Articles Tagged with decriminalization

In April of 2010, Mr. Cornell had his home raided by police where 1/16th of an ounce of marijuana had been found – not enough to roll a joint. None of the potential jurors called for the case where willing to consider convicting someone for possessing a very small amount of marijuana.[1]

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November 16th 2010, Touray Cornell from Montana, breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as Judge “Dusty” Deschamps convened his court to report that out of all the potential jurors who had been called, not one would be willing to convict Mr. Cornell. Dumbfounded by the jurors’ decision, the District Attorney quickly spoke to Mr. Cornell’s defense counsel and an immediate plea deal was made. Mr. Cornell walked out free without admitting guilt and without probation.

Mr. Cornell witnessed the power of Jury Nullification, a show of citizen’s power through the legal system have a long and storied history in America. it is the power of Jury nullification and Mr. Cornell saw a version of that power first hand.

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The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

iStock_000010324123_ExtraSmall-206x300On August 25th, 2016, the DEA administer, Chuck Rosenberg, released a document announcing the agency would temporarily be placing Mitragyna speciose, commonly called Kratom, and its two primary chemicals, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, on the Schedule I list of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act as of September 30th, 2016.[1] The DEA announced its decision after citing health and safety concerns relating to the opioid-like drug. The decision of the DEA comes two months after a report was released by the CDC citing an upswing in poison control calls with 660 reports relating to the plant between 2010 and 2015.

What is Kratom?

Mitragyna speciose otherwise known as Kratom is a deciduous and evergreen tree in the coffee family native to southeast Asia, Thailand, and Malaysia[2]. Kratom contains opioid like compounds mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine which act upon opioid receptors much like morphine.

With the passing of SB 339 in 2015, otherwise known as the “Texas Compassionate Use Act,” Texas joined more than three quarters of the states in establishing a medical marijuana program. However, many are unaware that prior to 2015, derivatives of marijuana were legal in the state. example-2-300x159

When Marijuana isn’t Marijuana


Under Texas law, marijuana is defined in the Texas Health and Public Safety Code as:

Louisiana passed two medical marijuana laws in 2016 signed by Governor Bell Edwards (D-Louisiana). These two laws were SB 271[1] and SB 180[2] both authored by Sen. Fred Mills (R- District 22). These two bills established Louisiana as the 25th state to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Louisiana’s history with medical marijuana, however, provides insights into the struggle to reform a medical program once a state has passed it.

First in the Nation

While it is mostly a footnote in history now, Louisiana was actually the first state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana program back in 1978. Passed only eight years after President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, Louisiana’s original medical marijuana program, authored by Sen. Tony Guarisco (D-Morgan City) and signed by Governor Edwin Edwards (D-Louisiana) allowed patients suffering from glaucoma and cancer to use medical marijuana.

iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall.jpgA strong majority of Texans support marijuana legalization according to public policy polling, which revealed Texan support at 58%. With some grass roots indications that Texas is ready to legalize marijuana, many question how legalization could affect the overall public heath of Texas residents. With alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences remaining a major issue in Texas, some people worry marijuana could add to the problem. Researchers have long been trying to figure out whether marijuana legalization would lead to more alcohol consumption (if the drugs are complementary) or if legalization would actually reduce alcohol use (if marijuana is a substitute for alcohol). Finally, there seems to be an answer. It is thought that marijuana use usually replaces alcohol use, and since marijuana is far safer than alcohol, marijuana legalization would lead to a net gain in public health benefits due to less alcohol consumption.

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iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgSurpassing all other countries in the world on modernization of marijuana laws, legislators in Uruguay passed a bill in December of 2013 to legalize and regulate marijuana nation-wide. Uruguay’s president voiced strong support for the bill, noting a legalized market would reduce illicit drug trade, and signed the bill into law. Uruguayans over the age of 18 may legally grow six marijuana plants, form smoking clubs of 15-45 members with a production limit of 99 plants a year, and buy up to 40 grams or 1.4 ounces each month from government-regulated retail shops. See Uruguay’s New Marijuana Laws here.

Other Latin American countries are not far behind in the movement to reform drug laws away from ineffective criminalization and toward sensible regulations. In Ecuador, lawmakers have debated a bill that would lessen the penalties associated with marijuana. The head of Argentina’s counter-narcotics agency, Juan Carlos Molina, supports debating whether Argentina should follow its neighbor Uruguay’s example.

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iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmall.jpgPresident Obama thinks marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and is less dangerous in terms of its impact on consumers. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president compared marijuana to other vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, stating “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

While the president doesn’t find the use of marijuana alarming, he is very bothered by the fact that minorities, especially minority youth, have a radically disproportionate rate of arrest and imprisonment. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties…we should not be locking up individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” A new study released this month supports the president’s concerns, finding that nearly half of all black males are arrested by the time they reach the age of 23.

What is even more surprising is that notoriously conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has also shown a recent liberalized attitude towards marijuana. Perry, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, defended Colorado and Washington state’s vote to legalize the drug, saying it is a matter of states’ rights. Although Perry sidestepped questions of whether he supported the decriminalization of marijuana, he promoted Texas’ drug courts, which offer treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders, as an example to other states and nations.

iStock_000001725183XSmall.jpgA recent report by the Partnership at Drug Free, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug Free America, found a solid majority of those polled by the organization itself, 52 percent, favor marijuana decriminalization and a vast majority, 70 percent, favor medical marijuana. The Partnership interviewed 1,603 adults. The majority of these adults (1,200) are parents of children who are between 10 and 19 years old. The report found 72 percent of mothers and 67 percent of fathers support medical marijuana.

One may be surprised that an organization focused on combating teenage drug use is publicizing report results showing favorable parental views on marijuana law reform. A deeper look into the results of marijuana law reform reveals that marijuana reform could help combat teenage marijuana use and thus align with the goals of the Partnership. For example, since Colorado passed marijuana laws, marijuana usage among Colorado teenagers has gone down. Colorado, probably the most marijuana friendly state in the nation, has a teenage marijuana use rate that is below the national average. Despite the beliefs of marijuana reform opponents that claim pro-marijuana laws will increase adolescent marijuana use, a recent report revealed there is no visible link between states legalizing medical marijuana and children increasing marijuana consumption.

The Partnership has had a noticeable history of focusing especially on the dangers of marijuana, even though the harms caused by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals far outweigh the harms of marijuana use. Past funding sources of the Partnership may explain the lack of particular focus on drugs more destructive than marijuana. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the Partnership has accepted funding from numerous tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical companies. These companies include the Budweiser, Michelob, Busch Beer Company: Anheuser Busch, the Marlboro and Virginia Slims company: Philip Morris, the Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes company: R.J. Reynolds, as well as firms associated with pharmaceuticals like Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company, and Proctor & Gamble. The Partnership reportedly ceased accepting alcohol and tobacco funding, but continues to receive support from major pharmaceutical firms, despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs cause the most overdose deaths compared to all other drugs.

iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgIn Texas, Marijuana is an illegal substance that is subject to forfeiture by the state. While this may be of no surprise, you may not be familiar with the forfeiture process and how it works. The government has different modes and methods of dealing with controlled substances. Some of these processes do not even require a court order, they occur automatically due to statutory regulation. This article discusses and describes the process the government implements after it seizes controlled substances, such as marijuana.

Let’s look at a hypothetical traffic stop situation. A driver gets pulled over and the officer looks in his back seat and sees a sizable amount of marijuana. After the driver gets arrested, the officer seizes the marijuana and seals it in an evidence bag. It is at this point that the seized marijuana is put into the custody of the police. This entire process, from seizure, to storage, record keeping, court, and then finally destruction is called the “Chain of Custody” (COC). There are very detailed and strict rules regulating how the police can handle evidence while it is in their custody. If they break one of these rules, the “chain” of custody is broken and the compromised evidence becomes subject to objection and scrutiny.

Assuming the COC is maintained, the case will end with a verdict. The seized marijuana is then subject to “summary destruction”. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.154 . Summary destruction is a process that differs among departments, but there are three certain rules that process must follow: “(1) more than one person to witness the destruction of the property or plants; (2) the preparation of an inventory of the property or plants destroyed; and (3) the preparation of a statement that contains the names of the persons who witness the destruction and the details of the destruction.” Id. After the seized marijuana is destroyed, “a document prepared under a rule adopted under this section must be completed, retained, and made available for inspection by the director.” Id. With this document, the seized marijuana is recorded and properly disposed of per statute.