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.

 

Virginia Governor Northam Signs Bold New Laws To Reform Criminal Justice

House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty

VIRGINIA: Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law criminal justice reform legislation that he proposed in January. The package includes measures raising the felony larceny threshold; permanently eliminating driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs; raising the age of juvenile transfer to adult court; and reforming parole.

The Governor’s package also includes decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and sealing the records of prior convictions. The Governor proposed that a study be completed to assess the impact of fully legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said Governor Northam. “These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”

Governor Northam signed the following bills:

  • House Bill 1196 and Senate Bill 1 repeal the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended. The bill requires the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended prior to July 1, 2019, solely for nonpayment of fines or costs, without a reinstatement fee.
  • House Bill 477 and Senate Bill 546 raise the age when a Commonwealth’s Attorney can transfer a juvenile to be tried as an adult without court approval from 14 to 16.
  • House Bill 909 and Senate Bill 513 end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related offenses, including drug offenses and theft of motor fuel.
  • House Bill 974 and Senate Bill 511 modify the current standards for writs of actual innocence. Currently, individuals may pursue writs of actual innocence under very narrow circumstances, which limits access to relief and places additional burdens on the pardon process.
  • House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 736 provide that a court may permit an inmate to earn credits against any fines and court costs imposed against him by performing community service. Under current law, credits may be earned only before or after imprisonment.

The Governor proposed two amendments:

  • House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty. The bill seals the records of convictions and prohibits employers from inquiring about past convictions. The bill creates a work group to study the impact of legalization of marijuana. Governor Northam proposes to require that report by November 30, 2021.
  • House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 793, the “Fishback” bills, make individuals sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 eligible for parole consideration. Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, however juries were not instructed of this change until 2000 following a court ruling. The Governor proposes adding an “emergency clause” to the measure.

“As a lawyer, I believe in justice, and that means we must aspire to a legal system that promotes equality under the law,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “I also believe in fairness, transparency, and compassion. These new laws strengthen our criminal justice system, and I thank Governor Northam for signing them into law.”

“Virginia’s old laws often led to too many black and brown people getting harsher punishments than the majority of Virginians,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I appreciate Governor Northam signing these new laws that will help bring equity to our criminal justice system.”

“The Governor put forward a criminal justice reform legislative package that was historic and transformative,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “The elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fees and fines and non-driving related offenses will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and the raising of the felony threshold is a simple matter of justice and fairness. This administration continues to demonstrate its dedication to comprehensive criminal justice reform.”

Booker Marijuana Provisions Pass House Judiciary Committee

2017 Booker bill provided framework for MORE Act

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Three key marijuana provisions designed to reverse decades of failed drug policy and first introduced by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) passed the House Judiciary Committee today: record expungement, reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs, and removing marijuana from the list of deportable offenses.

Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, originally introduced in 2017, was the first congressional bill to incorporate record expungement and community reinvestment with marijuana legalization. This legislation along with a Booker provision to remove marijuana from list of deportable offenses provided the framework for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE) passed by the House today.

“This is a significant tipping point. The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals. These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer,” Senator Booker said.This legislation continues us down the path towards justice and I’m excited to see momentum growing around the movement to fix our nation’s broken drug laws.”

Background on Booker’s leadership on issues of marijuana and criminal justice:

Booker has seen the effects of our broken marijuana laws first-hand, dating back to his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, where he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities. He is the author of the landmark Marijuana Justice Act, which would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, automatically expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana use and possession crimes, and reinvest resources into the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. Since introducing the bill in 2017, Booker has garnered support from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

In the Senate, Booker was an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. More recently, he pressed Attorney General William Barr on his stance on marijuana legalization and the rescission of the Cole memo, winning a commitment from Barr to leave states alone that have  legalized marijuana.

In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker is the co-author of the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal without fear of federal prosecution, and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent drug offenders to petition a court to seal and expunge their drug offenses, while automatically sealing, and in some cases expunging, the nonviolent records of juveniles. These reforms would reduce a major barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face when attempting to rejoin society. He is also a cosponsor of the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Earlier this year, the Fair Chance Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government and Reform Committee. In June, Booker introduced legislation to remove marijuana from list of deportable offenses.

Chairman Nadler Statement For The Markup Of H.R. 3884, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment And Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during the markup of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019:

“H.R. 3884, the ‘Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019,’ or the ‘MORE Act of 2019.’ This bill would make three important changes to federal law. It would:

(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 products, to address the needs of communities that have been most seriously impacted by the War on Drugs, including increasing the participation of minority communities in the burgeoning cannabis market; and

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

“These steps are long overdue. For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one’s views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating users at the federal level is 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. 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.

“Federal action on this issue would follow growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable. Despite the federal government’s continuing criminalization of marijuana, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Eleven 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 minority communities.

“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 listed in the United States Pharmacopeia 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 minorities, 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, where—unfairly and unjustifiably—it has remained ever since.

“As a consequence, thousands of individuals—overwhelmingly people of color—have been subjected, by the federal government, to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses. This needs to stop.That is why we are taking action today.

“The MORE Act would remove marijuana from Schedule I and, as a result, would decriminalize it at the federal level, leaving it to states to regulate marijuana as they may choose. Removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances is especially just because the same racial animus motivating the enactment of marijuana laws also led to racially disparate enforcement of such laws, which has had a substantial, negative impact on minority communities. In fact, nationwide, the communities that have been most harmed by marijuana enforcement benefit 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 the Treasury to fund programs within the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to empower communities of color and those most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.

“These programs would provide services to individuals—including job training, reentry services and substance use treatment—would provide funds for loans to assist small businesses that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and would provide resources for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for individuals most 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 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 just last week—67 percent of Americans now back marijuana legalization, up from 62 percent in Pew’s 2018 poll.

“States have led the way—and continue to lead the way—but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. We need to catch up because of public support 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.”

Indiana NORML Applauds Acting Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ Focus

INDIANA:  In a press conference, Acting Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears announced that the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer prosecute citizens for possessing less than an ounce of cannabis.      Indianapolis now becomes the first Hoosier city to exercise “lowest priority” status for dealing with simple possession of small amounts of cannabis.

According to , this policy shift is expected to dramatically reduce the number of marijuana possession arrests made by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Marion County Sheriff’s Department law enforcement officers.   “For many years Indiana NORML has worked diligently to address the severe racial disparities in arrests and prosecutions for simple possession of cannabis and to advance civil liberties,” said Smith.  “We’ve also fought for Hoosiers’ right to use medical cannabis with a doctor’s prescription to treat chronic pain and other medical and emotional conditions, so patients can live in peace, without fear of arrest, and criminal prosecution.”

Though INORML has advocated for these changes for decades, the efforts of many of the INORML Board of Directors has intensified over the past months in many different areas.   “These efforts have included face-to-face meetings with several elected officials, including representatives of the Marion County Prosecutor’s office, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, and numerous state and local officials over the last several months,” said Bill Groth, Indiana NORML Board of Directors. “We are most pleased that our efforts have finally resulted in a sound, compassionate, and permanent reassessment of law enforcement priorities as they relate to possession of cannabis.”

In the interim, the organization looks forward to working with other public officials to enact similar policies across the state to bridge the gap until the Indiana General Assembly decides to finally take direct action to resolve our detrimental and outdated cannabis laws.

Gardner, Warren, Joyce and Blumenauer Unveil Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies

Forty-Six States, Washington D.C., Two Territories, and a Number of Tribes Have Legalized Marijuana in Some Form

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) today introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders. The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely.

Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products – and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes have similar laws. As states developed their own approaches to marijuana enforcement, the Department of Justice issued guidance to safeguard these state actions and ensure practical use of limited law enforcement resources. However, this guidance was withdrawn earlier this year, creating legal uncertainty, threatening public health and safety, and undermining state regulatory regimes.

“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry.  But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” said Senator Gardner. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted.  The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters – whether that is legalization or prohibition – and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”

“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development,” said Senator Warren. “States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations – and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”

“We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations and requirements for the use, production, and sale of cannabis,”said Representative Joyce. “If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference.”

“For too long the senseless prohibition of marijuana has devastated communities, disproportionately impacting poor Americans and communities of color. Not to mention, it’s also wasted resources and stifled critical medical research,” said Representative Blumenauer. “It’s past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong.”

Ignoring the ability of states, territories, and tribes to determine for themselves what type of marijuana regulation works best comes with real costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with state laws are blocked from access to basic banking services. Illicit markets often spring up and local law enforcement must divert resources needed elsewhere. Thousands of people are prosecuted and locked up in our criminal justice system. Qualified scientists and state public health departments struggle to conduct basic and epidemiological research or spur medical advances, and the fundamental nature of state and tribal sovereignty is violated. As more states, territories, and tribes thoughtfully consider updates to marijuana regulations, often through voter-initiated referendums, it is critical that Congress take immediate steps to safeguard their right to do so by passing the STATES Act.

The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Safe Access, Americans for Tax Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Liberty, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooperative Credit Union Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, the Mountain West Credit Union Association, the National Cannabis Bar Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the New Federalism Fund,NORML, the Northwest Credit Union Association, R Street, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

The STATES Act:

  • Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that – as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections – its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • Clearly states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
  • Removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana.
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

A fact sheet about the legislation is available here, and the full bill text is available here.

District Attorney Vance to End the Prosecution of Marijuana Possession and Smoking Cases

New Manhattan D.A. “Decline to Prosecute” Policy Effective August 1st

NEW YORK:  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced a new effort to reduce inequality and unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system. Beginning August 1st, the D.A.’s Office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases. The District Attorney’s Office has invited the City of New York to recommend limited exceptions to this policy grounded in demonstrated public safety concerns before the policy becomes effective in August. Under one analysis by the D.A.’s Office, the policy is expected to reduce Manhattan marijuana prosecutions from approximately 5,000 per year to approximately 200 per year, a 96% reduction.

“The dual mission of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” said District Attorney Vance. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals. Effective August 1st, my Office will decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases. We are in discussions with the Mayor and Police Commissioner to consider limited exceptions to this policy, the goal of which is to radically reduce the criminal prosecution of these offenses.”

Today’s announcement marks the culmination of six months of research and policy analysis, including extensive, in-person interviews with law enforcement officials in jurisdictions where marijuana is no longer criminally prosecuted. The D.A.’s Office today released a report publicizing its findings, which helped to inform the Office’s new policy. The report is available here.

Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety: A Report on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in the United States

As described in the Report’s Executive Summary, “our office has, over the past several months, gathered data and conducted interviews with dozens of prosecutors, regulators, and law enforcement representatives from states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Our purpose was to understand the challenges that will need to be anticipated by lawmakers in our state. This work has yielded valuable insights into how responsibly to frame any future laws and regulations to avoid negative impacts on public safety.” The D.A.’s Office “stand[s] ready to advise and assist any participant in the important ongoing discussions about legislative reform of our state’s marijuana laws.”

The Report further notes that black and Hispanic individuals in neighborhoods of color continue to be arrested for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than their similarly situated counterparts in predominantly white communities. Such arrests can significantly impact job searches, schooling, family members, immigration status, and community involvement. Yet, sanctions imposed after arrest, fingerprinting, and court appearances are almost always minimal or non-existent. As a result, large numbers of New Yorkers become further alienated from law enforcement and removed from community participation at an enormous cost to the criminal justice system, for virtually no punitive, rehabilitative or deterrent purpose.

Preexisting Marijuana Policy

Recognizing the racial disparities inherent in enforcement and negative collateral consequences for those charged, District Attorney Vance has vocally advocated for the statutory decriminalization of marijuana possession since 2012. In 2017, D.A. Vance issued one of the most lenient marijuana policies in New York State, under which individuals accused for the first time of smoking in public receive a 90-day Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (“ACD”), and those accused for the second time receive a 180-day ACD. If these individuals remain arrest-free for the duration of these periods, their cases are dismissed and records are sealed.

FBI Reports More Than 653,000 Arrests For Marijuana Offenses In 2016

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  An estimated 653,249 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana in 2016, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Crime In the United States (CIUS) report. This means one person was arrested for marijuana approximately every 48 seconds on average in the United States.

The full report is available here:  (Note: Marijuana-specific data was not published online but is available upon request.)

“Arresting and citing over half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty,” said Morgan Fox, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested.”

There are currently eight states that regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol for adults, four of which voted to do so in November 2016. Marijuana possession is also legal for adults in the District of Columbia. Twenty-three states and D.C. considered legislation in 2017 to regulate marijuana, including in Vermont where the legislature approved such a measure before the governor vetoed it.

“Regulating marijuana for adults creates jobs, generates tax revenue, protects consumers, and takes money away from criminals,” Fox continued. “It is time for the federal government and the rest of the states to stop ruining peoples’ lives and enact sensible marijuana policies.”

DOJ Task Force: Maintain ‘Hands Off’ Approach To States’ Marijuana Laws

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: A special Justice Department committee tasked with reviewing existing marijuana enforcement policies and making recommendations has failed to offer support for a federally led crackdown in legal marijuana states, according to documents obtained last week by the Associated Press.

The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group consisting of federal prosecutors and members of law enforcement, did not call for changes in existing policy. Since 2013, the Justice Department has directed US attorneys in all 50 states not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

The Justice Department and US Attorney General are not legally bound by the task force’s recommendations, which they have yet to release publicly.