Tax and Regulate

TOMORROW (Wed. 5/29): Rhode Island’s House Finance Committee to hear cannabis equity bills

We have known for years that marijuana prohibition laws disproportionately harm communities of color. A 2013 ACLU report analyzing FBI arrest data found that black Rhode Islanders were nearly three times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana possession from 2001 to 2010.

State Representatives Anastasia Williams and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell have introduced legislation (H 5795, H 6069, H 6070, and H 6073) to address the disparate impacts of marijuana prohibition, and tomorrow afternoon, the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing to discuss their proposals. Collectively, the bills would direct regulators to study the disproportionate harms of marijuana arrests, establish programs to assist business applicants who have been affected, create an economic opportunity fund for reinvestment in communities most harmed by prohibition, and require marijuana business licenses to be distributed more equitably.

You can find details about the hearing and links to each of the bills here. If you are able to attend, please consider testifying in support of cannabis equity in front of the committee. The committee will meet at roughly 4:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, May 29) in Room 35 of the State House (82 Smith Street, Providence).

Thank you.

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National Crime Data Shows Marijuana Arrests Dropping, Still Happen More Than Once a Minute

The FBI just released its annual Crime in the United States report, detailing national crime data for 2015. According to the report, marijuana arrests are at a two decade low. This is definitely a good sign, but even one marijuana arrest is too many, and more than one marijuana arrest occurs every minute.fbi

Huffington Post reports:

...authorities in the U.S. made 643,000 arrests for marijuana-related charges in 2015 ― or about one every 49 seconds. Charges related to the drug accounted for 5.9 percent of all arrests, and about 43.2 percent of all drug arrests. 

The number of marijuana arrests has been generally decreasing since peaking in 2007. That year, police made 872,720 total arrests related to the drug, including 775,137 for possession. Just about 574,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2015 involved possession, and arrests for the sale and manufacture of the drug reached a nearly 25-year low.


Opponents to legalization often downplay the significance of marijuana arrests, arguing that they don’t lead to severe punishments and that a very small percentage of Americans wind up jailed for low-level marijuana offenses. 

Yet a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance found that getting arrested for marijuana can still significantly affect a person, even though marijuana-related penalties have been scaled back in many places over recent years. 

“A marijuana arrest is no small matter,” reads the report, which also shows that most people arrested for marijuana are held in jail for a day or more. Many are also branded with a permanent criminal record, which can hurt their employment status and access to education and housing. 

Additionally, a one-year HuffPost analysis of jail deaths found that several inmates arrested on a marijuana offense died behind bars.

Such arrests are also costly ― authorities spend approximately $3.6 billion annually enforcing laws against marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

With five states considering initiatives to regulate marijuana like alcohol in November, another three voting on medical marijuana initiatives, and lobbying efforts planned in dozens of states next year, we could start to see those numbers drop even more in the coming years. There is still much work to do.


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New Hampshire Man Dies While In Jail for Marijuana Possession

Just days after the New Hampshire House approved a bill that would remove the threat of arrest for low-level marijuana possession, a man in jail on a possession charge died of unknown causes in his cell.

NHPR reports:

A homeless man jailed for marijuana possession and unable to come up with the $100 cash bail was found dead in his cell at the Valley Street Jail in Manchester Sunday.

[caption id="attachment_9681" align="alignright" width="225"]pendleton Jeffrey Pendleton (Photo: NH-ACLU)[/caption]

Jeffrey Pendleton, 26, was found unconscious in his cell during a routine head count. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

In a press release Monday, jail officials say there were no apparent signs of distress.

An investigation into the cause of death is ongoing.

Pendleton had been in jail since Wednesday, a day after Nashua police arrested him on a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession.

While the cause of death is currently unknown, this young man might still be alive if he hadn't been jailed for possessing a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol.

We need to make sure this never happens again in the Granite State. If you are a New Hampshire resident, please contact your senators and urge them to support decriminalizing marijuana possession.

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NOBLE President Takes Marijuana Laws to Task

Jul 16, 2014 Kate Zawidzki

ACLU, John Dixon III, LEAP, Neil Franklin, Noble

[caption id="attachment_7873" align="alignright" width="150"]John-Dixon Chief John Dixon III[/caption]

The president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) expressed on Tuesday that he believes marijuana laws are total failures, reports John Dixon III is a police chief from Petersburg, VA and spoke at the annual NOBLE conference, saying that law enforcement is too concerned with arresting people for minor marijuana offenses that can irreparably harm those who are charged. He said, “We, as law-enforcement professionals, we need to really take a look at how we can decriminalize marijuana, especially user amounts. We are locking people up for a dime bag, for a joint. They’re put in the criminal-justice system which pretty much ruins the rest of their lives.” Dixon went on to discuss how he believes that medical professionals should be in charge of dealing with drug use and addiction, commenting, “Why do I have to lock you up for that? What benefit am I giving you, then? We have to get out of the business. That should be the focus of the medical field.”

The ACLU and others have noted that marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced against minorities across the country, despite similar use rates across racial demographics.

Dixon is far from the only law enforcement officer expressing his displeasure with prohibition. Major Neil Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), attended the seminar on Tuesday and insisted that law enforcement officers push to decriminalize marijuana by giving voice to the problems marijuana laws pose as seen by those who deal with them in the field every day.


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Prohibition||Tax and Regulate

Oregon Marijuana Petition Hits Goal of 100,000 Signatures

Jun 20, 2014 Kate Zawidzki

ACLU, NAO, Oregon

The movement to make Oregon one of the next states to make marijuana legal got a major boost Wednesday when the petition to put the question on the ballot received 100,000 signatures, reports Gant Daily.The measure is backed by New Approach Oregon (NAO), which reported the collected signatures exceeded the minimum 87,213 required to qualify for the ballot on Monday. The ballot initiative, called the Control, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act, would strictly regulate marijuana sales and possession for adults over 21 years old. If passed, it would allow for possession of up to eight ounces and growing up to four plants. Sales of marijuana would be taxed at $35 an ounce and $5 per plant.

The ACLU of Oregon has thrown its support behind the petition. Their executive director, David Fidanque, commented, “We need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars arresting and searching people in Oregon just because they use marijuana. Prohibition hasn’t worked and it never will. It’s time to be honest about that and take a path that makes sense.” This was in response to a recent ACLU report, which claimed that Oregon’s law enforcement had stepped up its marijuana citations and arrests by 45% since 2001. This was the fifth highest in the nation. The NAO believes this endorsement will help them to get the ballot initiative passed in November.

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D.C. Decriminalizes Marijuana

Moments ago, the Washington, D.C. City Council voted to decriminalize marijuana possession!alert_sidebar_dc_decrim

The measure removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replaces them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts of marijuana, and it specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. Public use of marijuana would remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The bill goes into effect this summer.

This means that, outside of Washington and Colorado, marijuana penalties are now less punitive in our nation’s capital than anywhere else in the country.

Washington, D.C. has the nation’s highest arrest rate for marijuana possession, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blacks accounted for 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates. The ACLU’s analysis concluded that enforcing marijuana possession laws, which make up nearly half of all drug offenses, costs the District more than $26.5 million per year. Hopefully, this new bill will have an immediate impact on this injustice.

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Maryland Governor Suffering From Reefer Madness

[caption id="attachment_7374" align="alignright" width="128"]O'malley Gov. Martin O'Malley[/caption]

Gov. Martin O’Malley has stated repeatedly that he opposes decriminalizing marijuana, a sensible measure already adopted by 16 other states, including red states like Nebraska and Mississippi. Gov. O’Malley does not support measures being considered in the legislature that would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. One such bill passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote last year, but the House never took it up.

Gov. O’Malley needs to hear that caging people, entangling them in the justice system, and burdening them with criminal records for life, simply because of a few joints, is a waste of law enforcement resources. The ACLU of Maryland estimates that $106 million is wasted annually on enforcing marijuana possession laws. Criminalizing marijuana has destroyed lives, making it difficult for people to find a job or even get housing. These anti-marijuana laws also disproportionately target African Americans.

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Tax and Regulate

Arizona Bill to Regulate Marijuana Introduced

Feb 06, 2014 Kate Zawidzki

ACLU, Arizona, HB 2558, Rep. Ruben Gallego

[caption id="attachment_7327" align="alignright" width="237"]gallego Rep. Ruben Gallego[/caption]

Rep. Ruben Gallego has introduced HB 2558, which would end the prohibition of marijuana in Arizona. The bill would allow adults to use, possess, and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana with no penalty, and set up a taxed and regulated market for marijuana production and sale.

If you are an Arizona resident, please urge your state legislators to support HB 2558!

Marijuana prohibition has been just as ineffective, inefficient, and problematic as alcohol prohibition. Poll after poll after poll has shown that Americans are ready for a new, more sensible approach. By regulating adult use, the state can generate much-needed revenue for the state budget, replace the underground market with regulated businesses, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crime.

Additionally, the state can save a staggering amount of taxpayer money in the process. In 2010, there were 16,631 arrests for marijuana possession, according to statistics provided by state law enforcement to the FBI. That same year, according to recent research conducted by the ACLU, the state spent nearly $86 million enforcing marijuana possession laws. It’s time for a better approach in Arizona.

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Medical Marijuana||Prohibition

Arizona Prosecutor's Ignorance Interferes With Treatments For Five-Year-Old Patient

[caption id="attachment_7097" align="alignright" width="219"]Weltons Jennifer, Zander, and Jacob Welton[/caption]

Jacob and Jennifer Welton have filed a suit against the state of Arizona to allow their five-year-old son to be allowed to take marijuana extracts for his seizures disorder. Arizona has already passed a medical marijuana law, which permits qualifying patients to use any preparation of marijuana in their treatment. However, local providers have ceased carrying his medicine after warnings from the local prosecutor.

Maricopa County prosecutor and named defendant in the suit, Bill Montgomery, believes that the law only permits marijuana, not extracts of marijuana. He derives his argument from a complete misunderstanding of the Arizona law and an ignorance of the science behind medical marijuana.

In the past, Zander has consumed dried and ground marijuana mixed with applesauce for treatment. The extract is both more appetizing and more efficient, due to its high concentration and very low levels of THC compared to the other beneficial cannabinoids.

Bill Montgomery has responded to the Welton’s suit by directing them to the state legislature, which would have initiated a long and unnecessary process according to Dan Pachoda, the ACLU attorney representing the Weltons:

The normal thing is not going to the Legislature when some prosecutor is improperly, and, in our view, illegally interpreting a law that clearly decriminalized not only marijuana but things made from marijuana.

Bill Montgomery’s actions contravene the law and common sense. He is preventing a child, who is already taking medical marijuana, from taking a better, less psychotropic form of medicine. He is misinterpreting the laws of his own state and misunderstands the concept of marijuana as medicine. He is waging a political battle against parents who are fighting for the health of their child.

If you want to tell Bill Montgomery what you think about his position on this issue, you can reach him at 602-506-3411 or email him at

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Life Without Parole for Marijuana

Nov 15, 2013 Kate Zawidzki

ACLU, Anthony Kelly, nonviolent, parole, prison, sentencing

[caption id="attachment_7073" align="alignright" width="141"]Anthony Kelly Anthony Kelly, sentenced to life without parole, with his mother[/caption]

Many recent victories towards ending marijuana prohibition give hope that our justice system will stop incarcerating nonviolent adults who choose to use a substance safer than alcohol. However, even though there are now fewer people serving long prison terms for marijuana, our justice system still permits these sentences, and there are many being victimized by these harsh policies across the country.

The ACLU recently released a report called “A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” including stories of people who have been sentenced to serve life sentences without parole for non-violent marijuana offenses. States are able to pursue a sentence of life without parole if a person has multiple offenses on his or her record, even if those are also nonviolent. As a result, nonviolent, productive members of society are locked away for their entire lives for being associated with a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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