House Approves Blumenauer’s Medical Marijuana Research Act

Legislation removes barriers to much-needed research on health benefits of marijuana.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:Today (12/9/2020), the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Medical Marijuana Research Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) to address burdensome impediments to legitimate medical research.

Although 99 percent of Americans now live in a state with some form of legalized marijuana, current federal law greatly limits researchers’ ability to study the health benefits of cannabis. Current barriers include the overly burdensome registration process, redundant protocol reviews, lack of adequate research material, and unnecessarily onerous security requirements.

“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, especially those that deal with research. It’s illegal everywhere in America to drive under the influence of alcohol, cannabis, or any other substance. But we do not have a good test for impairment because we can’t study it … This is insane and we need to change it,” Blumenauer said today on the House floor. “At a time when there are four million registered medical cannabis patients, and many more likely self-medicate, when there are 91 percent of Americans supporting medical cannabis, it’s time to change the system. Our bill will do precisely that.”

While the United States leads the world in biomedical research, research on cannabis lags far behind. A 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report found that “research on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids has been limited in the United States, leaving patients, health care professionals, and policy makers without the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids.”

The Medical Marijuana Research Act will address these limitations by:

  • Providing a pathway for researchers to study the cannabis products consumers are using from state-legal programs.
  • Streamlining the burdensome and often duplicative license process for researchers seeking to conduct marijuana research, while still maintaining all necessary safeguards against misuse and abuse.
  • Addressing the woefully inadequate, both in quantity and quality, supply of medical-grade marijuana available for use in such research.
  • Requiring a report by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the status and results of new research on marijuana benefits.

This was the second vote held by the U.S. House of Representatives in the past week on Blumenauer’s federal cannabis reform priorities, following the passage of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act on Friday, December 4.

The full text of the Medical Marijuana Research Act can be found here.

DCFS And Illinois Courts Refusing To Follow New Cannabis Anti-Discrimination Law: Parents Risk Losing Children Over Cannabis Use Despite Legalization

By Jay Lindsay, CROSSROAD LEGAL

ILLINOIS: On June 25, 2019, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into a law sweeping new legislation legalizing personal recreational use of Cannabis in Illinois. Under the law, Illinoisans can now use cannabis not only for medicinal purposes, but also recreationally. The law also prohibits discrimination based on cannabis in certain situations. Specifically, the anti-discrimination provision is strategically drafted to avoid cannabis users from suffering negative or adverse impacts in Illinois family and juvenile courts, including actions by Child Protective Services. Despite passage of this law, DCFS and courts remain unwilling to comply with these anti-discrimination rules.

To fully understand why this is important and how it affects Illinois parents, a little background is necessary.

The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act of 2019

Effective the first day of 2020, Cannabis became legal for personal use in Illinois. The new law is entitled the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, and the personal use provisions are found in the Illinois Code at 410 ILCS 705/10-5 et seq. Under the new law, Illinois residents are legally permitted to use and possess Cannabis and Cannabis-related products. There are, of course, limitations.

POSSESSION OF CANNABIS

  • Up to 30 grams of Cannabis in raw form
  • Cannabis-infused product or products containing no more than 500 mg of THC
  • Five grams of cannabis product in concentrated form 

PRIOR INCARCERATIONS

Under House Bill 1438, which ultimately became the new law last year, the Governor has created a clemency process that will ultimately help to exonerate and clear the records of hundreds of thousands of people convicted of minor Cannabis charges. 

  • Automatic expungement for any possession charge of up to 30 grams
  • Potential clemency for possession of 30-500 grams, but only upon petitioning a court to vacate the conviction.

The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that this will result in an estimated 770,000 overturned convictions. This is perhaps the most notable part of the legislation, because it could effectively re-enfranchise almost a million Illinois residents of things like voting and gun rights. Under current law, drug-related convictions can be used as a reason for the Illinois State Police revoking or denying a Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID).  Likewise, for felony convictions, many people lose the right to vote. Many of these rights are now likely subject to restoration.

Public Support for Cannabis

Before directly addressing the issue of discrimination, it is worth noting that the majority of Illinoisans support legalization. Even in the most rural and conservative reaches of the state, Cannabis is gaining wide-spread acceptance. According to the advocacy group, Legalize Illinois, the following statistics were reported in relation to resident approval of legalization:

  • Chicago: 77% support and 22% oppose legalization
  • Downstate: 58% support and 40% oppose legalization
  • Statewide: 66% support and 32% oppose legalization

Anti-Discrimination Provision

Now that the background and legislative underpinnings are clear, we turn to the problem at hand.  Under the new law, there’s a specific provision that directly applies to family courts and actions by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The provision found at 410 ILCS 705/10-30(a) outlines the precise ways that the government may not use a person’s conduct under the statute. Below, the statute is broken into three parts for clarity:

Neither the presence of cannabinoid components or metabolites in a person’s bodily fluids nor possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia, nor conduct related to the use of cannabis or the participation in cannabis-related activities lawful under this Act by a custodial or noncustodial parent, grandparent, legal guardian, foster parent, or other person charged with the well-being of a child . . .

. . . shall form the sole or primary basis or supporting basis for any action or proceeding by a child welfare agency or in a family or juvenile court, any adverse finding, adverse evidence, or restriction of any right or privilege in a proceeding related to adoption of a child, acting as a foster parent of a child, or a person’s fitness to adopt a child or act as a foster parent of a child, or serve as the basis of any adverse finding, adverse evidence, or restriction of any right of privilege in a proceeding related to guardianship, conservatorship, trusteeship, the execution of a will, or the management of an estate . . .

. . . unless the person’s actions in relation to cannabis created an unreasonable danger to the safety of the minor or otherwise show the person to not be competent as established by clear and convincing evidence. This subsection applies only to conduct protected under this Act. 

Juvenile Court Act vs. Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act

In a landmark Supreme Court decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, that there is “a fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

Moreover, the Court wrote, “[t]he liberty interest at issue in this case-the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children-is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court. See id. at 65. 

It is with this context from the Supreme Court that we next must address how Illinois law treats removal of children for abuse and neglect allegations.

Under the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1987, DCFS is charged with protecting minors from abuse and neglect. When there is a credible report of abuse, DCFS will investigate the allegations and, if founded, may remove a child from their home, place them into emergency protective custody, then turn the matter over to the local States Attorney for the appropriate county. At this time, the prosecutor will file a petition to adjudicate the minor a ward of the court. If successful, the child will be placed into foster care, while a provider agency, such as Caritas or Lutheran Child and Family Services (LCFS), will take over managing the casework associated with the matter. A service plan is created, and parents must complete the service plan and meet all requirements of the agency before the children can be returned.

Under the Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-18(2)(f), the court deciding the matter at the adjudicatory hearing may consider:

proof that a parent, custodian or guardian of a minor repeatedly used a drug, to the extent that it has or would ordinarily have the effect of producing in the user a substantial state of stupor, unconsciousness, intoxication, hallucination, disorientation or incompetence, or a substantial impairment of judgment, or a substantial manifestation of irrationality, shall be prima facie evidence of neglect.

Under the Juvenile Court Act drug is not a per se or automatic reason for removal of children. Drug use must create a “substantial” effect on the parent, to the point that the Department feels that the parent cannot properly care for a child. In practice, this is very different, however. Typically, ANY use will be enough for DCFS to remove a child. Historically, this included Cannabis. 

Breaking it Down

Since there are now two potentially conflicting laws, Courts are left to decide whether or not they will follow the new anti-discrimination provision by simply disregarding evidence of Cannabis use, or whether they will continue to view Cannabis as a drug that supports removal of minor children.

Case Examples from Practice

 The author is a former Assistant Public Defender for a rural county in downstate Illinois. In the first year since legalization, numerous cases have come before the court with little evidence of drug use except minor Cannabis possession or positive THC test results. Consider the following* examples:

  • Young mother has argument with boyfriend, and children are removed due to allegations of domestic violence. After 6 months, all services are complete. There was no evidence of illegal drug use, alcohol abuse or other substance-related issues. While under oath, a case worker testified that the sole reason why the children have not yet been returned to the mother from May 2020 to November 2020 is her positive drug tests for THC. At a hearing, one child was returned to a father, in part due to the fact that mother was alleged to have continued using Cannabis.

Rationale – According to DCFS, the mother had a service plan that required her to remain free from all drugs, including Cannabis; therefore, it is the State’s position that even though Cannabis is legal, she is prohibited from using it.

  • Judge orders young mother to receive overnight visits and have children returned within 30 days, due to minimal nature of the case. DCFS refuses to honor the court’s order, based on allegations that the mother is still using Cannabis. A single positive test for THC from several months earlier used to argue that she is unfit to have the children go home. The court allowed the matter to be continued for another 90 days and decided not to return the child.

Rationale – According to DCFS, there were concerns about the mother using Cannabis, because she is underage (18) at the time, and thus use would be considered illegal.

  • Young mother has a messy home and is accused of being under the influence while caring for her small child. Notably, under oath, the police officer repeatedly referred to discovering evidence of illicit drug use in the home. On closer cross-examination, it turned out the mother had an empty vape pen on her nightstand. No Cannabis was located on the property. The mother did admit to using Cannabis at times, but no evidence was provided to indicate she had used Cannabis that day or that she was in possession of Cannabis. While other reasons were used for removing the children, such as the condition of the home, this was a critical piece of evidence heard by and relied upon by the court.

Rationale – According to DCFS, simply having marijuana paraphernalia in reach of a minor child was sufficient to remove the children, as it indicated a drug addiction.

Facing the Dilemma Head-On

With these examples squarely before us, it’s important to note a few things. First, possession of 10 grams or less of Cannabis by a person under the age of 21 is considered a civil violation, punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200. See 720 ILCS 55/4. In fact, possession doesn’t even reach Class A misdemeanor status (comparable to a first-offense DUI) until a minor possesses between 30 and 100 grams of Cannabis. With this in mind, it’s difficult to understand how DCFS and the courts can deprive a parent of such a fundamental liberty as the right to raise one’s own child over such a minor offense. Likewise, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act clearly outlines that Cannabis use should not be considered in these court proceedings. The law makes no exception for age of the user.

Where We Go Next 

Ultimately, the problem is that although Cannabis has been fully legalized for recreational use, judges and DCFS are still very much using Cannabis as the sole reason (or at a minimum, a substantial reason) for removing children from parents. And once removed from their parents, children are often kept in foster care for years. If the parent tests positive for Cannabis even once, the courts and DCFS will invariably argue that the parent is failing to make reasonable efforts and substantial progress toward the return of the child. This key language is used to eventually terminate parental rights for good.

It is imperative that the fundamental liberties of parents in Illinois be protected at all costs. As Justice O’Connor wrote in 2000, the right to raise one’s own children is perhaps the oldest recognized liberty in our country’s history. Indeed, this fundamental right is being breached every day in courtrooms across the state, because the clear text of the law is being ignored. Despite Illinois passing a law that prohibits consideration of Cannabis use or possession in DCFS proceedings and juvenile court hearings, state agencies and judges remain completely unwilling to disregard it. In doing so, one could certainly argue that the courts are re-criminalizing Cannabis. In fact, the outcome is that one can lose their children forever for something that amounts to little more than a civil fine if done underage. Imagine losing your children for burning without a permit or littering.

It’s high time that the Illinois legislature put some teeth in the law by creating some form of penalty for state agencies that disregard the law. It also raises the possibility that some parents may have significant civil actions against the State of Illinois where DCFS and provider agencies disregard the law and remove children due to Cannabis use in the home. Illinois NORML continues to advocate and fight hard for the residents of the state every day.

*Due to confidentiality of juvenile court records, the author is unable to discuss specific cases or names of participants.


Jaye R. Lindsay is the founding attorney for CROSSROAD LEGAL, a general practice law firm based in O’Fallon, IL.

Congressman Blumenauer Reacts To New Report Detailing Vast Economic Benefits To MORE Act

CBO projections show that cannabis reform will lead to huge growth in revenue, cuts to federal prison spending, and more.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Following a historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to end the federal prohibition on cannabis last week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, released a new report today detailing vast economic benefits to the legislation.

Among other things, the agency found that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would increase revenues by about $13.7 billion, cut federal prison spending by $1 billion, and reduce time served in federal prison among existing and future inmates by 73,000 person-years.

U.S. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a key sponsor of the MORE Act, lauded these findings today on the House floor.

“It was sad that my Republican colleagues were unable to understand why we voted to reform our failed prohibition of cannabis. They don’t care about honoring the will of the people and they are unable to grasp the enormity of the racial injustice and damage by selective enforcement against young Black and Brown Americans,” Blumenauer said. “But the CBO score may have some other reasons for them. It shows that the MORE Act would reduce 73,000 person-years of prison time. It would increase revenues by $13.7 billion. It would provide $3 billion for job training and legal aid to people harmed by the war on drugs. While doing all of this, it would reduce the deficit by $7.344 billion.”

If the MORE Act becomes law, the CBO report also estimates that from 2021 – 2030, the U.S. Department of Justice would spend $3 billion from the MORE Act’s Opportunity Trust Fund to provide job training, legal aid, and other services to people harmed by the “War on Drugs.” During this same period, the legislation would lead to $2.7 billion in Small Business Association funding for state and local grants to make loans to cannabis businesses and help governments develop cannabis-licensing rules.

“Even if you don’t care about reducing the damage to Black and Brown Americans, or honoring the will of the people, the economics make it clear,” Blumenauer continued. “Once again, the people are right, and the people deserve strong Congressional support.”

The report released today by the CBO can be found here.

Full text of the MORE Act can be found here.

Pelosi Statement On House Passage Of MORE Act To Federally Decriminalize Marijuana

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement after the House passed H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, while taking long overdue steps to address the devastating injustices of the criminalization of marijuana and the vastly disproportionate impact it has had on communities of color:

“Today, with the bipartisan MORE Act, the House has proudly passed one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history.  This momentous step helps end the devastating injustices of the criminalization of marijuana that have disproportionately impacted low income communities and communities of color, and reflects the overwhelming will of the American people — 47 states have recently reformed marijuana laws, with California at the helm of this justice effort.  
“The MORE Act builds on these advancements and finally secures justice for those negatively impacted by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization.  This landmark legislation will also open the doors of opportunity for all people to participate in the growing cannabis industry and provide revenue and resources to communities to grow.
“Guided by the tireless voices of advocates and young people, and the leadership of Democrats, the House has achieved an extraordinary victory for our fundamental values of justice, equality and opportunity for all.  Our Majority will fight to enact this vital legislation as we work to lift up communities of color and advance progress for all.”

Chairman Nadler Statement In Support Of H.R. 3884, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment And Expungement (MORE) Act Of 2020

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) issued the following statement in support of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2020:

“Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have introduced H.R. 3884, the ‘Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020,’ or the ‘MORE Act of 2020.’

“This long overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color.

“The MORE Act would make three important changes to federal law:

(1) remove marijuana, or cannabis, from the list of federally controlled substances;

(2) authorize the provision of resources, funded by an excise tax on marijuana, to address the needs of communities that have been seriously impacted by the War on Drugs, including increasing the participation of communities of color in the burgeoning cannabis market; and

(3) provide for the expungement of Federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health.  Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven unwise and unjust.

“This issue is not new to Congress.  There have been many Members who have introduced bills upon which provisions in this bill are based.  For instance, Representative Barbara Lee has sponsored bills that are the foundation of key provisions of the MORE Act, and I thank her for her longstanding leadership on this issue.  Representative Earl Blumenauer has also been an indefatigable advocate and has supported everything we have done to get to where we are today.  I thank him, as well.

“Federal action on this issue would follow the growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable.  Despite the federal government’s continuing criminalization of marijuana, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.  Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use.

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color.

“Marijuana is one of the oldest agricultural commodities not grown for food, and it has been used medicinally all over the world since at least 2700 B.C., but its criminalization is a relatively recent phenomenon.

“The use of marijuana, which most likely originated in Asia, later spread to Europe, and made its way to the Americas when the Jamestown settlers brought it with them across the Atlantic.  The cannabis plant has been widely grown in the United States and was used as a component in fabrics during the middle of the 19th century.  During that time period, cannabis was also widely used as a treatment for a multitude of ailments, including muscle spasms, headaches, cramps, asthma, and diabetes.

“It was only in the early part of the 20th century that marijuana began to be criminalized in the United States—mainly because of misinformation and hysteria, based at least in part on racially-biased stereotypes connecting marijuana use and people of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinos.  In 1970, when President Nixon announced the War on Drugs and signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, the federal government placed marijuana on Schedule I, the most restrictive schedule that is attached to the most serious criminal penalties, where—unfairly and unjustifiably—it has remained ever since.

“As a consequence of this decision, thousands of individuals—overwhelmingly people of color—have been subjected, by the federal government, to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses.  It is time for this manifest injustice to end.  The MORE Act would remove marijuana from Schedule I and the Controlled Substances Act altogether, thereby decriminalizing it at the Federal level.

“This is only fair, particularly because the same racial animus motivating the enactment of marijuana laws also led to racially disproportionate enforcement of such laws, which has had a substantial, negative impact on communities of color.  In fact, nationwide, the communities that have been most harmed by marijuana enforcement are benefitting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace.

“The MORE Act would address some of these negative impacts, by establishing an Opportunity Trust Fund within the Department of Treasury to fund programs within the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to empower communities of color and those adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. These programs would provide services to individuals, including job training, reentry services and substance use disorder services; provide funds for loans to assist small businesses that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals; and provide resources for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.

“The collateral consequences of a conviction for marijuana possession—and even sometimes for a mere arrest—can be devastating.  For those saddled with a criminal conviction, it can be difficult or impossible to vote, to obtain educational loans, to get a job, to maintain a professional license, to secure housing, to receive government assistance, or even to adopt a child.

“These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans.  This is unacceptable and counterproductive, especially in light of the disproportionate impact that enforcement of marijuana laws has had on communities of color.  The MORE Act recognizes this injustice and addresses these harmful effects by expunging and sealing federal convictions and arrests for marijuana offenses.

“It is not surprising that over the past two decades, public support for legalizing marijuana has surged.  In the most recent Pew Research Center poll—which was released at the end of 2019—67 percent of Americans now back marijuana legalization, up from 62 percent in Pew’s 2018 poll.  And just this November, there were ballot measures pertaining to marijuana in several states; they were all approved by voters.  Indeed, the states have led the way—and continue to lead the way—on marijuana, but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change.  We need to catch up because the public supports reform and because it is the right thing to do.

“In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society.  The MORE Act comprehensively addresses this injustice, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill today.”

New Jersey Attorney General Grewal Issues Additional Guidance To Prosecutors On Handling Low-Level Marijuana Possession-Related Cases

NEW JERSEY:  Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has issued additional guidance to prosecutors concerning the prosecution of low-level marijuana cases, supplementing his August 29, 2018 and November 4, 2020 guidance.

Attorney General Grewal directed all New Jersey municipal, county, and state prosecutors to adjourn, until at least January 25, 2021, any juvenile or adult case solely involving the following marijuana possession-related offenses:

  • possession of marijuana or hashish in violation of N.J.S. 2C:35-10(a)(3);
  • possession of marijuana or hashish in violation of N.J.S. 2C:35-10(a)(4);
  • being under the influence of marijuana or hashish in violation of N.J.S. 2C:35-10(c);
  • failure to make lawful disposition of marijuana or hashish in violation of N.J.S. 2C:35-10(d);
  • use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia under N.J.S. 2C:36-2 involving only marijuana or hashish;
  • possession of a controlled dangerous substance while operating a motor vehicle in violation of N.J.S. 39:4-49.1 involving only marijuana or hashish; and
  • any disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense subject to conditional discharge pursuant to N.J.S. 2C:36A-1 involving only marijuana or hashish.

For cases involving the above-enumerated charges as well as other offenses, the Attorney General directed prosecutors to use their discretion to either postpone the case in its entirety or seek dismissal, without prejudice, of the marijuana possession-related charge(s) and proceed with prosecution of the remaining charges. Notably, today’s guidance does not affect the prosecution of cases charging distribution of marijuana or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

“Fairness demands that we suspend prosecution of marijuana possession-related cases while we await direction from the Legislature on the parameters for decriminalization of marijuana and legalization of regulated adult-use cannabis,” said Attorney General Grewal. “It simply does not make sense or serve justice to proceed with prosecutions on charges that may be foreclosed soon through legislative action.”

Previously, on November 4th, the Attorney General issued guidance to law enforcement emphasizing that they have broad discretion in handling low-level marijuana offenses, and encouraging them to exercise that discretion in light of anticipated legislative action that may decriminalize marijuana.

Attorney General Grewal reiterated that more comprehensive guidance, including direction on handling previously adjudicated matters, will follow when the Legislature provides details of the framework for marijuana decriminalization and the legalization of adult-use cannabis.

Guidance for Marijuana Possession Cases Pending in Municipal and Superior Courts: click here.

Guidance Regarding Municipal Prosecutors’ Discretion in Prosecuting Marijuana and Other Criminal Offenses, August 29, 2018: click here.

Interim Guidance on the Constitutional Amendment Legalizing Cannabis, November 4, 2020: click here.

North Carolina Task Force For Racial Equity In Criminal Justice Makes Marijuana Recommendations

NORTH CAROLINA:  Attorney General Josh Stein announced that the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, convened by Gov. Roy Cooper and co-chaired by Justice Anita Earls and the attorney general, adopted recommendations related to marijuana today. Those include a recommendation to decriminalize marijuana possession in small amounts and to further study potential legalization of marijuana possession, cultivation, and sale.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced. Additionally, it is time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”

“Data made available to the Task Force shows that 63 percent of the more than 10,000 convictions for simple possession of marijuana last year in North Carolina are people of color even though they are only 30 percent of the population and research documents that marijuana use is at roughly equal percentages among Black and white populations,” said Justice Anita Earls. “This recommendation is intended to help alleviate racial disparities in North Carolina’s criminal justice system.”

Marijuana In NC Today

Right now, possession of up to ½ ounce of marijuana is a class 3 misdemeanor, not subject to imprisonment but subject to a fine up to $200. In 2019, there were 31,287 charges and 8,520 convictions for this offense; 61 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.

Possession of more than ½ ounce up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 charges and 1,909 convictions for this offense; 70 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.

Today’s recommendations:

  • The Task Force recommends legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by making such possession a civil offense and expunge past convictions through an automatic process.
  • The Task Force further recommends that North Carolina convene a Task Force of stakeholders, free from conflict of interest, to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale, including government or not for profit monopoly options. The study should be guided by a public safety, public health, and racial equity framework.
  • Improve drug enforcement data collection and reporting by:
    • Requiring every law enforcement agency to participate fully in the NIBRS system
    • Requiring every law enforcement agency to publish drug enforcement data on its department website in easy searchable fashion, including number of arrests and citations by drug, quantity, race, gender, and reason for search. This may necessitate providing additional resources to law enforcement agencies, especially smaller agencies.
  • Deemphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) felony drug possession arrests for trace quantities under .25 grams in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Deemphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) marijuana possession arrests in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Prosecutors should immediately deprioritize marijuana-related prosecution in non-ABC permitted locations.

Task Force Next Steps

The Task Force will release its full recommendations in a report to Gov. Roy Cooper on Dec. 15, 2020. That date has been extended from Dec. 1 due to difficulty holding meetings and conducting work as a result of the pandemic. To view today’s public meeting, please visit the North Carolina Department of Justice’s YouTube channel. Information on previous recommendations and other Task Force action is available at https://ncdoj.gov/trec/.

Texas: Pharr PD to Implement “Cite-and-Release”

Adopted policy allows officers to cite and release a person in possession of less than 2 oz. of marijuana, as allowable by state law

TEXAS: The City of Pharr Police Department will be implementing a new Cite-and-Release policy, which allows officers in the field an option to release a person with less than 2 oz of marijuana. This is a Class B misdemeanor where normally a person is arrested at the scene and transported to jail.

The policy adopted by the Pharr Police Department is governed by Article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, enacted as HB 2391 by the 80th Texas State Legislature in 2007, and allows for law enforcement officers to cite and release individuals who commit certain offenses. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pharr Police Department decided to adopt the “Cite and Release” policy and implement it department-wide to minimize the number of individuals being jailed for certain low-level misdemeanor offenses, in this case, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, Misdemeanor B.

There are prerequisites to this option, and include the following:
1.  The offense must be possession of marijuana.  The marijuana must weigh less than two (2) ounces, Misdemeanor B.
2.  The offense must occur in Pharr, Texas
3.  The suspect must reside in Hidalgo County, Texas.
4. The suspect must be in possession of a valid driver’s license or identification.
5.  The suspect must be 17 years of age or older.
6.  Possession of marijuana must be the only offense in which the suspect is subject to arrest.

Officers will have the discretion to arrest or release at the scene. This policy simply gives them another alternative. If released, the person will still have to be arraigned at our municipal court within 14 days of the incident and will be released on a PR bond. The Possession of Marijuana Class B case will still be completed by our detectives and sent to the District Attorney’s office as any other case.

“This gives our officers a reasonable alternative to an arrest at the scene if the requirements are met,” said Pharr Police Chief Andy Harvey. “I believe this is another step in our efforts to police in a manner that adds value to community,” he continued.

“It’s important to note that this policy does not decriminalize anything, rather can provide a more dignified option for a low-level offense,” Harvey added. “We are partnering with the Hidalgo County DA’s office and our own municipal judge to make this possible. These are critical partnerships that when working together, can make a difference in our communities,” continued Harvey.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez stated, “Our office supports the efforts of the Pharr Police Department, and any other law enforcement agency, to implement this policy as allowable by state law.” He continued, “It is important that our community understand that the offense is not excusable and is still punishable by law, but this adds a level of flexibility to reduce our jail population.”

Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, M.D., praised the leadership of Chief Harvey for implementing smart policing strategies as allowable under state law that will help provide fair alternatives for low-level offenses. “The offenders will still be held responsible for the offenses committed, but this will help to expedite justice in a fair and responsive manner,” Hernandez ended.

The new Cite-and-Release policy will begin implementation this week.

Steny H. Hoyer, House Majority Leader ‘Dear Colleague’ Update On September Floor Schedule

 Confirms Legalization On Docket For Third Week Of September

August 31, 2020

Dear Colleague:

On September 8, the House will return for its Committee Work Period, to be followed on September 14 with a busy legislative work period.  I want to thank all of you for your efforts during the August District Work Period, which involved engaging closely with constituents, community leaders, and civic organizations working hard to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressing national challenges.  It also involved a brief return last weekend to Washington to pass the Delivering for America Act, which would end President Trump’s sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service, a vital service to American communities and to our democracy.

While we have all been waiting for the Senate to take action on the Heroes Act, it appears that the Republicans who control that chamber are not in a hurry to do their jobs and pass an emergency assistance package to help American workers and their families get through this economic and public health crisis.  If that changes, the House will return immediately to ensure that emergency assistance is delayed no further.  I will, as stated previously, provide twenty-four hours’ notice before any Floor action. The American people need this assistance, and this will continue to be our priority in September.

Looking ahead to the week of September 14, the House will consider the following pieces of legislation on the Floor.  First, we will take up a number of bills from the Education and Labor Committee, including: Rep. Fudge’s Strength in Diversity Act, Chairman Scott’s Equity and Inclusion in Education Act, and Chairman Nadler’s Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act.  All of these would further Democrats’ agenda of ensuring that American workers can succeed in our economy regardless of their race, sex, or background.  They are based on the premise that everyone ought to have a fair and equal chance to make it in America.  In addition, the House will also consider a bipartisan resolution offered by Rep. Meng condemning all forms of anti-Asian bias and bigotry related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following week, the House will take up Chairman Nadler’s MORE Act to help restore justice to millions by decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records of nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.  Additionally, the House will consider a package of legislation reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee to invest in energy innovation and clean energy development.  These bills have broad support from across the aisle and from business and environmental groups, who together recognize that Congress must lead in promoting a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that drives innovation and helps us create good jobs for American workers.  The House may also take up legislation to reauthorize our intelligence agencies and ensure that they can do their jobs free from political interference and with the latest tools to protect against foreign threats while safeguarding Americans’ civil rights.

By September 30th, Congress must complete our work on appropriations and other expiring items, such as flood insurance and surface transportation.  In July, the Democratic-led House passed legislation to fund nearly all of the government, yet to date the Senate has not held even a single markup of an appropriations bill.  At this rate, it is likely that we will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep government open past the end of this fiscal year.  While that is not ideal, the House will do its job to avert a shutdown that would only further damage our economy.

Throughout September, the Democratic-led House will show the American people what responsible governance looks like, doing its job to legislate For the People.  I thank you in advance for your hard work and contributions, and I look forward to seeing you either virtually or in person when the House returns to session.

Sincerely,

STENY H. HOYER
House Majority Leader

NEW ACLU REPORT: Despite Marijuana Legalization Black People Still Almost Four Times More Likely To Get Arrested

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES: RACIALLY TARGETED ARRESTS IN THE ERA OF MARIJUANA REFORM DETAILS MILLIONS OF RACIALLY TARGETED MARIJUANA ARRESTS MADE BETWEEN 2010-2018

NEW YORK: The American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report showing that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite comparable marijuana usage rates. Additionally, although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.

The reportA Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformdetails marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018, and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite several states having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests.

Key findings include:

  • Law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests form 2010-2018. In 2018 alone, there were almost 700,000 marijuana arrests, which accounted for more than 43 percent of all drug arrests. In 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that marijuana arrests are trending downward nationally. Arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.
  • In every state, and in over 96 percent of the counties examined, Black people were much more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession. Overall, these disparities have not improved. On average, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. In 10 states, Blacks were more than five times more likely to be arrested.
  • In states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization, however racial disparities still remained.

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform comes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the public health crisis presented by COVID-19 that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a roadmap for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons.

“Many state and local governments across the country continue to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, disproportionately targeting Black communities,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “Criminalizing people who use marijuana needlessly entangles hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous individual and societal cost. As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the country must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

To combat the racial disparities rampant in marijuana-related arrests, the ACLU is calling not only for an end to racialized policing, but also for full legalization of marijuana use and possession and specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice. This includes pressing for passage of the MORE Act, which  aims to correct historical injustices of the failed War on Drugs that has terrorized Black communities by decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, reassessing marijuana convictions, and investment in economically disadvantaged communities.

The full report is available here.