This Weed in News, July 28, 2018: Police Focus on the Bigger Things; WV Democrat Soldiers on For Legalization; RI Will Expunge Marijuana Offenses

This Weed in News is Monterey Bud’s weekly column offering his thoughts on the crucial stories of the week. Each Saturday, Monterey Bud recaps the news and tells us why he cares (and why we should, too).

A recent study indicates police are better able to solve crimes when marijuana is legal, a West Virginia congressional candidate sees higher poll numbers as he cultivates support for legalization and Rhode Island’s governor signs legislation to expunge past convictions for weed.

Cultivating the roots of legalization, here’s a closer look at the marijuana headlines for the week of July 28, 2018.

Study Finds Legal Marijuana Equals Better Policing

Shocking few and pleasing many, a new study published this week by the peer-reviewed journal Police Quarterly substantiates the hypothesis that legalization is better than prohibition when it comes to safety:

“Our models show no negative effects of legalization and, instead, indicate that crime clearance rates for at least some types of crime are increasing faster in states that legalized than in those that did not.”

The study, performed by the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University in Pullman scrutinized what authorities call clearance rates to assess the effectiveness of law enforcement. According to the report, the clearance rates are “the ratio between the number of crimes solved and the total number of crimes recorded by the police.”

Published Wednesday, July 4, 2018, the report discovered statistically significant improvements in the clearance rates for real crimes once marijuana was legalized. Significantly more serious than a marijuana offense, those crimes getting more attention and getting cleared from the record include aggravated assault, burglary, rape, robbery, and larceny.

Institutionalized by Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger nearly 80 years ago as a means of controlling people of color, marijuana prohibition continues to be a national disgrace. And with this study, it appears that even some police forces understand this. By eliminating marijuana from the war on drugs, municipalities and police forces would have more funds to reallocate towards dealing with violent crimes and more dangerous drugs, such as methamphetamines.

Anxious to “start kicking in doors that are actually worthy of our boots,” Justin Freeman, a former police officer wrote on law enforcement portal site, “Don’t let me catch you lumping casual tokers with meth users, unless you like being laughed at and lectured. I’ve seen them both. One of these things is not like the other.”

West Virginia Candidate Gets Bump In Polls After Supporting Legalization

West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda, a former US Army paratrooper, is used to fighting uphill battles. The Democratic nominee for the state’s 3rd US House District, Ojeda hopes to win the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins, then push to legalize recreational marijuana

Ojeda will take on Republican Carol Miller on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in a district that President Trump dominated in 2016. And while many politicians have hoped on the legalization bandwagon as we approach the general election, Ojeda is the real deal. An early proponent of medical marijuana in West Virginia, Ojeda’s campaign website notes that enacting medical marijuana “was only the beginning.”

As politicians rush to pander for your marijuana vote this November, there remains a serious credibility gap for some. While Ojeda has earned his medical marijuana “street cred” by fighting for his constituents’ right to medicate with cannabis, other politicians claiming the mantle of “reformer” lack the same credentials.

Example: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance, has historically opposed legalization. As political pressure on Cuomo continues to mount over legalization, the governor utilized a positive report from the New York Department of Health to insinuate legalization was is on its way.

While it’s great news that some politicians can experience an “epiphany” and suddenly see the error of their ways, chances are it’s more about political expediency than a true moment of enlightenment.

Rhode Island Governor Enacts Expungement Bill

Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed a bill into law that allows people to petition courts to have their past marijuana convictions expunged from their criminal record.

Taking another progressive toward marijuana acceptance, elected officials first decriminalized minor marijuana possession in 2013. “Since the state has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, the new law means many Rhode Islanders will not be haunted needlessly by records for a decriminalized act,” said a July 2018 press release from the Rhode Island General Assembly.

While it’s legal to possess recreational marijuana in nine states plus the District of Columbia, the current process to expunge past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana offenses has been overly burdensome. This leads us to ask, after 80 years of prohibition and social injustice, shouldn’t expungement of past minor offenses be automatic?

In Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Oregon, elected officials have embraced legislation to vacate past minor marijuana offenses once the offenses have been petitioned by an individual. This method was considered not effective enough by the district attorneys of San Francisco and San Diego County, both of whom announced in January 2018 they would expunge and dismiss thousands of misdemeanor and felony marijuana possession cases automatically, without the need of petitions from individuals.

While expunging past convictions is a necessary first step, state and local governments should implement stronger, swifter policies that help return the lives of individuals who have suffered disproportionately during the war on drugs.

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