racial disparities

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New York: State Assembly Passes Legislation To Seal Past Marijuana Possession Convictions

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Bill is First Step Toward Comprehensive Plan to Redress Harms of the War on Drugs in Communities of Color

As Legislative Clock Winds Down, Advocates and Assemblymembers Urge Senate to Quickly Pass the Companion Bill in the Senate

The New York State Assembly on Wednesday voted in support of A10092, a bill that will seal the criminal records of people who have been unjustly and unconstitutionally arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view. The bipartisan vote was 92 in favor and 34 opposed.

Over the last 20 years, more than 700,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for simple possession of marijuana. Those convicted face significant barriers to accessing education, employment, housing opportunities, and other state services.

“I introduced the marijuana sealing bill because drug laws have created a permanent underclass of people unable to find jobs after a conviction,” said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “One of the most damaging issues derived from the war on drugs is that the policies are inherently racist.

"Communities of color have been devastated by bad drug policies and hyper-criminalization for the last 40 years," Peoples-Stokes said. "It is an approach that has never worked and has caused significantly more harm than good to our communities and to our families.

Wisconsin: Marijuana Decriminalization Movement Taking Off Across State

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More and more cities across Wisconsin are relaxing penalties against people caught with small amounts of marijuana, as the decriminalization movement sweeps across the state.

Nine of the state's 10 largest cities have already decriminalized simple cannabis possession, a Gannett Central Wisconsin Media review reveals, reports the Associated Press. Madison and Milwaukee were among the first cities in Wisconsin to relax their pot laws.

Stevens Point is the latest municipality in the state to adopt and then modify a new marijuana ordinance. Last month, the city reduced the fine for first-time pot possession to $100.

Under Wisconsin law, people caught with small amounts of weed can be charged with a misdemeanor crime, punishable by jail time and a permanent criminal record. With some cities in the state now enforcing lesser penalties, those "suspects" can now face anything from up to six months in jail, to no jail time or fine at all.

Some law enforcement types say they don't support decrim because they claim marijuana can lead to harder drugs, i.e., the long discredited "gateway theory." Decrim advocates say those caught with small amounts of cannabis shouldn't be treated any differently than other minor offenders.

U.S.: DEA Administrator Chief Michele Leonhart Expected To Resign

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Resignation Comes as DEA at Center of Series of Scandals in its Effort to Continue Failed War on Drugs

After Decades of Mass Incarceration, Racial Disparities, and Failed Drug Policies, DEA Finally Facing Scrutiny

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A senior White House official has said that the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, is expected to soon resign. The news comes as no surprise to drug policy reformers who say her opposition to reform made her out of step with the Obama Administration.

“Following the official resignation of Ms. Leonhart as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I encourage the President to use this as an opportunity to fill this important role with someone who understands the outdated federal approach to marijuana isn’t working," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon. "The American public has moved on. Most now feel marijuana should be legalized.

"Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of marijuana, and more than two-thirds of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of medical marijuana," Congressman Blumenauer said. "The President himself has said we have bigger fish to fry than going after state-legal marijuana users. I would urge him to put in place a DEA Administrator who will reflect his Administration’s position and can be a partner in creating a more workable system of marijuana laws.”

Louisiana: New Directions New Orleans Brings Public Health Approach To Drug Policy

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One-Day Conference Brings Elected Officials Together with Leading Drug Policy and Criminal Justice Experts to Chart a Health-Based Approach to Drug Policy

Louisiana Leads Nation in Incarceration Rates; Prison Population Has Doubled in Last 20 Years, With Staggering Racial Disparities

An unprecedented collection of drug policy stakeholders – including judges, elected officials, public health workers, law enforcement, and community advocates – will come together to chart a new course for Louisiana’s drug policies at New Directions New Orleans on Thursday, April 2 from 9 am-5 pm at Dillard University.

The one-day conference will provide Louisianans with the opportunity to engage many of the leading minds on drug policy and criminal justice reform from across the country and around the world, who will discuss strategies for moving beyond Drug War policies and toward a health-centered approach to drug use.

“Louisiana continues to strive to become a more population health focused state, but one of the outstanding issues we face are antiquated drug and criminal justice policies,” said Joe Kimbrell, CEO, Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI). “This collaborative conference will be a strong starting point for these extraordinary partners to begin outlining what new policies and best practices we can utilize to educate our policymakers and create a safer, healthier Louisiana.”

U.S.: Republicans In Congress May Try To Block Washington, DC From Reforming Marijuana Laws

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Congressional Interference Comes After D.C. Lawmakers Decriminalize Marijuana to Ease Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

Republicans may offer an amendment to a federal appropriations bill on Wednesday morning that would prevent the District of Columbia from implementing the marijuana decriminalization law recently passed by the D.C. City Council and signed into law by the mayor in March.

The amendment would prohibit D.C. from spending federal funds or even its locally raised funds to carry out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.

Advocates quickly decried this possible attempt by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee that would interfere and potentially block efforts by D.C. lawmakers to eliminate racial disparities that have long persisted in the enforcement of D.C.’s marijuana laws. In 2010, 91 percent of all marijuana arrests in D.C. were of African Americans.

“D.C. lawmakers recently decriminalized marijuana possession because the people of the District of Columbia demanded an end to the disproportionate arrest of African Americans for small amounts of marijuana,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Any effort by Congress that would block D.C.’s efforts to reform its marijuana laws denies the people of the Nation’s Capital the democratic right to pursue racial and social justice.”

D.C.: Drug Policy Alliance Hires Medical Doctor To Advance Marijuana Legalization

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Duke University-Trained Medical Doctor To Build Community Support for Ballot Initiative 71 that Would Legalize Marijuana Possession

Organizing Focus Will Be on Racial Disparities and Societal Harms Not Resolved by Marijuana Decriminalization

Former surgeon Dr. Malik Burnett has joined Drug Policy Alliance as a full-time organizer in the District of Columbia. Burnett, a policy manager based in DPA’s Office of National Affairs in Washington, D.C., will prioritize building support for Initiative 71, the taxation and regulation of marijuana through the D.C. Council and other drug policy reform initiatives that will advance social and racial justice in the nation’s capital.

In addition to his work on Initiative 71, Burnett will work on developing policy to rehabilitate the damage which the War On Drugs has caused on communities of color, including eliminating criminal records for individuals convicted of drug possession, expanding access to health care services for the poor and formerly incarcerated, building support for the decriminalization of all drugs, and laying the ground work for broader drug policy reform in the nation’s capital.

“Marijuana policy reform is part of the emerging picture of civil rights reform in the 21st Century,” Burnett said. “The District of Columbia has historically been a leader in enacting progressive policies, and the legalization of marijuana will go a long way towards reframing drug policy around a public health framework.”

New York: NYPD Making As Many Marijuana Arrests In 2014 As Last Year

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Extreme Racial Disparities Persist: 86% of Arrests are Young Black and Latino Men, Even Though Young White Men Use Marijuana At Higher Rates

Analysis: Significant Drop in Stop-and-Frisk Does Not End Marijuana Possession Arrests; Advocates Call for Focused Plan to End Biased Arrests

The Marijuana Arrest Research Project on Friday released data showing that racially bias marijuana arrests continue to be one of the leading arrests in New York City, despite the precipitous drop in stop and frisks.

In March 2014, the NYPD under Mayor Bill de Blasio made more marijuana possession arrests than almost every other month in 2013 under Bloomberg and Kelly. New York City's marijuana possession arrests in the first quarter of 2014 are higher than in the third and fourth quarters of 2013, with identical racial disparities.

As illustrated in graphs by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, approximately 86 percent of those arrested are Black and Latino – mostly young men -- despite government studies show that young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Indeed, if this trend continues, NYPD could make as many or more marijuana arrests in 2014 as they did in 2013.

D.C.: U.S. Capital Decriminalizes Adult Marijuana Possession

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Criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession will be replaced with a $25 civil fine, similar to a parking ticket; penalties in the nation’s capital will be among the lowest in the country

The District of Columbia Council approved a bill 10-1 Tuesday that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana in the nation’s capital. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has voiced support for the bill and is expected to sign it promptly.

“This is a big step forward for our nation’s capital, as well as our nation as a whole,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which supported the bill. “Clearly, marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in the United States.”

“For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “D.C. Councilmembers took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades.”

Pennsylvania: Racial Disparities Continue In Philadelphia Marijuana Arrests

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The disturbing trend of racial disparities in marijuana arrests continued in 2012 in Philadelphia, according to an annual review of cannabis arrest statistics from Philly NORML.

The Philly affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, using data from the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, found that there were 6,614 marijuana-related arrests in Philadelphia during 2012. Of those, 4,272 were for simple possession only.

African-Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at five times the rate of whites in Philadelphia. All other drug arrests are more equal when compared by race, according to Philly NORML.

About 75 percent of the marijuana possession arrests were of people between the ages of 18 and 34. Ninety percent were male.

By comparison, whites and blacks were arrested in almost equal numbers for opiates and cocaine.

When looking at the state of Pennsylvania as a whole, of all adults arrested for simple marijuana possession, 85 percent were men and 71 percent were white. Of adults arrested for sales and/or manufacture of cannabis, 58 percent were white and 90 percent were male.

"Marijuana arrests in Philadelphia continue with a disturbing trend of racial disparity," said Chris Goldstein of Philly NORML. "Black and white Americans consume marijuana at nearly equal rates and the city's population is admirably diverse, yet it is residents of color who continue to be the focus of law enforcement."

D.C.: Washington Lawyers' Committee To Release Report On Racial Disparities In Arrests In Nation's Capital

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs on Friday will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. to announce the release of a groundbreaking report on racial disparities in arrests in the District of Columbia.

The press conference will be held at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s offices, 11 Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036.

The report, Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011: Implications for Civil Rights and Criminal Justice in the Nation’s Capital, includes a detailed analysis of more than 142,000 arrest records for the period 2009–2011. It proposes a number of key recommendations to address the identified racial disparities.

The Committee’s work on this study was greatly assisted by a Judicial Advisory Panel of Senior and Retired DC and Federal Judges and a team of lawyers at Covington & Burling LLP who served as the report’s principal authors.

The members of the Judicial Advisory Panel are: John M. Ferren, senior judge, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Rufus G. King III, senior judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia; James Robertson, retired judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia; Ricardo M. Urbina, retired judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia; and Patricia M. Wald, retired chief judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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