Justice Dept. to Release Thousands of Low-Level Offenders

October 7th, 2015 1 Comment » Morgan Fox

Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that it would be releasing approximately 6,000 federal prisoners early as a means of alleviating some of the damage done by years of overly harsh drug sentencing.

Washington Post reports: 

The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.USSC_Logo

The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process.


The releases are part of a shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice and drug sentencing that has been driven by a bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.

Along with the commission’s action, the Justice Department has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.

It is unclear how many of the prisoners being released had been sentenced for marijuana-related violations, but this is surely a step in the right direction toward more just and humane drug policy.

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FBI Reports Marijuana Arrests Increased Last Year for First Time Since 2009

September 28th, 2015 No Comments Morgan Fox

The annual number of arrests for marijuana offenses in the U.S. increased last year for the first time since 2009, according to the Uniform Crime Report released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


An estimated 700,993 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana-related offenses in 2014 — up from 693,058 in 2013 — of which 88.42% were for possession. On average, one person was arrested for a marijuana-related offense in the U.S. approximately every 45 seconds (every 51 seconds for possession).

From U.S. News & World Report:

It’s unclear why the number of arrests increased last year, particularly given the nationwide sea change in attitudes about the status of marijuana and political actions that decriminalized or abolished penalties for possessing the drug.

Retail marijuana shops opened in Colorado and Washington state in 2014, where most adults are allowed to possess small quantities of pot. In November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the nation’s capital voted to legalize it, too — though penalties technically weren’t ditched right away.

Maryland, meanwhile, decriminalized small-time pot possession in October 2014, replacing arrests with citations. The nation’s largest and fifth-largest cities made similar moves, and monthly marijuana arrest rates reportedly fell about 75 percent after New York City and Philadelphia implemented the policies in November and October, respectively.

With several states — including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — preparing to vote on legalization in 2016, following Ohio voters this November, Angell says arrest numbers should soon drop significantly.

National polls generally show majority support for marijuana legalization, with larger majorities supporting states’ rights to legalize the drug or believing legalization is inevitable. 

While law enforcement was busy making nearly three quarters of a million marijuana arrests, more than 35% of murders went unsolved, the clearance rate for rape was less than 40%, and for robbery and property crimes, it was below 30%. 

The full report can be read here.

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GOP Presidential Hopefuls Debate Marijuana Policy

September 21st, 2015 2 Comments » Morgan Fox

Last week, Republican presidential candidates were asked about their positions on marijuana policy reform. While most of them responded that they would let states determine their own policies, they also stated their opposition to making marijuana legal for adults and revealed their serious misunderstandings of the relative harms of marijuana compared to alcohol and other drugs.

Here is the portion of the debate concerning marijuana policy:

Vice‘s coverage included some great comments from MPP’s Dan Riffle:

Riffle added that he was disappointed that “scientifically incorrect” information mentioned during the debate was not challenged, particularly Christie’s assertion that marijuana is a gateway drug.

“It’s troubling to have presidential candidates to be so misinformed on marijuana,” said Riffle. “The Institute of Medicine, the nation’s foremost authority on science, medicine, and health, has said there’s absolutely nothing about the physiological properties of marijuana that leads people to use other drugs.”

Riffle noted that he agrees with former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina’s comment during the debate that young people are being misled “when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer,” but not for the reasons she implied.

“It’s not like having a beer,” he said. “It’s safer. And there’s an abundance of medical and scientific research that has shown this.”

Click here to see MPP’s guide to the 2016 presidential candidates.

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Missouri Man Serving Life Sentence for Marijuana Released Today

September 1st, 2015 8 Comments » Morgan Fox

In August, a Missouri man serving a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana violation was pardoned after an outpouring of public pressure. Today, Jeff Mizanskey walked out of prison a free man after more than 20 years of incarceration.

KRCG reports:

Jeff Mizanskey walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center and into the arms of more than a dozen family, friends and supporters Tuesday morning. Mizanskey was granted parole on Aug. 10 after Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence to life with the possibility of parole in May. The only person in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a marijuana offense, Mizanskey had been the focus of an intensive lobbying effort. When Mizanskey was arrested in 1993 after selling 6 pounds of marijuana to a dealer connected to Mexican drug cartels, life without parole was an option for repeat drug offenders. State lawmakers repealed that provision in 2014 as part of a broader overhaul of the state’s criminal code.

Mizanskey said he plans to continue to advocate for marijuana legalization and prison reform.


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New Hope for Casualties of Georgia’s Failed Prohibition Policies

August 28th, 2015 No Comments Chris Lindsey

Georgia has begun releasing marijuana and other drug offenders who were sentenced under the state’s harsh sentencing laws. The new law allows those facing life sentences for illicit sales to be considered for parole. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to those facing sentences just for possession.

Following adoption of a misguided “get tough on crime” campaign in the 90’s, many Georgians found themselves in horrifically long prison terms for nonviolent offenses, including the sale of marijuana. Journalists with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that black people were an astonishing 26 times more likely to receive life sentences than were whites under these laws.

For many, the war on marijuana seems to be winding down. But for those who languish in prison under long sentences, the war could mean a life sentence.

Darion Barker (Photo: Bob Andres)

The first person to benefit from the new law was Darion Barker, sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for sale of marijuana and other drugs. Officials released him in July after serving 20 years.

But while the new law is a major step forward, there is more to do. Others just like Darion remain behind bars, many for lesser charges, including marijuana possession. If you are a Georgia resident, please ask your representative and senator to include those subject to long prison sentences for possession to be eligible for parole like Darion.

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MPP’s Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Consumers for 2015

August 26th, 2015 2 Comments » Marijuana Policy Project

FB link preview.Top 50 MPP 2015-01

MPP is pleased to announce the release of our annual list of the “Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Consumers” in the United States!

President Barack Obama is at the top of the list, followed by several 2016 presidential candidates. At least eight (and as many as 17) of the 23 major-party presidential hopefuls have said or strongly indicated that they have consumed marijuana: Jeb Bush, Lincoln Chafee, Ted Cruz, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Rick Santorum.

Nine others do not appear to have said whether they have consumed marijuana, and they did not respond to inquiries from MPP: Joe Biden, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb. Only six candidates have said they never used marijuana: Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker. Read the rest of this entry »

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Colorado Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction

August 20th, 2015 No Comments Morgan Fox

In what hopefully becomes a trend in other states, a Colorado court has overturned a marijuana conviction275px-Colorado_Court_of_Appeals that occurred just after the passage of Amendment 64.

Huffington Post reports:

A state appeals court has overturned the marijuana conviction of a Colorado woman who was sentenced and convicted for marijuana possession just days after voters approved a measure legalizing recreational marijuana in the state almost three years ago — retroactively applying the law to her case. 

Citing a decision in a previous case, the appeals court ruled that convicted criminal defendants should receive “benefit of amendatory legislation which became effective at any time before the conviction became final on appeal,” the opinion, issued last week, reads.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Illinois May Soon Be the Next State to Decriminalize Marijuana

August 14th, 2015 6 Comments » Chris Lindsey
Rauner 2
Gov. Bruce Rauner

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has taken an important step on a bill that would help thousands of Illinoisans avoid arrest, jail, and harmful criminal convictions for the possession of a personal amount of marijuana. The governor has used his authority to amend several key provisions of HB 218 and is sending it back to the legislature for another vote.

If you are an Illinois resident, please take a moment to ask your state legislators to vote in support of the amended bill.

Time is incredibly short: The legislature has just a few weeks to vote on the amended bill and is only meeting on a few of those days. The amended bill is not perfect, but it would vastly improve current law. It would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, including arrest, jail, huge fines, and a damaged criminal record. The bill would impose a fine of up to $200 — instead of the thousands of dollars possible today. Finally, the bill makes critical improvements to current DUI laws, which today can lead to a conviction even when a person hasn’t consumed marijuana for weeks before driving.

If this bill is not approved by the legislature with the governor’s changes, Illinois’ marijuana consumers will continue to face arrest, jail time, and shockingly unequal enforcement of the law.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Denver Campaign for Limited Social Use Submits Signatures

August 10th, 2015 No Comments Morgan Fox

The Denver Campaign for Limited Social Use submitted more than 10,000 signatures Monday in support of a city initiative that would allow the limited social use — but not sale — of marijuana at commercial establishments in areas restricted to adults 21 and older.

Campaign for Limited Social Use’s Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente

4,726 valid signatures of registered city voters are needed to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. The city clerk has 25 days to certify the petition.

Under the proposed measure, businesses that have a license to sell alcohol for onsite consumption would be able to decide whether to allow cannabis consumption on the premises. Businesses that choose to allow only cannabis consumption (without licensed alcohol consumption) would be subject to regulation by the city, including restrictions on location and hours of operation. All commercial establishments that allow adults to use marijuana would be required to comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which means (1) only non-smokable forms of marijuana would be allowed indoors, and (2) smoking marijuana would only be allowed in existing designated smoking areas that are not viewable to the public.

A strong majority (56%) of likely 2015 voters in Denver support the proposed initiative, according to a survey conducted in June by Public Policy Polling. Just 40% are opposed. The full results are available here.

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Missouri Man Serving Life in Prison for Marijuana Granted Parole

August 10th, 2015 1 Comment » Morgan Fox

Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man who was serving life in prison for non-violent marijuana offenses, was granted parole after public outcry and a campaign to reduce his sentence.

WDAF reports:

The only man in Missouri serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for non-violent marijuana related
offenses is now getting released from the maximum-security prison in Jefferson City, according to the man’s son.billboard Mizanskey

Jeff Mizanskey was told Monday morning that he has been granted parole, according to his son, Chris. Chris Mizanskey says his dad should be released within 10 to 25 days. He says his dad called him briefly Monday morning to share the news. They planned to talk again Monday night.

Jeff Mizanskey has already served more than 20 years in the prison for repeat marijuana offenses. He is now 62-years old.


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