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Federal Marijuana Cases Drop Sharply, New Report Shows

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Federal criminal cases focused on marijuana have fallen sharply since states began legalizing cannabis, even though drug crimes continue to consume the bulk of the federal caseload, new data shows.

report from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) released on Tuesday revealed that drug crimes remain the most common type of federal criminal cases, accounting for about 30 percent. The USSC reported that 92 percent of these drug cases involved trafficking.

Even so, 1,301 federal drug cases “involved a conviction for the simple possession of a drug.”

The report, which does not include information about state criminal prosecutions, showed a downward trend in federal criminal cases overall. That includes drug cases, which dropped about four percent since fiscal year 2016—the fifth year in a row that drug cases have declined. Drug crimes involving cocaine and methamphetamine were up slightly, but those involving marijuana fell sharply.

“The number of marijuana cases [3,854] represents a 25.3 percent decline from the year before. Marijuana cases have declined by 45.8 percent since fiscal year 2013.”

Another interesting decline concerns mandatory minimum sentences. About 44 percent of drug offenders were convicted of crimes that carried a mandatory minimum—the lowest percentage since the USSC began collecting that data in 1993. Marijuana offenders were generally given the shortest sentences, averaging 29 months of imprisonment.

But what accounts for the substantial decline in marijuana cases?

Several factors may be at play. Federal marijuana cases have dropped almost 50 percent since 2013—the same year that former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memorandum, colloquially known as the “Cole memo,” to federal prosecutors on marijuana enforcement priorities. The document has generally been interpreted as a message to U.S. attorneys not to prosecute people complying with state cannabis laws.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo in January, but he later said it wouldn’t necessarily lead to an increase in federal marijuana cases. The Justice Department doesn’t have the resources to take on “routine cases,” he said.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that he viewed the trend as a reflection of “shifting federal priorities among both U.S. drug enforcement and border agents” and “may also be attributable to the reality that international drug trafficking organizations in recent years, following the advent of legalization in several U.S. jurisdictions have largely shifted their efforts away from marijuana.”

In other words, more of the market for cannabis is now being supplied by people following new state laws, so there are fewer people for the feds to prosecute in marijuana trafficking cases.

According to a separate 2018 DEA report, federal seizures of indoor and outdoor grown marijuana fell 37 percent from 2016 to 2017.

“As more and more states move toward regulating domestic cannabis, one can presume that the market for imported cannabis will continue to decline and that the U.S. cannabis market will become of even less interest to [drug trafficking organizations],” Armentano said.

It should be noted that federal marijuana cases account for a small fraction of cannabis enforcement in the United States overall, the bulk of which is done on the state and local levels. For example, there were more than 580,000 arrests for marijuana nationwide in 2016.

Trump Administration Makes It Harder To Track Marijuana Arrests (But We Did It Anyway)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording

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President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.

“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.

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Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote

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Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.

By , The Texas Tribune

The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”

The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.

“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.

The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.

The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.

The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.

Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.

But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests

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Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

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Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.

“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”

“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”

Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.

He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.

That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.

At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”

“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.

Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization

Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrew_Yang_(48571382196).jpg

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