Representatives Blumenauer and Lee Urge President Biden to Pardon Federal Cannabis Offenses

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Today, U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led 35 lawmakers in urging President Joe Biden to use executive clemency to pardon individuals convicted of federal cannabis offenses.

“Until the day that Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the president. “We urge you to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders.”

The lawmakers stressed that discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated systemic racism in America for decades, citing a 2020 report issued by the ACLU that found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.

“During your previous tenure at the White House, President Obama understood that decades of harsh and discriminatory federal drug laws unfairly trapped minority individuals and communities in cycles of despair. That is why he used the tools of justice to grant clemency for 1,927 individuals convicted of federal crimes,” the lawmakers continued. “Your Administration has the power to expand on end this legacy and issue a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S and trigger resentencing for all those who remain federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws.”

In their letter to President Biden Thursday, the lawmakers also noted that their request is not a partisan issue. Every president since George H.W. Bush has exercised their pardoning power for cannabis offenses.

This push from lawmakers comes after Americans in five more states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies during the November elections and the U.S. House of Representatives took the historic step of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in December.

“President Biden’s leadership on issuing pardons to nonviolent federal marijuana offenders would demonstrate a down payment on his campaign promise to prioritize criminal justice reform and similarly inspire similar justice-oriented actions in a non-partisan fashion around the country,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Shortly after President Biden’s election, the House of Representatives voted to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. Now in a new legislative session, President Biden should follow their lead and move to immediately provide relief to those who continue to suffer from a criminal record for a nonviolent federal marijuana offense. We are tremendously grateful for the leadership of the Cannabis Caucus, particularly Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, as they tirelessly lead this ongoing but hopefully soon to be finished fight for marijuana justice nationwide.”

In addition to Blumenauer and Lee, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Adriano Espaillat, Bonnie Watson Coleman, James McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Jesús “Chuy” García, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rashida Tlaib, Danny K. Davis, Alan Lowenthal, Alcee Hastings, David Trone, Mark Pocan, Carolyn Maloney, Peter Welch, Dwight Evans, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Ed Perlmutter, Mondaire Jones, Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna, J. Luis Correa, Brenda Lawrence, Charlie Crist, Dean Phillips, Jamaal Bowman, Steven Horsford, Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jake Auchincloss, Raúl Grijalva, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.

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


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.


ACLU Pennsylvania: Blacks Eight Times More Likely Than Whites To Be Arrested For Marijuana Possession

PENNSYLVANIA: African Americans in Pennsylvania are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession offenses than are Caucasians, according to an analysis of statewide arrest data by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU Pennsylvania report reviewed arrest data for all 67 counties from 2010 to 2016. Excluding Philadelphia, which decriminalized cannabis possession offenses in 2014, adult marijuana possession arrests increased 33 percent during this time period – at a cost of $225.3 million to taxpayers. Black adults were 8.2 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for possessing marijuana. In 2010, African Americans in Pennsylvania were 6.5 percent times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession crimes.

Recent analyses from other states, such as New Jersey and Virginia, have similarly identified racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. Nationwide, African Americans are approximately four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana, despite members of both ethnicities using the substance at similar rates.

“Pennsylvania’s insistence in continuing to fight the war on marijuana, is at the root of the problematic data presented in this report,” the ACLU of Pennsylvania concluded. “Law enforcement has not only continued its business-as-usual arresting policies in enforcement of cannabis prohibition, it has ramped up enforcement as marijuana use has become more accepted throughout the commonwealth and the nation. If laws don’t change, this pattern will likely continue; law enforcement could become even more heavy handed until policymakers are clear that it is time to end this approach. The clearest way to send that message is to end prohibition altogether.”

For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the report is available from the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The Wink In Weed: Fired Up On The Fourth of July

Why I care about the 4th of July holiday, and you should too.

By David Rheins 

July 4th for me has always been Independence Day. The most quintessential of our national patriotic sentiments, Independence is at the core of what it means for me to be an American.  This weekend I’m celebrating Freedom, Independence and Cannabis.

I started smoking marijuana back in the 1970s, and have been a regular consumer ever since. Cannabis use for me has always been about freeing my mind, allowing the anxiety and rigidity of social conformity to fall away, and the expansive and magical possibility of the natural world to open up. Marijuana has been integral to my Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.

Despite otherwise being an upstanding, productive member of society, for most of my life my pot smoking made me a criminal. Every bag of weed that I bought from a buddy, every joint I toked with friends was a criminal act, and made me an outlaw in the eyes of my government. Every time that I freed my mind, I risked losing my livelihood and my liberty.

The war on drugs – really a war on marijuana users – has always been a political war meant to quell independent thought and political freedom. Pot smokers were the targets of discrimination and prosecution because we questioned authority. We challenged the status quo – about the war, civil rights, sexual expression and consumer culture. We turned on, tuned in and dropped out of the system, and the powers-that-be declared a war on us — a war that is still waging to this day to devastating effect.

According to the ACLU, over half of all drug arrests in the United States are for marijuana.  There were 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% for simple pot possession, with Blacks 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested.

As a society we’re ready to end the federal prohibition of cannabis. Citizens in four states have already voted for legalization of the adult use of marijuana. Polls consistently confirm that a solid majority of Americans support a full legalization of marijuana. This November, citizens in 8 states, including Arizona, Florida, Maine, Nevada, Michigan and California, will get the chance to vote on cannabis legalization. We, the people, can and are making a difference with our votes.

As the fastest growing industry in the country, Legal Cannabis has been an engine for creating jobs, reinvigorating local communities and filling government tax coffers. Legalization has provided economic independence for tens of thousands of Americans, not just for the hundreds of new licensed growers, processors and retailers, but also for the many ancillary businesses that support them.

With economic power comes independence and normalization. As the legal cannabis industry generates tax dollars, we also amass political currency and power. Local, State and even Federal Politicians are beginning to appreciate that cannabis companies represent jobs, votes, taxes and political donations. We also represent significant intellectual capital – and state and local governments and regulators are turning to the cannabis industry subject matter experts to aid them in crafting the legislation and regulations that will shape our new, post-prohibition future.

On this July 4th, I celebrate the freedom that I enjoy as an adult living in Washington State to purchase and consume cannabis legally, and I commit to doing everything that I can to see that this right is extended to all Americans.

Rolling Stone: The War On Drugs Is Burning Out

The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation’s capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession.

It’s all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs. 

November’s election results have teed up pot prohibition as a potent campaign issue for 2016. Notwithstanding the House GOP’s contested effort to preserve pot prohibition in D.C., the flowering of the marijuana-legalization movement is creating space for a more rational and humane approach to adjudicating users of harder drugs, both on the state level and federally. “The door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws,” says Alison Holcomb, who led the pot-legalization push in Washington state in 2012, and has been tapped to direct the ACLU‘s new campaign against mass incarceration.

ACLU: Steep Drop In Pot Cases Has Freed Up Resources

WASHINGTON:  Legalization of marijuana in Washington has resulted in far fewer pot arrests, thereby freeing up law-enforcement and court resources, the ACLU says. But Ian Goodhew, of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said prosecutors handled few misdemeanor pot cases before the law took effect.

A steep drop in charges filed against adults over 21 in Washington state after legalization of marijuana shows the new law is freeing up court and law-enforcement resources to deal with other issues, a primary backer of the law said Wednesday.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that such low-level charges were filed in just 120 cases in 2013, down from 5,531 cases the year before. 

Wells, Civil Rights Groups Push for Potent D.C. Pot Bill

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  On Tuesday, the D.C. Council will have a chance to pass what civil rights groups are calling the strongest marijuana decriminalization bill in the country.

The proposal, offered by Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who represents Capitol Hill and is also running for mayor, would prevent police officers from stopping and searching D.C. residents solely because officers smell pot. Supporters also see it as an attempt to end racial profiling. [Read more…]

Washington State Will Use Minors In Marijuana Buying Sting

WASHINGTON: State officials will use minors in marijuana-buying stings next year when Washington’s new legal pot stores open.

Charged with implementing the new law that allows adults over age 21 to possess an ounce of pot, the state Liquor Control Board already uses minors in “controlled buys” of alcohol at retail stores.

The board’s enforcement chief said using the same strategy with marijuana makes sense, especially because federal officials want to make sure Washington restricts minors’ access to the drug.

“Of course the feds are looking at a tightly regulated market around youth access, and I think this shows we’re being responsible,” said Justin Nordhorn. [Read more…]

Changing Course On Pot Businesses May Create Legal Haze For Yakima, WA

WASHINGTON: The Yakima City Council’s sudden reversal of course on marijuana this week could lead the city into unknown waters and potential litigation if it bans commerce in the substance, which is now legal in small amounts.

The council on Tuesday passed a motion by a vote of 4-3 to ask legal staff to draft an ordinance that would prohibit the growing, processing and retail sale of marijuana in city limits. The city is currently under a six-month moratorium for such businesses, although none is expected to open in the state until May or June at the earliest.

Council members Micah Cawley, Kathy Coffey and Sara Bristol opposed drafting a ban, but the motion was approved because of a change in position by Councilwoman Maureen Adkison, who had sided with the other three on a previous vote in October. [Read more…]

2013 International Drug Policy Reform Conference In Celebratory Mood Following Recent Cannabis Achievements

COLORADO: The dust has now settled on the Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last month – attended by three Transform staff as well as a more than a 1,000 drug policy experts and activists from around the world. The conference is held every two years and chance had it that this year it would be in Denver, Colorado – one of the two states that had made history last year by becoming the first jurisdictions anywhere in the world to legalise and regulate cannabis.

There was understandably a sense of celebration in the air, a feeling that, as DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadlemann put it, a tipping point had been reached.  The sense that – at least with the US cannabis debate – the reform position was winning the day was solidified by polling earlier in the week of the conference that showed 58% of the US public now supported cannabis legalisation – a jump of 10% in a year. [Read more…]