Amid COVID-19 crisis, governments must free cannabis prisoners and stop arrests

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marijuana Policy Project is continuing to fight for safe access to cannabis and policies to roll back the devastating war on marijuana.

Today, MPP — along with the Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) — sent a letter urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for non-violent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, we are also calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced.

Public health experts have warned that the coronavirus poses an extreme threat not only to inmates, but also to the staff that serve them, along with their families and communities. Conditions in prisons and jails are known to cause disease and infection to run rampant, and these institutions are already seeing a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases. As a result, several localities have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for nonviolent, drug-related offenses.

Likewise, since asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus, any law enforcement-civilian interaction includes a risk of transmitting coronavirus to either party. Thus, arrests for nonviolent offenses should be curtailed until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, last week, MPP and allied organizations sent letters urging governors and legislative leaders in states with medical cannabis and adult-use programs to take necessary actions to ensure continued safe access to cannabis in a way that is consistent with public health. We’re also tracking state-level measures being taken to preserve safe access as states rapidly respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Sign our petition urging governors to ensure safe access to cannabis during the pandemic.

MPP will continue fighting for safe and sensible criminal justice and cannabis-related policies, both during and after the critical COVID-19 situation. There is no justification for arresting and jailiing individuals for marijuana offenses during this crisis, and our primary priority must now be reducing opportunities for transmission of the virus in order to save lives.

Sending best wishes for your health and safety.

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Lobbying in the Time of Coronavirus

From Politico:

With Washington consumed by figuring out how to respond to the coronavirus, few lawmakers or their aides have time for anything else.

Cannabis lobbyists on Capitol Hill are changing strategies as lawmakers leave town and staffers work from home. Politico's Natalie Fertig reached out to a few lobbyists to hear what they expect as Washington enters an unprecedented new way of working for the foreseeable future. Here are the main takeaways:

Cannabis is not a priority. At all. Every lobbyist said one thing in common: Now is not the time to be talking about cannabis, at least until the federal coronavirus and economic rescue packages are sorted out.
"Does any elected official want to hear from a lobbyist who is not there to talk about the coronavirus?" said Don Murphy of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Prior to this, I actually believed that having half a million people arrested needlessly for cannabis use warranted being a top issue. But right now, all four burners are occupied by coronavirus.”

One thing will stay the same: Murphy says he still plans to sit on the front steps of the Capitol any day that lawmakers may be heading to votes.
"I don't believe I'm going to have access to getting into committee hearings the way I used to, [and] these fundraisers are being canceled right and left," Murphy said. "So where will lobbyists go to see members? I guess I might have some company at the Capitol steps."
To read the full story, click here

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Md.: Legislature approves bill to automatically shield possession charges

Early adjournment leaves decrim fix bill up in the air — take action to keep it alive.

Good news! Both chambers of the General Assembly have approved HB 83, a bill that would automatically shield past cannabis charges occurring before October 1, 2014, in which possession was the only charge in the case. The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for final approval.

If enacted, HB 83 would shield nearly 200,000 cannabis possession charges from public view on the Judiciary’s “Case Search” website. Unfortunately, this is not a full record expungement. Full record expungement of marijuana possession is available by application after four years. You can find more information on expungement here.

Del. David Moon’s initial version of HB 83 included automatic expungement. However, it was amended in committee due to the complexity and costs involved. Our plan is to push for the stronger bill as part of legalization next year.

In light of the coronavirus, the General Assembly will adjourn its session tomorrow and will hold a special session the last week of May.

The decision leaves the fate of another important cannabis reform bill — HB 550 —uncertain. The bill would increase the amount of cannabis decriminalized in Maryland from 10 grams to one ounce, which would save thousands of Marylanders from arrests and criminal charges for simple possession.

Please take a minute to urge your senator to take up HB 550 before the legislature adjourns. Then, forward this message to other Marylanders and encourage them to do the same.

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Maryland House approves decriminalization expansion!

Urge your senators to support HB 550.

Exciting news! Yesterday, the House of Delegates approved (93-44) a bill that would increase the amount of cannabis decriminalized in Maryland from 10 grams to one ounce. It now heads to the Senate.

Contact your senator today and ask them to support HB 550!

The bill — HB 550 — would make possession of up to an ounce of cannabis punishable by a civil fine of $100 rather than a criminal penalty that carries possible jail time. Also, a person could no longer be charged with possession with intent to distribute based solely on possession of an ounce or less.

At just 10 grams, Maryland currently has one of the lowest thresholds for possession of any of the 26 states that has decriminalized or legalized cannabis. Most states have decriminalized or legalized up to one ounce, and several states have decriminalized larger amounts.

This is an important reform that will reduce the number of arrests and criminal charges for marijuana possession. Arrests for simple possession can be traumatic, and a criminal conviction can hinder one’s ability to obtain a job, housing, or a college education.

While the legalization workgroup did not recommend moving forward with legalization this year, help us make sure this important reform is achieved in the meantime.

Please take a minute to email your senator and ask them to support HB 550. Then, forward this message to your friends and family in Maryland and encourage them to do the same.

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Maryland: Bill to decriminalize one ounce of cannabis introduced; hearing next week

Ask your lawmakers to support HB 550.

Although Maryland decriminalized simple possession of marijuana back in 2014, thousands of Marylanders continue to have their lives derailed by possession arrests. With your help, that could change this year: Delegate Nick Mosby (D) has proposed a bill to stop many of these arrests by increasing the decriminalized amount from 10 grams to one ounce.

Email your lawmakers today and ask them to support HB 550!

The bill — HB 550 — is scheduled for a House Judiciary Committee hearing next Tuesday. You can voice your support for this important reform by testifying in person or submitting written testimony.

What: Hearing on the decrim fix bill, HB 550

When: Tuesday, February 11, 1:00 p.m. (Note that other bills are also scheduled during this committee meeting, so there could be a significant wait before the bill is called.)

Where: House Office Building, Room 101, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD

You can find guidelines on providing testimony here. If you provide oral testimony, you will be limited to three minutes. Please be polite and respectful and dress in business or business-casual attire.

Under HB 550, possession of up to an ounce would be punishable by a civil fine of $100 rather than a criminal penalty that carries possible jail time. Also, a person could no longer be charged with possession with intent to distribute based solely on possession of an ounce or less.

HB 550 would reduce the number of arrests and criminal charges for marijuana possession. Arrests for simple possession can be traumatic, and a criminal conviction can hinder one’s ability to obtain a job, housing, or a college education.

Please take a minute to email your lawmakers and ask them to support HB 550, and consider showing your support at next week’s hearing. Then, forward this message to your friends and family in Maryland and encourage them to do the same.

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Va.: General Election results increase momentum for marijuana policy reform

Ask your lawmakers to make marijuana policy reform a priority in 2020!

Both chambers of the Virginia Legislature flipped in Tuesday’s General Election. Democrats now hold the majority in the state Senate and House of Delegates going into the 2020 legislative session. Marijuana reform efforts have stalled in previous legislatures, but with new leadership, there is new opportunity.

Now is a great time to let your lawmakers know you want them to make marijuana policy reform a priority in 2020.

There has been increasing momentum from elected officials — including Attorney General Mark Herring, Governor Ralph Northam, and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) — to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Polling has also shown that 76 percent of Virginians support decriminalizing marijuana possession and 61 percent support ending marijuana prohibition altogether.

It is past time for Virginia to reform its marijuana laws to stop criminalizing marijuana consumers. In 2018, police agencies reported nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests. Under current law, a simple marijuana possession charge is punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Please urge your lawmakers to decriminalize or legalize cannabis in 2020. Then, forward this message to your family and friends in Virginia.

P.S.: If you have suffered from a marijuana possession arrest and are interested in getting more involved in marijuana policy reform efforts in Virginia, please reach out to

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Hawaii: Gov. Ige will allow decriminalization bill to become law!​

Ask your lawmakers to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older.

Yesterday, Gov. David Ige announced that he will allow a modest decriminalization bill, HB 1383, to become law. The bill will make possession of three grams or less of marijuana punishable by a $130 fine. Under current law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The bill will take effect on January 11, 2020.

This bill will save some Hawaiians from traumatic arrests, possible jail time, and life-altering criminal records. However, it's an extremely timid step forward. Three grams is the smallest possession limit of any decriminalization or legalization state. Unfortunately, with such a low possession limit and steep fine, lives will continue to be needlessly derailed. And, decriminalization does nothing to control the illicit market.

Ask your lawmakers to support ending marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a system in which marijuana is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.

A more sensible approach would be to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older. Eleven states — including every state on the West Coast — have chosen this approach. Hawaii is lagging behind.

By legalizing taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and older, Hawaii would dramatically reduce marijuana arrests, displace the illicit market, and ensure consumers have a safe, tested product.

Contact your lawmakers today! With your help, Hawaii can take a more sensible approach to marijuana

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Marijuana Arrests Increasing Nationally Despite State Reforms

On Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released their annual Crime in the United States (CIUS) report, and the stats are concerning.

Tom Angell reported for Forbes:

Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total.

Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year.

That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016.

That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds.

According to the same calculation, there were 643,121 U.S. cannabis arrests in 2015.

So arrests for marijuana are on the rise, even as more states legalize it.

These figures are only estimates based on the available information provided by law enforcement agencies, but represent the best current method for determining arrest rates. In addition, the FBI has ceased publishing the information about the drug arrest percentages by type of drug, making analysis even more difficult.

MPP's Morgan Fox released the following statement:

Arresting and citing more than 650,000 people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty. 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. Regulating marijuana for adults creates jobs, generates tax revenue, protects consumers, and takes money away from criminals. It is time for the federal government and the rest of the states to stop ruining peoples’ lives and enact sensible marijuana policies.

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Small-time marijuana arrests: A feast for the beast

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the CATO Institute’s “Ending the Global War on Drugs” conference. The event featured a number of prominent scholars and international leaders who spoke about the impact of the U.S.-led drug war, both here and abroad. One of my favorite speakers of the day was Dr. Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Dr. Levine has been researching the history and sociology of alcohol and drug policies for thirty years, and most recently has been working on the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which collects and analyzes data on the immense number of marijuana possession arrests that the NYPD has made since 1996. (It should be noted here that possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in the state of New York since 1977 — making it a violation, rather than a crime, so long as the marijuana is not in public view.) According to Levine, in New York City, misdemeanor marijuana possession accounts for more arrests than for any other crime, and because of the recent increase in the number of arrests, “it is appropriate to call this a marijuana arrest epidemic, and to describe what the NYPD has been doing as engaging in a marijuana arrest crusade.”

Dr. Levine’s lecture focused on the how and why of these marijuana possession arrests, explaining the various ways in which such arrests benefit police departments. In sum, police departments are pressured to show productivity, and these kinds of arrests are relatively safe and easy, involving “clean,” high-quality arrestees. Moreover, these arrests provide good training for rookies, deliver overtime pay for cops, allow supervisors to account for their underlings, and act as a net to get as many people into the system as possible, all at a cost borne entirely by the victims — the arrestees.

The federal government, according to Dr. Levine, actively supports these practices through the grant funding it provides to police departments. If departments receive these funds, they must justify how the money is spent, and what better, easier way to do that than with hordes of marijuana possession arrests? In short, this amounts to what LEAP board member (and fellow speaker at the conference) Leigh Maddox described as the “prostitution of the police peacekeeping mission for federal drug arrest dollars.” Dr. Levine suggests changing police productivity measures so as not to include small-time marijuana possession arrests. The punch line, Levine contends, is that rather than ending marijuana prohibition to put an end to marijuana arrests, it’s the inverse – by removing incentives for marijuana arrests we can move closer to ending marijuana prohibition.

But the answer of how to transform this tangled web of power, profit, incentive, and corruption remains unanswered. Sadly, such change is unlikely to be initiated by truth-telling law enforcement officers, or at least, active-duty ones. Last week, the New York Times reported on the consequences faced by two law enforcement officers who dared to express dissent with current drug policies. Both Bryan Gonzalez, a Border Patrol agent in New Mexico, and Joe Miller, a probation officer in Arizona, were fired from their positions — Gonzalez for questioning the war on drugs (specifically, the war on marijuana), Miller for expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana. Fortunately, organizations like LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) provide a forum for current and former members of law enforcement to express their frustrations with the harms and futility of our present drug policies and to support a system of drug regulation rather than prohibition. Unfortunately, many active-duty law enforcement members are reluctant or unwilling to speak out, and with good reason, in light of the sanctions faced by Gonzalez and Miller noted above.

On a positive note, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that low-level marijuana possession arrests have fallen 13 percent in New York City since a September directive issued from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly cautioning officers to lay off the wrongful arrests of those possessing a small amount of marijuana concealed from public view. Hey … at least it’s something.









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Prohibition||Tax and Regulate

Police Focus on Marijuana a Danger to Public Safety

A frequent claim made by opponents of marijuana policy reform is that hardly anybody is ever really arrested for low-level marijuana offenses. But like most prohibitionist arguments, that's a lie.

In California, where marijuana possession was “decriminalized” in 1976 and medical marijuana legalized 20 years later, the state Department of Justice reports that law enforcement conducted a record 78,492 marijuana arrests in 2008. About 80% of these (61,366) were for mere possession – not sale or cultivation.

The California-based Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) took a long look at trends for marijuana arrests in the state and revealed some disturbing information. In its recent report to the California Legislature, CJCJ showed that the arrest rate for marijuana possession has skyrocketed in California – up 127% – between 1990 and 2008. But during the same period, arrests for all other offenses in California decreased by 40% – including other drug possession, which sank by nearly 30%. The arrest rate for marijuana sales and manufacturing even decreased 21% during this period.

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You can’t help but conclude from this data that California’s police agencies have developed an almost singular focus on marijuana possession as their top law enforcement priority. This is shocking, not only because most Californians now say they want marijuana legal, but because it’s a dangerous and irresponsible use of limited public safety resources.

Last year, while California’s law enforcement officers were rounding up a record number of marijuana consumers, almost 60,000 reported violent crimes never resulted in an arrest.* Thanks to decriminalization in California, these arrests usually don't result in jail or lengthy detainment, but they do take real police time and other criminal justice resources.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have been a victim of an unsolved crime should support repealing marijuana prohibition and freeing up police to focus on public safety rather than consensual adult activity that's no more harmful than drinking beer or wine.

*Source: FBI, Crime in the U.S., 2008

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