Earlier today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that local and state law enforcement would no longer be able to use federal asset forfeiture laws to seize and keep property without evidence of a crime.
According to the Washington Post:
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
The old policy allowed law enforcement to take and keep people's cash and property on the pretense of things like the scent of marijuana, even if none is found in their possession. Since the proceeds go directly to local police budgets, some argue that this was one of the primary reasons for law enforcement's continued opposition to marijuana policy reform.
The impending departure of Eric Holder from the attorney general’s office has had many people analyzing his actions regarding the drug war during his tenure at the Department of Justice. Despite being present for some meaningful reforms, many think that Holder could have done so much more. According to Eric Sterling’s critique of Eric Holder’s drug policy record:
“Since Holder’s resignation yesterday, many advocates of drug policy reform are giving Holder high marks for his accomplishments, especially when compared to his recent predecessors. But taken on his own terms, Holder was a weak attorney general, and late to push for what he probably knew in his heart to be the right course of action. He failed to use his very close relationship with the president to improve and rationalize the criminal justice system and US drug policy sufficiently that these reforms would have acquired a permanence and acceptance—and that would have ensured his legacy. Holder’s legacy is more words than deeds.”
Read the rest of the critique here.
Eric Holder Reigns in DEA Chief Michele Leonhart for Undermining Obama’s Position on Marijuana Sentencing
In recent talks with Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA Chief Michele Leonhart was encouraged to tone down the Drug War propaganda she has been advancing since the Obama administration did not sue the state of Colorado for legalizing marijuana. Since then, she has taken several public stands against the administration’s rhetoric on marijuana legalization and, more recently, lessening the punishment of people who commit federal drug crimes.
According to Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and Ryan Grim, Leonhart was "called in" by Holder for a "one [on] one chat about her recent insubordination." As a 34-year bureaucrat of the DEA, Leonhart is having a hard time shifting her tone away from the DEA’s aggressive stance against illegal drugs.
Since the talks, Leonhart has said she “supports the Attorney General’s sentencing reform initiative to ensure those sentences are imposed appropriately” through legislation like the Smarter Sentencing Act. This type of legislation would save taxpayers billions of dollars and keep thousands of people out of jail for certain types of nonviolent crimes, like marijuana use, by eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing.
Michele Leonhart’s alignment with the Obama administration’s stance on drug sentencing and marijuana policy creates cautious optimism for change in the prosecution of unnecessary federal arrests.
Colorado lawmakers moved the marijuana industry away from its cash-only roots on Wednesday when they approved the world’s first financial system for marijuana businesses. The plan sets up a network of uninsured cooperatives, which gives the industry an avenue to basic banking services.
Even in light of Eric Holder’s comments on banking, marijuana businesses have still had a hard time finding banks to even let them open checking accounts, for fear of committing a federal crime. According to an AP article by Kristen Wyatt, “Shop owners in the state say a small number of credit unions will do business with them, too, though no banks or credit unions have said so publicly.”
Colorado’s new plan for banking would let marijuana business pool money in cooperatives, which would let stores accept credit cards and checks. However, these co-ops would need U.S. Federal Reserve approval first.
The plan has bipartisan support, partially because it gives the state the ability to audit marijuana shops and make sure they are paying taxes. Even Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the plan, and has pledged to sign it into law once he receives the final language of the bill.
Establishing a co-op-based banking system for marijuana businesses reduces the risk of crime by moving large cash reserves out of stores and into banks. It makes the industry more accountable and establishes a system that other states can follow as they begin to tax and regulate marijuana.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to craft regulations that would allow banking services for legitimate marijuana businesses throughout the country. Banks and credit card companies have been wary of working with marijuana businesses for fear of federal prosecution and loss of licensing, causing serious issues with public safety and hampering the growth of the industry. Advocates are hopeful that this statement directly from Holder, proposing regulations instead of guidance memos, signals a growing tolerance of marijuana policy reform among the states.
MPP’s Dan Riffle discussed the issues facing marijuana businesses on Marketplace on NPR this morning.
The US has been the major proponent for the international war on drugs, yet Eric Holder resisted pressure from the UN to sue Washington and Colorado over regulating marijuana last March. Now, a rough draft of a document detailing the United Nation’s future plans for combating illicit drug use has been leaked and reported by the Guardian.
The document, still a rough draft, is meant to ultimately form the UN’s statement on drug policy to be released in the Spring. The draft shows some difference of opinion, particularly among South American countries. According to the document, many countries are ready to end the United States-led plan of prohibition and focus on rehabilitation and treatment for drug users. Columbia, Guatemala, and Mexico have argued that prohibition allows the market to be controlled by dangerous cartels, while Venezuela is calling for a discussion of the economic implications of current drug policy. The European Union also indicated that the final document should include treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug dependent offenders.
Support for a policy shift from incarceration to treatment has been growing steadily over the years according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which cites statements from international leaders and a 2002 committee for the European Parliament, among other indicators. Apparently, the now clear difference in opinion is anything but new.
"The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake," said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. "The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it's interesting to see now what they are arguing about."
Click here to read more about international marijuana policies.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would avoid prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenders with harsh charges that carry mandatory minimums.
Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.
Now, the DOJ has taken another step and announced that the new policy will also apply to persons who have been charged but not yet tried and persons who have been tried but not yet sentenced. The attorney general instructed his prosecutors to re-file charges in these cases so that low-level offenders will not be subjected to disproportionate sentences.
I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt.
This announcement comes in the wake of a statement by the DOJ last month that the federal government would allow states to continue with their plans to regulate and tax marijuana without interruption, so long as they meet certain criteria.
At a press briefing Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition," said MPP director of federal policy Dan Riffle. "The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana.
“We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision. It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation's broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
While the memo reiterates that marijuana use and distribution are still in violation of federal law, it lays out the priorities for the Department of Justice in states where marijuana policy differs from federal law:
- the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
After the last memo issued by Cole regarding state medical marijuana law and federal enforcement, states with very clear policies in place to control and regulate marijuana distribution saw little or no interference. This latest memo seems to echo that position in the cases of Washington and Colorado for adult use, so hopefully we can expect the Department of Justice to continue this trend moving forward.
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on 'Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws'
UPDATE: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will testify at the hearing.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws." Sen. Leahy has reportedly invited U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to speak to the committee.
The hearing is scheduled for September 10 at 10 a.m. ET in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Sen. Leahy has said he believes state laws making marijuana legal for adult or medical use "should be respected."
MPP's director of government relations Dan Riffle had this to say:
"Two states have made marijuana legal for adult use and are establishing regulated systems of production and distribution. Twenty states plus our nation's capital have made it legal for medical use. By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws.
"Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that. It's time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the 'reefer madness' policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st century."
This could be a really big deal. We'll keep you posted.
In the latest move of the Obama Administration’s incomprehensible attack on medical marijuana, U.S. attorneys announced today that they will begin to prosecute media outlets that publish advertisements for medical marijuana! It seems that when it comes to medical marijuana users, or the states in which they live for that matter, the Bill of Rights means practically nothing.
First, there was the memo released by the ATF this month warning firearms dealers that it was against the law to sell guns or ammunition to medical marijuana patients, effectively eliminating the Second Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. Then on Friday, when the U.S. attorneys from California unveiled their intent to shut down the medical marijuana industry and drive patients into the hands of gangs and other illicit dealers, they said that one of their core tactics was to intimidate landlords and property owners who rent to dispensaries by threatening them with seizure of their assets. While this may not be a direct violation of the law (unfortunately), it certainly treads on the spirit of the Fourth Amendment’s protections of life, liberty, and property. Now, those same attorneys are stomping on the First Amendment as well.
The actions of the Department of Justice are simply baffling.
In its vain and misguided attempt to stymie medical marijuana and stop the reform movement from making any further policy gains, the DOJ is basically trying to shut down two industries that make money, employ many people throughout California, and earn tax revenue for a state in a disastrous economic situation. Neither of these moves makes any sense. Shutting down the medical marijuana industry is not going to stop marijuana production. Denying them the ability to advertise by prosecuting those who publish the ads will not stop marijuana distributors from making a profit. It will, however, be disastrous for the publishing industry. Both the medical marijuana and publishing industries provide much-needed jobs and revenue to California. These methods are quite simply poor tools to accomplish an illegitimate goal. The fact that the media, which has the ability to sway public opinion against the administration, is being targeted seems particularly stupid.
Now, there are of course justifiable reasons for not allowing advertisement for some illegal activity. It is interesting to note, however, that pharmaceutical companies that sell drugs for billions in profits (the very reason the DOJ claims the marijuana industry is so evil) are allowed to advertise freely in all mediums.
Constitutional and federal law aside, it is morbidly fascinating from a philosophical standpoint that the administration is subverting the right to use marijuana to treat one’s illness by attacking two other, more deeply-held rights. After all, it certainly seems that more Americans care about free speech and property rights than they do about bodily autonomy. Will this policy end up being counterproductive to the stated goals of the administration?
Probably. Just like every facet of prohibition, it is pretty much doomed to failure in the long run.
If you’d like to tell the president how you feel about this, please go here or call (202) 456-1111.