Saturday night, the United States Senate voted to approve H.R. 83. This is a 1696 page spending bill. In the bill, section 538 forbids the use of money by the Department of Justice for interfering with State laws that allow cultivation of marijuana....
In this case, if the Department of Justice is mandated to not spend any money on interfering with lawful marijuana cultivations implementing state law, the raids, the seizures, and the federal prosecution will come to a halt in California. In addition, if the scheduling is attacked by the litigation in the Eastern District and changed, there are just too many signals that the 77 years of marijuana prohibition may be coming to an end. At least, there is not a direct policy mandate from Congress. It is no different than a highway withholding funding to keep speeds under 80 MPH or at 55 MPH during the energy crisis....
If this bill is signed by the President, which all indications are that he will sign it or the government will shut down, it will become law and policy. The Department of Justice could not in either the spirit or the letter of the law allocate any further staff, investigation, or budget to continue to prosecute this case. Furthermore, all future prosecutions of legal California cultivators would cease to exist....
Based upon the historic passage by the House and the Senate of H.R. 83, the defendant requests a 90 day adjournment of his sentence. If the bill becomes law, he will move to withdraw his plea or file a stipulation to that effect with the government. It would be unfair for him to be burdened with a felony conviction and incarceration when in just two weeks, all the current cultivators in this State would enjoy the new found relief provided by the Congressional mandate.
December 16, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack