Clarence Thomas Suggests Marijuana Laws Are Outdated

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday said that federal laws against the sale and cultivation of marijuana are inconsistent, making a national prohibition unnecessary, reports CNBC. The court’s decision not to hear a new case related to tax deductions claimed by a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary prompted Thomas to issue a statement that more broadly addressed federal marijuana laws. Thomas stated that a 2005 ruling in Gonzales v. Raich in particular, which determined that the federal government could enforce the prohibition against marijuana possession, may be outdated.

Thomas referred to several policies that conflict with the 2005 ruling. Among them are memorandums issued by the Department of Justice in 2009 and 2013 that indicated the government would not intrude on state marijuana legalization schemes or prosecute individuals for marijuana activity if it complies with state law. He added that since 2015, Congress has repeatedly prohibited the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. With 36 states permitting the use of medical marijuana and 18 allowing recreational use, Thomas asserted that marijuana businesses do not experience “equal treatment” under the law.

via The Crime Report

June 29, 2021 at 10:14AM

“A whiff of pot alone no longer airtight probable cause for police to search cars in several states”

In other states where marijuana is legal, the rules regarding searches are being hammered out in the courts. In Maryland, for instance, where 10 grams or less of marijuana has been decriminalized, an appellate court concluded in April that the odor of marijuana by itself does not provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and thus the search of a pedestrian on this basis was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court threw out a drug conviction in 2019 because police had no justification for having a dog sniff the defendant’s truck, given that they had no reasonable suspicion a crime was being committed now that marijuana is legal there.

Yet last year, the high court in Michigan said evidence of illegal guns and drugs should not be suppressed, saying the odor of marijuana was sufficient to justify a warrantless search, and that the defendant initially denying having any made the officer believe he had more than the 2.5 ounces allowed by law.

And in March in Florida, where only medical marijuana has been decriminalized, an appellate court ruled the smell of marijuana was enough to justify a search, particularly if the vehicle was being driven recklessly or erratically.

via CrimProf Blog

June 29, 2021 at 03:51PM

Former Prison Gets New Life Growing – and Selling – Pot

A former New York prison that once held individuals incarcerated for drug convictions and other crimes will now be converted into a space for cannabis-related businesses to grow and process marijuana, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The former prison, located in the town of Warwick, northwest of New York City, closed a decade ago and was bought by town officials so they could choose what happened with the space. Proponents of the venture say it will bring tax revenue and new jobs to the town. However, small marijuana growers throughout the state worry the big businesses brought in will drive them out of the market.

Since the state legalized marijuana this spring, local officials have recruited seven cannabis-related businesses interested in the site. Phyto-Farma Labs LLC tests cannabis, Citiva Medical LLC grows medical marijuana and UrbanXtracts makes cannabidiol (CBD) products. Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based cannabis business, bought 38 acres of the land for cultivation and a manufacturing facility. It pledged to invest $155 million and create at least 179 jobs within three years. The county’s industrial development agency offered the company about $30 million in incentives over 15 years — a deal the agency predicts will add about $285 million in benefits to the regional economy over that period.

Small growers throughout the state worry they will lose business to the multistate companies coming in. One such grower, Allan Gandelman, explained growers need a license to plant a 2022 crop, but currently there has been no board appointed to create the licensing rules for the state. Small growers do not have the means to scale up their infrastructure to get a license in the same way other big companies can, giving them what he believes to be a head start.

Additional Reading: Legalized Marijuana Industry Struggles to Meet Diversity Goals

via The Crime Report

June 1, 2021 at 11:38AM

Cannabis Sellers Struggle to Keep Money Safe as Banks Leave them Behind  

Marijuana sales are spiking, but producers, retailers and manufacturers have no where to put their income, reports Reuters. Marijuana is illegal on a federal level, so banks won’t service the industry, but that leaves the people working in it with large sums of cash lying around, at risk of being stolen.

Legal U.S. cannabis sales are expected to jump more than 20 percent this year. Sales grew 30 percent to $22 billion last year, more than the $17.5 billion Americans spent on wine. With the surge in buyers, the industry’s employees have left some companies and people to deal with cash piles of more than $10 billion last year.

Marijuana can be sold legally in 36 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) for medical use and in 15 of them and in D.C. for recreational purposes. The sales boom has left cannabis workers with nowhere to put their money, as Ryan Hale, a U.S. Navy veteran and co-founder of cash management firm Operational Security Solutions, had to persuade a weed farmer in California to stop hiding cash in a tree. It also leaves employees at risk of being robbed.

There were at least 43 attacks on weed dispensaries along the West Coast during the last weekend of May 2020, when protests erupted against the murder of George Floyd. In April, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow cannabis firms to have bank accounts, get loans and accept credit card payments.

However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to work instead towards lifting the federal ban on cannabis so it may not make it to the Senate. Only 515 of the more than 8,200 federally registered banks and one in 30 credit unions in the United States worked with marijuana businesses at the end of 2020.

“All this cash flowing around is just a recipe for disaster,” said Smoke Wallin, chief executive of hemp health products maker Vertical Wellness Inc. “How do you account for it? Where do you keep it? How do you move it? Even in a safe, it’s a security risk for employees.”

via The Crime Report

May 24, 2021 at 11:40AM

Marijuana expungement accelerates in 2020

Marijuana expungement reforms continued to accelerate last year, and record relief has now attained a more prominent role in the broader legalization movement. As we documented in our recent report on 2020 criminal record reforms, six states enacted specialized marijuana relief laws in 2020, following 7 states (and D.C.) that did so in 2019, and 4 states in 2018. This brings the total number of states with specialized marijuana expungement laws to 23.

In Congress, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act in November, which establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal marijuana offenses. However, the Senate did not bring it up for consideration so it will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress.

In 2020, Arizona and Montana approved ballot measures to authorize expungement for many marijuana offenses; Vermont made expungement automatic for marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less; Michigan and Utah streamlined marijuana record relief procedures; and Virginia restricted access to records of marijuana possession offenses. These laws are described in greater detail below.

  • Arizona passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that requires courts, upon petition, to expunge arrests, charges, and convictions for certain marijuana possession, consumption, transportation and cultivation offenses (effective July 2, 2021) (Prop. 207). Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2862.
  • Michigan streamlined petitions for marijuana misdemeanors with a presumption in favor of set-aside and sealing for offenses that have been decriminalized (HB 4982); and provided for a rehearing or appeal where set-aside of a marijuana misdemeanor is denied (HB 5120).
  • Montana passed a marijuana legalization ballot measure that provides that a person serving a sentence—or who has completed a sentence—for an act now legalized or now punishable by a lesser sentence may petition for an expungement, resentencing, and/or redesignation (I-190). I-190 sec. 36 (2020).
  • Utah made eligibility periods and the requirement of a certificate of eligibility inapplicable to convictions for possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes (SB 121) Utah Code Ann. § 77-40-103(5).
  • Vermont authorized automatic expungement of convictions involving possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana entered prior to January 1, 2021, with expungement to be completed no later than January 1, 2022 (S.234).
  • Virginia decriminalized marijuana possession, restricted public access to records relating to past arrests, charges, or convictions for this offense, prohibited employers and educational institutions from inquiring about them, and prohibited state and local officials from requiring an applicant for a license, permit, registration, or governmental service to disclose information about them (SB 2 / HB 972). Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-250.1; 19.2-389.3.

The full 2020 report is available here.

The post Marijuana expungement accelerates in 2020 first appeared on Collateral Consequences Resource Center.

via Collateral Consequences Resource Center

February 7, 2021 at 09:08AM

Gulf War Veteran Serving Life For Selling $30 Worth Of Marijuana Challenges Sentence

Derek Harris awaits arguments in the state Supreme Court about the sentencing, which one judge called ‘unconscionable.‘

On Oct. 2, 2008, a teenage boy in Abbeville, Louisiana, led an undercover police officer to his mother’s small shack on the poor side of town to make a small purchase of marijuana from his mother’s partner. There, the officer purchased .69 grams of marijuana for $30 from Derek Harris, an unemployed Army veteran.

Four months later, a warrant was issued for Harris’s arrest. Then, in July 2009, the District Attorney’s Office for Louisiana’s 15th Judicial District, which serves Vermilion, Acadia, and Lafayette parishes, charged Harris with distributing marijuana. Harris posted his bond and then spent nearly three years waiting for his trial to begin. He elected to have a trial by judge instead of facing a jury, and on June 26, 2012, a judge found Harris guilty and later imposed a 15-year prison sentence.

Then, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office filed a habitual offender bill of information based on Harris’s prior convictions. On Nov. 15, 2012, Judge Durwood Conque resentenced Harris to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Louisiana’s habitual offender statute allows prosecutors to file to have a punishment enhanced based on a person’s criminal history. The statute has long played a role in the state’s notoriously long sentences and high incarceration rate. In 2016, Louisiana had one of the nation’s highest rates of people sentenced to life without parole, according to the Sentencing Project. In 2017, The state legislature enacted habitual offender reform which reduced maximum sentences triggered by a fourth offense.

While incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Harris challenged the excessiveness of his sentence and argued that he did not receive effective legal representation as required by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Harris now hopes to find relief in a petition he filed with the state Supreme Court on May 23, 2018.

“Nothing that he did deserved life without the possibility of parole,” Harris’s older brother Antoine Harris said in a phone interview. “I’ll be the first to say he made bad decisions. You reap what you sow, most of the time. But if you’re going to reap something, it should match what you’ve sown.”

Prosecutors wielded the habitual offender statute because of a string of prior convictions including distribution of cocaine, simple robbery, and theft of property worth less than $500. His family members insist, however, that the untreated substance use disorder Harris developed after serving in the Army during the Gulf War in the early 1990s contributed to these petty offenses.

But prosecutors have the discretion to not file a habitual offender bill of information, and Harris’s family and post-conviction attorney say that ineffective assistance of counsel by his public defender also played a part in his harsh sentence. “Had my family or, perhaps, someone close to my brother had the financial means to not have him with a court-appointed attorney, maybe the outcome would’ve been different,” Antoine said. “If everything worked out accordingly, he’d be a free man working now and doing whatever he could to better his life.”

More than a year before Harris’s 2012 trial, prosecutors extended a plea offer of seven years in prison. But Jan Rowe, Harris’s trial counsel, never communicated that offer to him, Harris later alleged in a post-conviction legal challenge. When prosecutors came back with a 10-year offer, Harris says he informed Rowe that he was willing to accept the deal.

Harris’s stance on the deal from prosecutors apparently never got back to the DA’s office. Before trial in 2012, a new prosecutor who took over Harris’s case rescinded the 10-year offer and set out the terms of another deal: 30 years in prison, even though the statute allowed for a five-to 30-year sentence. Harris declined that offer and then faced a trial that may have permanently cost him his freedom.

On Dec. 11, 2013, Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against Harris’s claim of excessiveness in sentencing. But in a dissenting opinion, Judge Sylvia Cooks said the sentence was “bereft of fundamental fairness.”

“I believe it is unconscionable to impose a life-sentence-without-benefit upon this Defendant who served his country on the field of battle and returned home to find his country offered him no help for his drug addiction problem.” Cooks wrote. “It is an incomprehensible, needless, tragic waste of a human life for the sake of slavish adherence to the technicalities of law.”

Harris had legal representation “in name only” and Rowe did not provide effective counsel to his client at pivotal stages in the case, said Cormac Boyle, an attorney now representing Harris in his writ of certiorari filed with the state Supreme Court.

“The sheer harshness of the Mr. Harris’ life without parole as an enhancement for selling .69 grams ($30 worth) of marijuana truly shocks the conscience,” Boyle wrote in briefing filed with the court on Sept. 9 of this year. “Now, the state wants to deprive him of any remedy for these wrongs.”

In a phone interview with The Appeal from his home in North Carolina, Rowe said he negotiated with prosecutors over a plea offer for Harris “probably three or four times.” But Rowe acknowledged that he had trouble keeping track of Harris, which he blamed on his client’s substance use disorder. He said he lost track of Harris for about two years until right just before the DA’s office offered its deal of 30 years, which Harris declined.

“Personally, I think that he had a future, if he would’ve given up the drugs,” Rowe said. “I knew several lawyers that went to school with him and they all said he was a great guy, great athlete, all that stuff. I really consider this the worst case I’ve ever had. I was shattered that he didn’t help himself, for the longest time. It didn’t have to happen like that.”

The DA’s office also disputes the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. In filings with the state Supreme Court, they argued that the seven-year deal was communicated to Rowe, who dutifully noted the deal and other developments in his client’s case file. Prosecutors further argued that the seven-year offer did not come with a commitment that they would “forgo a habitual offender prosecution” and is not excessive because it is in accordance with state law.

“Arguing over the length of the jail term offered is pointless,” Calvin Woodruff, an assistant DA for the 15th Judicial District, wrote in an Aug. 19 brief with the court.

As of publication time, arguments in Harris case before the Supreme Court have yet to be scheduled.

On the day in June 2012 that Judge Conque sentenced Harris to life in prison without parole, his mother stood before the court and offered a plea for mercy.

“My son is not a drug dealer,” she said, according to Harris’s brother Antoine. “What he sold the cop that literally went into the neighborhood posing as a drug addict was the equivalent of a joint or two.”

“And the judge stepped in and told my mother point blank,” Antoine recalled. “He said, ‘Ms. Harris, one joint or two joints, he sold it. He’s a drug dealer.’”

“To me, a piece of her life was gone then,” Antoine said. “She had a broken heart, you know, because one of her kids is locked up in a cage for the rest of his life for nothing more than petty drug crimes.”

But Antoine says that Derek still clings to hope that he will be freed from Angola. Although their mother died in 2015, at least Derek may one day visit her grave, he said.

via The Appeal

September 24, 2019 at 08:06AM

As marijuana legalization nears, those who left crime behind hope to clear their records


Driving downstate in 2010, Darius Ballinger was arrested with almost a pound of marijuana. He pleaded to a lesser felony, served jail time and was sentenced to probation. As a high school dropout and gang member whose father died when he was young, he admits he was a “knucklehead” without guidance, running the streets.

When a good friend and mentor died at the age of 23, Ballinger said, “I had a kind of crossroads moment in my life. His death inspired me to do something good in the world.”

Determined to take a new path, Ballinger got his high school degree and began attending college. He started his own nonprofit mentoring foundation in honor of his late friend, called Chasing23, and a related apparel company. When given a chance at a new course in life, Ballinger said, people with a criminal record will take it. Now at age 28, he’s finding success, but is still haunted by his criminal convictions from years ago.

When Illinois lawmakers acted to legalize marijuana sales next year, they included provisions to wipe out lower-level cannabis convictions — part of a nationwide movement to clear such records. But for people like Ballinger, it may not be easy.

The process of destroying records of an offense, known as expungement, typically takes months or years, advocates say, and involves getting fingerprinted, chasing down records and going to court. Those who’ve been through the process say the ordeal is well worth it, and gives people a chance to make their lives known for more than their worst mistakes.

To speed up the process for cannabis cases, by the end of the year, Illinois State Police are required to compile a list of offenders with charges involving 30 grams or fewer. Arrest records are to be automatically destroyed, and the state Prisoner Review Board will recommend whether to pardon convictions. If Gov. J.B. Pritzker grants the pardons, as expected, the court files would be sealed, meaning they’d be hidden from public view.Thousands of weed convictions will be automatically expunged in Cook County: ‘We are righting the wrongs of the past’ »

The governor’s office estimated that roughly 700,000 criminal cases could be cleared, making it easier for those people to get jobs and housing. Any cases associated with a violent crime would not be eligible.

Studies show that expungement can help reduce repeat offenses by those who get their records wiped clean. A study by the University of Michigan found that those who got their records set aside in that state were more likely to get jobs, their wages went up by 25%, and 99 percent were not convicted of a felony in the next five years The results were cheaper and more effective than job training programs.

For people such as Ballinger, who are eligible for — but not guaranteed — a pardon, Cabrini Green Legal Aid programs director Cynthia Cornelius advises waiting for the process to play out next year. If the governor does not end up pardoning their cases, they can go to court to ask a judge to vacate their convictions, though prosecutors or police can oppose their requests.

Those convicted of certain criminal offenses have long had the option to seek to expunge or seal their records, but the process can be more complicated than it is supposed to be for lower-level cannabis cases. Those who are going through the process say their experience can be enlightening for those who will attempt it in the future.

Heavyweight boxer “Fast” Fres Oquendo knows what it’s like to go through the process. Oquendo, who was born in Puerto Rico but was raised and living in Chicago, has contended for the heavyweight title, and is currently in legal disputes over canceled prizefights.

In 1994, Oquendo was 19 and a national Golden Gloves champion when, he said, he was arrested after a friend got caught with crack cocaine in his car, and he pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

The conviction nearly derailed his boxing career, and years later, when he formed the Fres Oquendo Boxing Academy for youth, his record initially kept him from working for the Chicago Park District. His attorney, Beth Johnson, said Oquendo has since gotten his court records sealed, and has formed a partnership to work with youths for both the Park District and schools.

Even sealed records can turn up when government agencies perform fingerprint background checks, Johnson said. So now Oquendo, 46, awaits an October hearing before the Prisoner Review Board seeking a pardon.

“My record has been a gorilla on my back chasing me my whole career,” he said. “I want to get it off my record so I can live a normal life.”

One woman who’s completed the expungement process said it changed her life.

Sardike Bennett hit rock bottom before she turned her life around. Raised in the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Bennett said she was smart and inquisitive and stayed in school, but got in a lot of trouble.

She ended up in a gang abusing drugs. She started by drinking cough syrup or “lean,” moved on to smoking “primos” of tobacco or marijuana with cocaine, then snorting heroin, and using methadone to keep from getting sick until she could get more heroin.

She was charged with a string of crimes, from theft to battery, and ended up in Cook County Jail. “I told God, you can take me now, is this my whole life?” she said. “I didn’t know nothing else but to get in trouble.”

While in jail, Bennett was struck by the heartfelt gospel singing of another inmate. Once she got out, she said, she let God take control of her life. She moved to Iowa to get away from the people, places and things that had led her into trouble.

With help from people there, she got clean, found work, and eventually married and had five children. She has since moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and said she has been sober for 22 years, got a real estate license and a college degree. After repeatedly running into problems with background checks when seeking jobs, Williams returned to Chicago in 2017 to seek expungement of numerous cases that were more than 20 years old.

She made two trips, one to get her rap sheet from police headquarters and schedule a court date, and then to return in 2018 for a court hearing at which she obtained court orders to destroy her arrest records and seal the court files.

“It’s like a chain broke off me,” she said. “It’s like I’m free. People really do change. That process of expungement allowed me to change.”

In light of the new law, a number of organizations are holding events in Chicago to mark the second annual National Expungement Week, starting Saturday. In addition to regularly scheduled events, such as the Cabrini Green Legal Aid help desk at Daley Center Monday through Thursday, there will be special gatherings to help people clear their records, listed at

The Chicago Expungement Clinic is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, at Third Wave Coffee, 1035 W. Lake St., in Chicago. The event is hosted by cannabis company Element 7 and NDICA, the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance, which will pay court filing fees, which cost $120 or more.

Advanced registration is required at 206-731-9139,, or Attendees must bring their rap sheet or court records.

Bonita Money, founder of NDICA, said her organization has helped people in Los Angeles get expungements, but lack of outreach, high filing fees and bureaucracy keep most people from taking advantage of such programs. She also questions whether the convoluted process in Illinois involving the police, the courts, the review board and the governor will cause people to fall through the cracks.

“If you make it too difficult,” she said, “people won’t take all the steps to get it done.”

Not everyone is thrilled with the expungement process. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police expressed concerns before the law’s passage. Kevin Sabet, CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said he supports the concept but not the law.

“People should be given a second chance after making a poor decision, and we should facilitate their ability to get a job and get back on their feet,” he said. “Legalizing marijuana, however, is the wrong way to do this.”

Twitter @RobertMcCoppin