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Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Keep Declining In Era Of Legalization, Chief Justice Reports

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While federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes increased in 2019, cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday.

The annual report, which looks at data on federal court actions during the 2019 fiscal year ending September 30, reflects an ongoing trend. Last year’s summary similarly showed a slight uptick in prosecutions of drug crimes, with declining cannabis cases.

“Drug crime defendants, who accounted for 28 percent of total filings, grew five percent, although defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 28 percent” in district courts, Roberts reported.

The overall number of criminal case proceedings increased by six percent, to 92,678.

While the report doesn’t speculate about possible reasons for the cannabis-related decline, advocates see it as a reflection of the impact of state-level legalization efforts. They argue that if more adults are engaging in state-legal activity and obtaining cannabis from licensed dispensaries—which have become lower enforcement priorities for federal prosecutors—it makes sense that there’d be fewer marijuana cases going through federal courts as the market for illegally smuggled marijuana wanes.

Marijuana sales launched in California in January 2018, Nevada opened its first retail shops in July 2017, Massachusetts’s legal market went online in November 2018 and Maine has allowed home cultivation since January 2017, for example.

“The continued decrease in federal criminal charges is correlated both to the increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana possession, manufacturing and distribution, and the evolutionary nature of federal agents recognizing the increasing political liability associated with enforcing prohibition,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Given this trajectory, it is time that Congress act to deschedule cannabis and end the failed war on marijuana. Now is the time to direct law enforcement to prosecute individuals who actually harm our society, not otherwise law-abiding pot smokers.”

In last year’s Supreme Court summary for the 2018 fiscal year, drug-related prosecutions had increased by two percent, yet “crimes associated with marijuana decreased 19 percent.”

If changes in state law are in fact impacting federal prosecutions, courts can expect similar declines going forward, as recreational sales started in Michigan on December 1, and Illinois is set to launch its legal marijuana market on Wednesday. There are several additional states that seem positioned to fundamentally change their cannabis laws in the coming year.

Between legalization efforts and general prosecutorial discretion, there are any number of factors that could be contributing to the decline in federal marijuana prosecutions. But research has appeared to bolster the argument that state reform is driving the shift.

For instance, a study released by the Cato Institute last year found that “[s]tate-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

Other signs of changing times include a closed-door cannabis summit that involved multiple U.S. prosecutors who discussed the marijuana legal landscape in September. Also, a former prosecutor is behind a campaign to legalize cannabis in South Dakota.

Read Chief Justice Roberts’s end-of-year report below: 

2019 Year End Report Embargo by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

The World’s Biggest Online Drug Survey Wants To Help You Get High More Safely

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

Politics

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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