Reminder: People are still sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession. With so many states choosing to legalize marijuana, it’s easy to forget how draconian the penalties for possession can still be. Case in point: The Mississippi Court of Appeals just upheld a life sentence for 38-year-old Allen Russell for being in possession of about one and a half ounces of the drug.
Russell was sentenced in 2019, after being convicted for having 1.55 ounces (or about 44 grams) of marijuana. On appeal, Russell’s lawyers argued that his life sentence amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate.”
In general, “possession of between 30 and 250 grams is a felony punishable by a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $3,000” in Mississippi, according to the drug policy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
But this sentence can increase drastically if a person has previous felony convictions.
Data recently released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency shows that federal law enforcement agents and their state and local partners seized more than 4.5 million marijuana plants in 2020, a figure that is up nearly 20% over 2019. The annual DEA report also shows that federal law enforcement officers made nearly 5,000 cannabis-related arrests in 2020, a year wracked by the social and economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the data published in the DEA’s yearly Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Statistical Report, approximately 4.54 million cannabis plants were seized and eradicated in 2020, up from about 4 million plants in 2019. The totals include more than 3.7 million cannabis plants seized from 4,151 outdoor grow sites and more than 830,000 plants confiscated from 1,286 indoor cultivation operations.
“In 2020, the DEA continued its nationwide cannabis eradication efforts, providing resources to support the 127 state and local law enforcement agencies that actively participate in the program,” the agency wrote on its website. “This assistance allows the enhancement of already aggressive eradication enforcement activities throughout the nation.”
The data in the DEA report also showed that nearly 5,000 arrests for federal marijuana-related offenses were made by law enforcement officers in 2020. That figure is up slightly over 2019 when 4,718 arrests for federal marijuana crimes were made by agents.
California saw the largest percentage of both arrests and confiscated cannabis plants in the country, a trend that continues from previous years. In 2020, approximately 82% of the seized cannabis plants and 40% of the marijuana-related arrests nationwide occurred in California. Nationwide, agents seized more than $41 million in assets related to the DEA’s marijuana eradication efforts in 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared that Senate Democrats will move forward on marijuana legalization with or without Joe Biden’s support, highlighting Biden’s lack of influence within his own party.
In a Politico interview published Saturday, Schumer indicated that Biden’s hesitation to back federal marijuana legalization won’t stop the Democrats from enacting it.
“He [Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will,” the Senate Democratic leader said. “But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”
“When a few of the early states — Oregon and Colorado — wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer explained. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well.”
“They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy,” he added.
Schumer’s remarks come after Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki noted on Friday that Biden “believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana, but his position has not changed” on broader nationwide legalization.
Researchers in the United States have conducted a study showing that a cannabis plant compound inhibited infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in human lung cells.
SARS-CoV-2 is the agent responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that continues to sweep the globe posing a threat to global public health and the worldwide economy.
Marsha Rosner from the University of Chicago in Illinois and colleagues found that cannabidiol (CBD) and its metabolite 7-OH-CBD potently blocked SARS-CoV-2 replication in lung epithelial cells.
The CBD inhibited viral gene expression and reversed many of the effects the virus has on host gene transcription.
The compound also induced the expression of interferons – cell signaling proteins that are produced by host cells as an early response to viral invasion.
Furthermore, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was up to an order of magnitude lower in a cohort of patients who had been taking CBD, compared with matched patients who had not been taking CBD.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) legalizing adult-use cannabis, fulfilling a key component of his 2021 State of the State agenda. The bill signing comes after the Governor, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced this past Sunday, March 28, that an agreement had been reached on the legislation. The bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that covers medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp. The bill also expands New York State’s existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs. The legislation provides licensing for marijuana producers, distributors, retailers, and other actors in the cannabis market, and creates a social and economic equity program to assist individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement that want to participate in the industry.
President Joe Biden’s White House reportedly has clamped down on staffers who admitted using marijuana in the past, even those from states where the drug has been legalized, with some being suspended or asked to resign, according to former staffers.
Although the Biden administration officially changed its marijuana guidelines to allow for “limited” use of the drug in the past, questions about past marijuana use were included on its background check form given to potential staffers. Some new hires reportedly were told that the White House would “overlook” anyone who answered yes, only to ask them to resign later.
“There were one-on-one calls with individual affected staffers — rather, ex-staffers,” one former staffer told The Daily Beast. “I was asked to resign.”
This staffer added “nothing was ever explained” on these calls, which White House Director of Management and Administration Anne Filipic led. “The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained.”
Other staffers report being suspended or reassigned to remote work due to their past marijuana use.
We’ve already seen the influence of these corporate interests. In some instances, many of these same people have lobbied against consumer-friendly legalization provisions, such as the right for adults to cultivate marijuana in the privacy of their homes. These corporate entities also have pushed for statewide limits on the number of licensed cannabis producers and retailers, in an effort to keep prices and supply artificially limited — and to keep the economic benefits of legalization largely out of the reach of average Americans, especially people of color.
That’s their vision of legalization. NORML’s vision of legalization includes the right to personal cultivation and mandates low barriers of entry to the cannabis market so that every American who wishes to benefit from legalization can do so. Our vision includes the mass expungement of criminal records and provides justice to those communities that have been historically most impacted by the failed drug war. Our vision of legalization stops the discrimination in the workplace against those who choose to consume cannabis in their off-hours. Our vision includes low taxes and ready access to those adults who wish to legally obtain affordable cannabis products in a safe, licensed, regulated environment.