A Victory Over Some Illegal “Drug Courier Profile” Traffic Stops in Illinois

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

The Supreme Court of Illinois recently handed down a decision which found that some of the drug courier profile traffic stops in their state were illegal, and agreed with the lower courts that the drugs confiscated in five cases that had been combined for the court’s consideration, should be suppressed. The case was People v. Ringland, et al.

The criminal defense attorney bringing this legal challenge was NORML Legal Committee (NLC) Life Member Stephen M. Komie from Chicago.

The somewhat unique fact in all five of these cases, which arose in 2012 and 2013, was that the drivers were all stopped and searched by a “special investigator” of the La Salle County prosecutor’s office; not by state or local police. After carefully considering the statute that establishes and defines the powers of state prosecutors, the high court found that the prosecutor did not have the legal authority to hire their own people to drive up and down the highways, making traffic stops and searching vehicles for drugs.

Congratulations to attorney Stephen Komie for ending these illegal traffic stops in Illinois with a creative legal challenge.

 

The Smell Of Marijuana Should Not Be A Death Sentence

download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

“On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

They continue:

(T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

*  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

*  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

*  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

*  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

*  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

*  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

 

The Smell Of Marijuana Shouldn’t Be A Death Sentence

download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

“On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

They continue:

(T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

Data from The Marshall Project

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.24.13 PM

Data from The Marshall Project

 

The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

 

Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

*  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

*  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

*  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

*  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

*  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

*  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

Study: Racial Disparity In Marijuana Arrest Rates Increasing

Cannabis PenaltiesAfrican Americans in Virginia are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at more than three times the rates of whites and this disparity is rising, according to an analysis of statewide arrest data by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.

Researchers reviewed 160,000 state and local arrest records from the years 2010 through 2016. They found that blacks were 2.9 times as likely as whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana in 2010, but 3.2 times as likely to be arrested by 2016.

In some counties and towns, such as in Hanover County and in Arlington, Virginia, the black arrest rate was six to eight times that of whites.

The findings are similar to those of a 2015 report, which determined that the number of African Americans arrested in Virginia for marijuana possession offenses increased 106 percent between the years 2003 and 2014. That study concluded that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population.

A separate analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population.

A 016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. Similar disparities have been repeatedly reported in other major cities, including New York and Chicago.

A 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study found that nationwide blacks are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both ethnicities consume the substance at approximately similar rates.

Atlanta City Council Considers Decriminalization of Marijuana

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**Update: Peachtree NORML has just informed us that the vote has been postponed. We will keep you posted as developments unfold. 

On Monday, May 15, 2017, the City Council of Atlanta, Georgia will vote on an ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana within Atlanta’s City Limits. Under Georgia law, the possession of one ounce or less is an arrestable offense that could result in up to a $1000 fine and 12 months in jail. This ordinance would allow for the issuance of a citation which carries a $75.00 fine. The ordinance would only apply to the Atlanta Police Department. Other agencies operating within the City, such as the State Patrol and Fulton County Sheriff, would still be able to arrest for the offense.

While it may not seem like much protection, the passage of this ordinance would be a giant step in Georgia. The small town of Clarkston passed a similar ordinance in July 2016. While that stirred up some news, the Capital of Georgia passing it would have a major ripple effect. One mayoral candidate, Vincent Fort, who is a current member of Georgia’s Senate, has made decriminalization the major plank in his campaign platform. It is a hot topic in Georgia.

Peachtree NORML, in association with Georgia C.A.R.E. Project, has begun a City-by- City campaign which is beginning to have some success. By providing fact-based data to municipal governments wishing to consider such measures, we hope to begin reducing the harm caused by an arrest for small amounts of marijuana in Georgia.

If approved by Council, Atlanta will join a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Kansas City, Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Sharon Ravert, the Founder of Peachtree NORML is fond of saying, “When we are talking, we are winning.” Hopefully the City of Atlanta will prove her right next Monday.

Contact your council representatives today and urge them to vote “Yes” on a fiscally sensible proposal that will enable police, prosecutors, and the courts to reallocate their existing resources toward activities that will better serve the public.

Click the link below to get started!

TAKE ACTION: http://act.norml.org/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=20611

For more updates on local reform efforts, follow Peachtree NORML by visiting their website, Facebook and Twitter! To make a donation to Peachtree NORML, please click here.

New Hampshire: Decriminalization Passes Senate, Soon Heads To Governor To Sign

arrestedNew Hampshire is the only New England state that has not either decriminalized or legalized adult marijuana use but that is soon to change.

Today, the state Senate passed an amended version of House Bill 640, which eliminates the threat of jail time for a possession conviction of less than 3/4 of an ounce and reduces the fine from $350 to $100.

HB 640 is a long overdue, fiscally sensible proposals that is supported by the voters, and that will enable police, prosecutors, and the courts to reallocate their existing resources toward activities that will better serve the public.

Governor Chris Sununu (R) has indicated that he will sign the bill.

Sixty-eight percent of New Hampshire adults support “legalizing [the] possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use,” and seventy-four percent of respondents endorse marijuana being sold at state-licensed outlets and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.

After years of stonewalling by former leadership, we commend lawmakers for finally correcting this injustice. Once law, Granite state residents will be one step closer to being able to truly ‘Live Free’ and not just ‘live free, but potentially be incarcerated.

Houston Has Decriminalized Marijuana, Reveals Conflicting Attitudes and Budget Priorities of Law Enforcement

Cannabis PenaltiesOn March 1, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg decriminalized marijuana by instituting the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. This decision in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, affects more than 4.5 million Texans. As a result, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana is now punishable by up to $150, required attendance of a “decision making” class, and no criminal record.

With so many Sheriffs Associations and prosecutors traditionally advocate for maintaining marijuana prohibition, even lobbying our legislators with our tax dollars in order to cash in on asset forfeitures, what happened in Harris County marks a real tipping point for ending prohibition in the state of Texas and reveals a growing organization within law enforcement that wants to correct currently ineffective marijuana policy by deprioritizing arrests for simple possession.

Harris County courts and jails were long overwhelmed by arrests and prosecutions for small marijuana possessions. According to internal data provided from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition in Harris County tax dollars prior to decriminalization (including court fees, indigent defense, DA fees, jail costs, crime labs and labor costs from local police) were estimated at $26,663,800 annually.

To put that amount of money into perspective, that’s more than enough money for the city of Houston to build a new high school or a 17-bed medical facility every year. Another way to look at it is that these freed up resources can now give prosecutors and police the ability and time required to test the backlog of rape kit evidence and investigate unsolved violent crimes in Harris County. What a concept! Instead of confiscating assets and ruining the lives of nonviolent citizens, we can prosecute the violent criminals that law enforcement are sworn to protect us from.

These estimates don’t include the tax dollars or collateral damage that marijuana prohibition on families including separation from loved ones, lost income from jailed parents or the emotional toll time spent in state custody can have on children. Even for Harris County, these remain real threats under state and federal law.

But after Ogg’s March 1st decision in Harris County, something changed. It was a change that could be felt in the halls of the Texas state capitol. During the Committee hearing on HB81 to decriminalize marijuana in Texas on March 13th, unlike any previous marijuana bill, not a single Sheriff’s Association came to testify against the bill; just one lonely prosecutor from Odessa. By contrast, the halls of the Texas State Capitol filled with members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, friendly state Congressman like Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Executive Director Jax Finkle of Texas NORML, and Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy all lobbying on our behalf to get HB 81 and SB 170 into committee.

However, as Bob Sechler from the Austin American Statesman recently reported, “Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.”

The other argument made by Lawrence, that “low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes,” is evidence of a different addiction: an addiction distinct to law enforcement for asset forfeitures. When an informant remains planted on a suspect for decades after a plethora of evidence to close the case, or when law enforcement stops only the cars going south with cash and not the ones going north with drugs, we have what can only be described as an asset forfeiture epidemic lead by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Lawrence doesn’t even take into consideration if the detection of marijuana is either a violent or dangerous threat to roadway safety, admitting his worry is he can’t determine if someone is impaired. (Hint: a good indication the driver is not impaired). By that logic, Lawrence implies he is satisfied with the casualties, tax expenses and arrests of nonviolent citizens whose only offense is possession of marijuana, so long as a portion of those arrested lead to “serious” crimes (or asset forfeitures). This erroneous argument is so preposterous he doesn’t appear to realize he is admitting that encountering someone who has consumed marijuana is relatively safe.

So let’s look at the financial motivations of law enforcement that remain loyal to marijuana prohibition. On the other side of Texas from Harris County, on the I-10 corridor near El Paso, federal grants used to be the major motivator for marijuana possession arrests by a self-proclaimed “Boss Hog” in Hudspeth County, where to fill a federal quota the Sheriff infamously arrested Willie Nelson and even Snoop Dog on road tours for possession. Those funds were more bureaucratic in that the grants kept the Sheriff and private jail facilities employed, but the profit motives were parasitic. The Obama administration tried to do away with private prison contracts but Trump and Sessions are bringing them back.

But what about those civil asset forfeitures? Sheriff’s Associations or prosecutors using our tax dollars to lobby for asset forfeitures are more sinister in that not all the money seized gets accurately reported, and since property and money are seized without due process, victims find it difficult and expensive to go to court dockets titled “The State of Texas vs. $10,000,” only to find in some instances a prosecutor instead of a judge in court.

However, looking at the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program Annual report for 2012, the local money being reported as seized just doesn’t add up to the cost of incarcerating so many non-violent people in possession of marijuana. Harris County reported: $1,387,430 in seized assets, more than most other Texas counties. But we would have to add up the entire state total of $31,520,522 in local asset forfeitures before we can get passed the $26,663,800 in annual costs for prosecuting and jailing minor marijuana possessions in just Harris County alone. Federal agencies target all the big asset seizures but according to this inspector general’s report, what gets accurately reported of that money causes more corrupt internal fighting and competition between federal agencies than any shared resources with local law enforcement.

In short, for local jurisdictions, decriminalizing marijuana makes plain economic sense. And for districts with law enforcement overwhelmed and under budget decriminalization may be the only logical choice to keep up with the payroll.

What do we do as activists? We can pay attention to candidates for District Attorney and Sheriff to vet them on marijuana policy so we can take local action to decriminalize. (After they become Sheriff? Just say “Am I being arrested?” and make sure you know what a Motion to Suppress Evidence is: example here)

But the real people we need to contact to make effective improvement in marijuana policy is not the President, the DA, a cop or anyone in the executive branch: It’s our state and local Congressman in the legislative branch. And this is the right website to do so.

Texas resident? Take Action:

HB 81 and SB 170 to decriminalize marijuana is pending in their respective chambers. Contact your Texas Representative to support HB 81 and SB 170 by clicking here

Vice Chair Todd Hunter is also the Chair of the Calendar Committee which decides if bills get a floor vote in Texas. Hunter held up a decriminalization bill in 2015 by failing to put the vote on the Calendar. If you live in Chorpus Christi, give Todd Hunter a call and tell him to give HB81 a floor vote!

Also in Texas do not forget to mention SB380 to abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state of Texas.

Visit Houston NORMLs website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Humboldt County Cup Forced to Move by Police

HumboldtFor marijuana activists in states with legal marijuana, the strategy quickly moves from legalization to normalization, but for some communities like Ferndale, California, the stigma remains. For months, organizers of the Humboldt County Cup and the Ferndale Police Department have gone back and forth over the decision to host their event at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Citing past complaints from the community and concerns about the reggae music that was to be played during the event, local law enforcement never specified what laws, if any, would be violated.

“Smith-Caggiano — who is the executive director of the Humboldt County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — said the Ferndale Police Department never cited any legal codes to back up their concerns despite requests for them to do so.”

Regardless of receiving approval from the Humboldt County Fair Association, Mr. Smith-Caggiano was ultimately forced by the Ferndale Police Department to move the event location to the Mateel Community Center, located at 59 Rusk Lane, Redway, California 95560.

Read more here: http://www.thecannifornian.com/cannabis-culture/cannabis-events/humboldt-county-pot-fest-moved-downsized-police-concerns/

California: Victims of Inconsistent Marijuana Laws

fifty_dollar_fineNow that 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, eight have legalized adult-use, and several others are considering legislation to legalize either adult-use or medical marijuana during the 2017 legislative session, it’s obvious that the end of marijuana prohibition is near. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing conflict between local, state and federal laws has become any less confusing.

Unfortunately for Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears, two marijuana farmers from Sacramento, California, this confusion lead to a military style raid and both men being charged with illegally cultivating marijuana, a misdemeanor, and conspiracy for planning “to commit sales of marijuana,” a felony.

“I told my 2-year-old son to stay upstairs,” said Mears, 35. “When I opened the security door, there were 15 cops with assault rifles drawn, pointed, with their fingers on the trigger, in vests, ski masks. They grabbed me and pulled me out front, put me in handcuffs. There were 20 to 30 officers. My son walked downstairs and my wife had to grab him. They had guns pulled on them. It was real painful.”

Regardless of spending several months working with local regulators to establish what they thought was the legal framework for their business, Big Red Farms, and being considered “shinning stars” for their diligence related to local licensing, Hicks and Mears found themselves at the business end of automatic weapons. A clear sign that they had become victims of the patchwork of marijuana laws adopted by local and state officials across California prior to the passage of Proposition 64.

If found guilty, both men could face up to one year in jail, and pay thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.

Read more »

Tennessee: Cities Move To Reduce Marijuana Possession Penalties

Cannabis PenaltiesMembers of the Nashville metro council and the Memphis city council have given final approval to municipal legislation providing police the discretion to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders.

Nashville city council members voted 35 to 3 in late September in favor of the new ordinance. It provides police the option of issuing $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. By contrast, under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record.

The legislation now awaits action from the city’s mayor, who has pledged to sign the ordinance into law.

Members of the Memphis city council decided this week in favor of a similar measure by a 7 to 6 vote. For the better part of the past year, members of Memphis NORML have spent their time lobbying members of the Memphis city council in support of the policy change. However, the director of the Memphis Police Department remains opposed to the proposal and has indicated that he may instruct his officers to not immediately comply with the new ordinance.

Many other cities and counties in the southeastern region of the United States have recently enacted similar ordinances, including Miami-Dade county and West Palm Beach in Florida.

A Republican state lawmaker has threatened to limit funding to the two Tennessee cities if they enact the ordinances into law.

FBI: Marijuana Arrests Decline Significantly In 2015

Marijuana-related arrests in the United States have fallen to their lowest levels since the mid-1990s, according to data released today by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, police made 643,122 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in 2015. Of those arrested, 574,641 (89 percent of all marijuana-related arrests) were charged with marijuana possession only, not cultivation or trafficking.

US Marijuana Arrests

The annual arrest total represents more than a 25 percent decline since 2007, when police arrested a record 872,721 Americans for violating marijuana laws.

Since 2012, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use and possession of personal quantities of cannabis, leading to a dramatic decline in marijuana-related arrests in those jurisdictions.

As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were least likely to occur in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized.

According to 2016 nationwide survey data compiled by the Associated Press, some six out of ten Americans now say that the adult use of marijuana should be legally regulated.

America Can Learn A Lot From Portugal’s Drug Policy

C1_8734_r_xSince 1996, when California voters approved the medical use of marijuana, most of the high-profile political progress that has been made towards legalizing marijuana has been made in the United States. And starting with Colorado and Washington, all of the full legalization experiments have been homegrown.

But that does not mean we should not be looking to other countries for successful experiments and policies. Drug use and abuse is worldwide, so the solution to the destructive war on drug users must also be worldwide.

The Portugal Experiment

In 2001, the Portugal legislature bravely enacted a comprehensive form of drug decriminalization, in which all criminal penalties were removed for personal drug possession and use offenses — reclassifying them as administrative violations. Instead of arresting individuals in possession of personal-use amounts of any drug, defined as less than a ten-day supply of any drug — a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine; two-grams of cocaine; or 25 grams of marijuana — they are now given a violation and ordered to appear before a rather ominous sounding “dissuasion commission.”

The possession of larger amounts of drugs and drug sales continue to be criminal matters for which an offender is subject to arrest and prosecution.

The “dissuasion commission,” which is comprised of one local legal official and two health and social service professionals, first determines whether the individual is addicted, and if so to what degree. It then determines whether the individual is referred to a voluntary treatment program, given a fine, or receives other administrative sanctions. The majority of cases are simply suspended, and the violator receives no sanction. According to Nuno Capaz, a sociologist who serves on the Lisbon “dissuasion panel,” between 80 and 85 percent of the people who are referred to the panels today are caught with hashish or cannabis.

For persistent offenders, or those identified as addicts, these panels can order sanctions or treatment, and recreational users may face fines or community service. If an addict refuses treatment, they are required to check in regularly with their family doctor (Portugal has a free national healthcare program), and if they fail, the local police remind them of their obligation. And those running the Portuguese system attribute this close working relationship between the police and the public health officials as crucial to their success. “This small change actually makes a huge change in terms of police officers’ work,” says Capaz. “Of course, every policy officer knows where people hang out to smoke joints. If they wanted to they would just go there and pick up the same guy over and over. That doesn’t happen.”

Flying in the face of the more prevalent “lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key” anti-drug policies popular at the time in most countries, especially the United States, there were initially fears that Portugal would become overrun with heroin addicts from all over Europe, and the government received a lot of criticism for their experimental policy from such staid groups as the International Narcotics Control Board – part of the UN drug convention system.

What Decriminalization Really Means

Decriminalization was a half-way measure originally recommended for marijuana policy in the U.S. by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972. It says consumers, who generally comprise up to 90 percent of the marijuana arrests, should be removed from the criminal justice system, but that commercial sales of marijuana should remain illegal. While that is obviously an improvement over total prohibition, where users are also subject to arrest and jail, it generally is thought to lead to an increase in demand without any legal supply — a boon to the illegal black market and those willing to take the risk to sell to the newly legal consumers.

Seventeen states in the U.S. have enacted a version of marijuana decriminalization (some have eliminated all penalties for minor possession offenses; others have reduced the penalty to a fine-only). But more recently states that wish to end prohibition have looked toward full legalization, where the commercial market is regulated and taxed. Nonetheless, decriminalization remains an option for those states that no longer wish to treat smokers as criminals, but do not yet feel politically comfortable with full legalization.

Not The Results In Portugal That Were Expected

But the results from Portugal seem to dispel those initial fears that decriminalizing drugs would result in an increase in dangerous drug use, especially among addicts.

First, and most importantly, decriminalization in Portugal for a decade and a half has not led to any major increases in the rate of drug use. There were minor increases in drug use during the initial year (2001), but the rates of drug use after that have not changed significantly, or, in some cases, have actually declined since 2001, and remain below the average rates in both Europe and the United States. And importantly, adolescent use, and use by people who are deemed “dependent” or who inject drugs, has decreased in Portugal since 2003.

So decriminalization may yet prove to be an attractive alternative to prohibition for the more dangerous drugs in the United States. No one wants to see a cocaine store on the corner, but neither do most people want to ruin an individual’s life with a long prison sentence for the use of cocaine. If it is a problem, it is a medical one, not a criminal justice problem.

And Portugal has experienced more than a 60 percent decrease in the number of people arrested and prosecuted for drug offenses. More than 80 percent of the cases coming before the “dissuasion commissions” are perceived to have no problems and receive no sanction.

The percentage of prisoners in Portuguese prisons for drug offenses has been reduced from a high of 44 percent to the current rate of 13 percent. And drug overdose deaths have decreased from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. In the U.S., for comparison, more than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses alone each year.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” Portugal’s Drug Czar Dr. Joao Goulão explained, according to Drug Policy Alliance. He attributed this shift to “a set of policies that target reduction of both supply and demand, including measures of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reinsertion.” Adding that, “[t]he biggest effect has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear.”

And he strongly favors a policy of harm reduction. “I think harm reduction is not giving up on people,” Dr. Goulão said, according to Vice, “…assuming that even if someone is still using drugs, that person deserves the investment of the state in order to have a better and longer life.”

And even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has concluded that “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems has decreased.” And some leading independent researchers investigating the Portugal experiment wrote in the British Journal of Criminology in 2010 that “contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding.”

So What Can We Learn From Portugal

First, we can begin to stop treating so harshly illicit drug users, who use something other than marijuana. Sure heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine are more potentially dangerous than marijuana; but that does not mean those drug users should be treated like criminals. If, like Portugal, we can minimize abuse, greatly reduce the number of people arrested on drug charges, reduce overdose deaths, reduce adolescent drug use and problematic drug abuse, greatly reduce our prison population, and still maintain a safe, free and open society, then why would we not want to begin to move in that direction?

Also, we can learn from Portugal the importance of adopting a policy of harm reduction that recognizes the value of all lives, including those who may, for a time, use dangerous drugs, and to provide needed mental health services to those whom we can identify as problem drug abusers. Portugal seems to make it clear that their success simply could not have been possible without making health care professionals available to those who will avail themselves of that help.

And third, we can and should learn that the stigma of drug use or abuse — regardless of the drug involved — needs to be eliminated, to create an environment in which individuals feel free to seek help without fear of being labeled a bad person. It’s time to treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not primarily a criminal justice issue.

Ohio NORML Continues the Fight on the Local Level

Cannabis PenaltiesStatewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.

With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.

Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalizationmeasure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.

“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”

To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email info@ohionorml.org today!

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Is Puerto Rico Joining The Pot Legalization Parade Too?

With little media attention stateside, Senator Miguel Pereira has introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana in the US territory of Puerto Rico. Also, activists for marijuana law reform took to the streets of San Juan this past 4/20 weekend to show public support–one of the first public rallies ever in Puerto Rico for marijuana law reform.

From the CaribbeanBusinesspr.com

Dozens of people marched Saturday through Puerto Rico’s capital amid growing support for a recent bill filed by a former police chief that aims to legalize marijuana for personal use, unleashing an unprecedented debate in this conservative U.S. territory.

The crowd marched to the seaside Capitol building, where Sen. Miguel Pereira filed a bill this week stating it should be legal for those 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The former federal prosecutor and corrections secretary said possession cases are costing the government money, noting that 80% of inmates are serving time for non-violent crimes.

His comments have polarized the island, with some legislators demanding his resignation.

“It’s outrageous that someone who was elected by the people tries to use his position to cause addiction, sicken and destroy Puerto Rican society,” Sen. Itzamar Pena said.

Critics say the proposal would further fuel violence on an island of 3.7 million people that reported a record 1,117 killings in 2011, with police saying that 70% of killings are drug-related. Others expressed concern that police, teachers and doctors would smoke while working.

“This measure has to be studied extremely carefully,” Sen. José Perez Rosa said. “It’s not like alcohol, where acceptable levels (of use) exist.”

Currently, those charged with marijuana possession can face up to three years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Justice Secretary Luis Sánchez Betances did not say whether he favored Pereira’s measure, but he said the government should find alternatives to the current law.

“This opens a public debate,” he said.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla echoed a similar sentiment in a press conference this week.

“I don’t have a problem with an open debate about the possibilities, benefits or drawbacks of such a measure,” he said, adding that the issue is not a priority for his administration.

Last year, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for those over 21. The law, however, bans the public use of marijuana.

Puerto Rico joins a handful of other Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and St. Lucia, where there has been a push to legalize marijuana use.

In Jamaica, government officials previously reviewed recommendations to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposal has the backing of several church leaders, but it has not gained traction on an island that remains the Caribbean’s largest pot exporter to the U.S.

In St. Lucia, supporters also have spent more than a decade lobbying the government without success to endorse a commercial hemp project.

 

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