Western journalists are providing breathless depictions of the harsh conditions facing U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner in Russia. Have none of them been inside a U.S. prison? All of the major media outlets announced recently that former American women’s basketball sensation Brittney Griner had been moved to a “Russian penal colony” after an appellate court rejected the appeal of her conviction and sentence of nine years for trying to smuggle a vial of THC oil into Russia. The sentence is draconian, but it’s not unlike drug sentences here in the United States. But that’s not the point that I want to make here. What I do want to point out is the U.S. media’s use of the term “Russian penal colony.” Other outlets have thrown out the word “gulag,” harkening back to the days of Josef Stalin.
Joe Biden’s announcement that he would pardon all federal convictions for possession of marijuana was quickly met with excitement. It isn’t hard to understand why that would be the case. Everyone knows that the United States is the world’s biggest jailer, with more than 2 million people behind bars, and that the various “wars on drugs” contributed to this dubious distinction. But upon examination, the announcement was found to be meaningless. Anyone who thought that thousands of people would be freed from jail was in for a surprise. Most convictions in this country occur at the state level, not federal, so any Biden pardons would impact a small number of people. Also, very few people are convicted solely for possession of marijuana or any other narcotic. They are usually convicted for selling, distribution, or conspiracy as well.
Joe Biden just pardoned everyone arrested for marijuana possession! Right? If you watched the mainstream media a few days ago, they lost their minds over President Biden’s incredible move to release thousands of people who were convicted of drug possession from prison! USA TODAY said, “Inside Biden’s history-making moves on marijuana.” And The New York Times screamed, “Biden Pardons Thousands Convicted of Marijuana Possession Under Federal Law.” Here are the words of the U.S.’s superhuman octogenarian president himself: “No one should be in prison just for using or possessing marijuana. It’s already legal in many states. And criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, to housing, and educational opportunities.”
Reasserting that "no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he is planning to issue an executive order pardoning everyone convicted of low-level marijuana possession, a move that drew applause from drug policy reform advocates. "Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives—for conduct that is legal in many states. That's before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction," Biden—who as recently as 2019 called cannabis a "gateway drug"—tweeted. "Today, we begin to right these wrongs." "First: I'm pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession," the president stated.
The decriminalization which is sweeping across the US carries with it the obvious facts that (a) pot is not and never has been a dangerous drug, and (b) criminalizing drugs has never brought anything positive. This suggests that those who have been victimized were done so wrongfully and therefore should be compensated for the wrongs done to them. However, victims have been predominantly people of color and American racism reappears during the decriminalization phase in the form of trivializing harms done and offering restitution that barely scratch the surface of what is needed. Prior to addressing the shortcomings for wrongful damages for marijuana laws, the US should publicly apologize for the wrongheaded and thoroughly racist “War on Drugs” and pledge to compensate those who have suffered from it in ways that are comparable to cannabis-related issues below.
On Tuesday night, New York went from being the marijuana arrest capital of the world to passing one of the most progressive legalized cannabis laws in the country. Update: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on Wednesday morning [more details below]. As expected, the State Assembly and the State Senate both overwhelmingly passed the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act, which permits adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana and grow the plant in their home. The legislation's two main sponsors, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger, had fought for the bill's passage for more than seven years. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had repeatedly tried to impose his own legalization plan on the legislation, agreed to sign the MRTA last week, as he continues to govern amid multiple scandals and investigations.
New York City - On March 4th of last year, Fitzroy Gayle was stopped by a plainclothes police officer in his neighborhood of Canarsie, Brooklyn. Video shows the 20-year-old, who is Black, begging to know why he was being detained. Moments later, close to a dozen NYPD officers sprinted toward the young man, tackling him to the ground as he cried out that he did nothing wrong. An NYPD spokesperson later claimed that Gayle was approached after he was spotted with a "lit marijuana cigarette" inside a nearby park. He was charged with possession of marijuana, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration. The incident, which drew widespread outrage, was one of 437 marijuana arrests made by the NYPD in 2020. That number is a fraction of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers arrested for smoking pot in previous years in New York City.
Augusta, Maine: Patients purchased an estimated $112 million worth of medical cannabis-related products in 2019, according to newly released Maine tax data. The annual revenues related to medical cannabis are more than the total revenues generated by the sales of blueberries, maple syrup, apples, herring, and oysters combined.
The Office of the District Attorney for Los Angeles County (population: 10 million) has announced that it will be dismissing an estimated 66,000 marijuana convictions. Some 53,000 people are anticipated to have their records expunged. Nearly 60,000 of the cases under review are marijuana-related felony convictions, some of which date back to the 1960s.
The news that cannabis is effective in treating most types of pain is shaking business and political institutions. Politicians and investors must come to grips with Big Pharma losing money due to the rise of cannabis. The findings could have huge consequences for medical practice and public policy. For example, cannabis could reduce the number of accidental overdoses and providing avenues for critically ill patients to re-enter the workforce.
“No seizure medication helped. In fact, my seizures got progressively worse over time. It was terrible. Terrible. At my lowest I contemplated suicide,” Burgess told KCTV5 News. At one point, he was taking 23 pills per day to combat the seizures with little effect. Fredonia, Kan., authorities were possibly tipped off when Burgess chronicled his marijuana-growing endeavors on Instagram.
Last year wasn’t a great one for advancing marijuana legalization at the state level. Despite high hopes for New Jersey and New York, state legislatures in Trenton and Albany couldn’t quite get their acts together, and promising efforts petered out. Illinois was the only state to approve marijuana legalization in 2019. It’s tough to push a legalization bill through the state legislative process.
Juneau, AK: Officials with the Alaska's Marijuana Control Board have issued their first-ever permits to retailers who wish to allow customers to consume cannabis on the premises. While a handful of cities in other states — such as West Hollywood, California and Springfield, Illinois — have similarly issued municipal licenses to allow for on-site cannabis consumption, Alaska is the first jurisdiction to provide state approval for such facilities.
As we have welcomed a new year, it’s worth taking a look back at last year to ponder how far the world has come on marijuana law reform – and how far it has to go. The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace. A lot of the activity was in Europe. In February, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.
Washington, DC: Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health on Wednesday held a legislative hearing, "Cannabis Policies for the New Decade," during which they considered multiple legislative bills aimed at amending federal cannabis laws. This marks the first time that members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have debated issues specific to marijuana policy reform.