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.”

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.

Delaware Attorney General Calls For Expanding Use Of Civil Penalties For Marijuana Violations

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DELAWARE: Delaware prosecutors will no longer be encouraged to pursue criminal charges against those who possess marijuana for personal use, according to guidelines issued last week by the state’s new Attorney General, Kathleen Jennings.

In a February 15th memorandum, Jennings called for sweeping changes to help prioritize resources toward the prosecution of violent criminal offenders and away from non-violent defendants. These changes include encouraging prosecutors and “police agencies to expand the use of civil citations [for] marijuana possession in lieu of criminal arrest.”

News radio station WHYY reports that the decriminalization policy will apply to possession cases involving up to 175 grams of cannabis.

Under state law, the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis is a civil violation. By contrast, offenses involving the possession of marijuana in greater amounts (between one ounce and six ounces) are classified as criminal misdemeanors — punishable by up to three months in jail and a criminal record.

The Attorney General’s actions to cease criminally prosecuting minor marijuana possession offenses are similar to steps recently taken by municipal law enforcement officials in other states, including BaltimoreSt. Louis, and Philadelphia.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500, or visit Delaware NORML.

Maryland: Baltimore Prosecutor To No Longer Target Marijuana Possession Offenses

STATES ATTORNEY BALTIMORE

MARYLAND: Officials will no longer prosecute marijuana possession offenses in Baltimore, according to a newly announced public policy by the office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City.

Under the plan, which takes immediate effect, the office will also move to expunge the criminal records of an estimated 5,000 citizens previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses. The office’s decision to cease targeting minor marijuana violations is similar to actions recently taken by prosecutors in a number of other major cities, including St. Louis, MissouriWestchester, New YorkPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania; and Norfolk, Virginia.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that the new policy will provide “a major step forward in making Baltimore city safer, fairer, and more equitable, and even more just.”

The Office will continue to take action against felony cases involving the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, though prosecutors will refer all first-time offenders to diversion programs.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Activists To Celebrate 4 Years Of Philadelphia Marijuana Decriminalization At City Hall

PENNSYLVANIA: Cannabis consumers will gather at Philadelphia City Hall on Saturday, October 20, 2018 to participate in a Pop Up Weed Garden to celebrate a bit more liberty for the plant.

Four years ago, Philadelphia Police (PPD) began issuing civil fine tickets in lieu of a criminal arrest for small amounts of marijuana.  Jeanine Campbell with South Philly NORML said, “We’re celebrating because this day marked the beginning of a new era of cannabis reform in Philadelphia.”

The bill was championed by Jim Kenney, who at this time was the at-large City Councilor, and passed with a super-majority. Mayor Michael Nutter signed the bill on October 1, 2014,  and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey implemented the new procedure on October 20, 2014.

Instead of handcuffs and prosecution, those found in possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis or 8 grams of hash/concentrates are written a $25 Code Violation Notice (CVN). Smoking in public gets a $100 CVN fine.

Arrests of cannabis consumers immediately plummeted from more than 5,000 per year to less than 600. This means there have been nearly 20,000 fewer people bought into the criminal justice system over small amounts of weed. Budget savings are estimated at more than $16 million since the ordinance went into effect.

This year, newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner announced his office would no longer charge anyone with a crime – even if they are still arrested – over a decriminalized amount of cannabis. Activists have marked the shift from the first day when U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and legalization advocate Mike Whiter met with a PPD officer at City Hall to receive the first ticket.

Two years later, on October 20, 2016, a “Pop Up Weed Garden” was staged in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Eakins’ Oval. Hundreds of cannabis consumers celebrated the plant, and a hint of newfound freedom.

This year,  advocates who worked on the effort, including Chris Goldstein, will gather at City Hall on Saturday, October 20th to mark the occasion with local consumers at 4:20 PM. Goldstein said, “It’s time for Philadelphia to begin charting the path forward for full legalization. There are hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers here in Philly,” said Goldstein, “It’s time to begin offering safe marijuana products at a low price, and allowing home cultivation.”

Philadelphia’s 2014 decriminalization shift inspired other cities to downgrade possession fines and penalties. Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, York, Bethlehem, Allentown, Erie, State College, and Lancaster have passed ordinances. The PA House Judiciary recently approved HB928 to consider the move statewide.

Meanwhile, reports from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Newark Star-Ledger have shown a recent spike in marijuana possession arrests in communities that maintain criminal prohibition.

Advocates remain hopeful that a full legalization effort, spearheaded by Rep. Jake Wheatley (D- Allegheny), will gain momentum in 2019.


CONTACT: Chris Goldstein (267) 702 3731

 

Clean Slate Act To Seal Records Introduced To Congress

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Congressman Rod Blum (R-IA) announced the Clean Slate Act, HR 6669, along with 22 original cosponsors, to seal the records for marijuana charges one year after the sentence is completed.

The Clean Slate Act is important legislation that would ease the burden felt by those unjustly suffering the collateral consequences resulting from cannabis prohibition.

Individuals saddled with a marijuana possession conviction are disproportionately either people of color or at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and it is essential that they are not held back from being able to obtain employment, housing, access to higher education, and all of the other necessities of being an active participant in their community. Having been arrested for mere marijuana possession does not make one a bad person, but rather a victim of a cruel public policy.

Click here to send a message to your member of Congress in support of the Clean Slate Act.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Manhattan D.A. Vance Ends Prosecution Of Marijuana Possession And Smoking Cases

New “Decline-To-Prosecute” Policy Follows National Review of Public Safety in Jurisdictions Where Marijuana is no Longer Criminally Prosecuted

NEW YORK: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today released the D.A.’s Office’s new policy to decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases, effective tomorrow, August 1. The policy, which is included below, is expected to reduce Manhattan marijuana prosecutions from approximately 5,000 per year to fewer than 200 per year, a 96% reduction.

“Every day I ask our prosecutors to keep Manhattan safe and make our justice system more equal and fair,” said District Attorney Vance. “The needless criminalization of pot smoking frustrates this core mission, so we are removing ourselves from the equation. Our research has found virtually no public safety rationale for the ongoing arrest and prosecution of marijuana smoking, and no moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement. Tomorrow, our Office will exit a system wherein smoking a joint can ruin your job, your college application, or your immigration status, but our advocacy will continue. I urge New York lawmakers to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all.”

The D.A.’s new “decline to prosecute” policy was distributed last week to Manhattan Assistant D.A.s, as well as to the New York City Police Department, Office of Court Administration, and public defense organizations.

DA Cy Vance

D.A. Renews Call on New York State to Legalize Marijuana

New Marijuana Policy

The full text of the policy follows.

Beginning on August, 1, 2018, the Office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases (PL § 221.10(1) and PL § 221.05). Assistant District Attorneys should use the new “DP-Marijuana” template in ACT6 to decline to prosecute an arrest. There are two limited exceptions to this policy. A prosecution may be appropriate in either of the following circumstances:

— Cases against sellers: Examples include observation sales where PL § 221.40 cannot be charged, or possession of large quantities of marijuana individually packaged for sale (10 bags or more).

— Demonstrated public safety threat: A case where there is additional information from the NYPD or from our Office which demonstrates that the individual otherwise poses a significant threat to public safety, and an Office supervisor agrees with that assessment. Examples include a defendant currently under active investigation for a violent offense or other serious crime.

Assistant District Attorneys must state on the record at arraignment that ‘the case falls within one of the limited exceptions to our marijuana policy.

Sealing Past Marijuana Convictions

In light of the D.A.’s new policy and the decriminalization of marijuana offenses in other states, the D.A.’s Office has been working with public defense organizations and criminal justice stakeholders to proactively seal past marijuana convictions en masse in Fall 2018.

Ending the Prosecution of Low-Level Offenses

Since 2010, D.A. Vance has markedly reduced unnecessary incarceration and collateral consequences in the justice system by ending the prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level offenses annually.

On February 1, 2018, D.A. Vance ended the criminal prosecution of subway fare evasion (known as “turnstile-jumping”), except in limited cases where there is a demonstrated public safety reason to prosecute the offense. In 2017, the D.A.’s Office prosecuted more than 8,000 fare evasion cases. In 2018, following the first six months of the D.A.’s “decline-to-prosecute” policy, Manhattan fare evasion prosecutions are down -96.4%. The D.A.’s policy also contributed to a 90% reduction in arrests for fare evasion in Manhattan. According to the NYPD, transit crime is down -4.51% citywide in 2018.

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,” the Report concludes, “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 received a 90-day Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (“ACD”), and those accused for the second time received a 180-day ACD. If these individuals remained arrest-free for the duration of these periods, their cases were dismissed and records were sealed.

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.

Study: Marijuana Decriminalization Leads To Decreased Arrests, No Increase In Youth Use

MISSOURI: State laws reducing minor marijuana possession offenses from criminal to civil violations (aka decriminalization) are associated with dramatic reductions in drug-related arrests, and are not linked to any uptick in youth cannabis use, according to data published by researchers affiliated with Washington University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Investigators examined the impact of cannabis decriminalization on arrests and youth cannabis use in five states that passed decriminalization measures between the years 2008 and 2014: Massachusetts (decriminalized in 2008), Connecticut (2011), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2013), and Maryland (2014). Data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys; arrest data were obtained from federal crime statistics.

Authors reported: “Decriminalization of cannabis in five states between the years 2009 and 2014 was associated with large and immediate decreases in drug-related arrests for both youth and adults. … The sharp drop in arrest rates suggests that implementation of these policies likely changed police behavior as intended.”

They further reported: “Decriminalization was not associated with increased cannabis use either in aggregate or in any of the five states analyzed separately, nor did we see any delayed effects in a lag analysis, which allowed for the possibility of a two-year (one period) delay in policy impact. In fact, the lag analysis suggested a potential protective effect of decriminalization.” In two of the five states assessed, Rhode Island and Vermont, researchers determined that the prevalence of youth cannabis use declined following the enactment of decriminalization.

Investigators concluded: “[I]mplementation of cannabis decriminalization likely leads to a large decrease in the number of arrests among youth (as well as adults) and we see no evidence of increases in youth cannabis use. On the contrary, cannabis use rates declined after decriminalization. … These findings are consistent with the interpretation that decriminalization policies likely succeed with respect to their intended effects and that their short-term unintended consequences are minimal.”

Thirteen states currently impose either partial or full decriminalization. Nine additional states and Washington, DC have subsequently amended their decriminalization laws in a manner that fully legalizes the use of marijuana by adults.


For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.orgFull text of the study, “Cannabis decriminalization: A study of recent policy change in five states,” is available online. Additional fact-sheets regarding the societal effects of decriminalization policies are available from NORML online.

Philadelphia: District Attorney To Cease Prosecuting Marijuana Possession Offenders

PENNSYLVANIA: Newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner has announced that his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession offense violations.

Although city policy has already decriminalized most minor marijuana possession offenses, police have continued to make several hundred possession arrests annually. Going forward, the DA’s office will drop these charges. Krasner said that the change in policy is “the right thing to do.”

His actions come days after Seattle city officials announced their intentions to vacate the criminal convictions of minor marijuana possession offenders. In recent days, city officials in both San Francisco and in Alameda County, California have also announced plans to automatically reduce or expunge thousands of past marijuana convictions.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.