Category Archives: bias

Arrest records in New York City show racial bias persists

Racism persists in New York City. You can tell by looking at marijuana arrest records. This is not new, but arrest rates of young black and Latino males (for small amounts of marijuana) are higher than in any other city in the world.

Missouri Sentencing Reform Measure Reduces Marijuana Possession Penalties
Image courtesy of the daily chronic

What’s going on?

An article entitled “No Progress on Marijuana Arrests” appeared last week in the New York Times.

It explains that low-level marijuana arrest records for public possession started going down in the 1970s and then climbed back up, up, UP again. There were fewer than 1,000 arrests for possession of trivial amounts of marijuana in 1990, yet this number grew to 50,000 in 2011.

It did drop to 28,600 arrests in 2013, but that number of arrests for trivial amounts of marijuana still remains greater than ANY city in the world.

Why? What happened?

In the 1970’s police were better at following the law which dictated that arrests were not supposed to be made unless marijuana was being smoked or displayed in public. So, by the year 2011 police found a way around that and were (illegally) tricking people (primarily young black and Latino men) into emptying their pockets –and then charging them with “public possession”.

Over 86% of the people arrested were black and Latino men and 75% of them had no prior criminal convictions.

The article offers up an explanation based on a Marijuana Arrest Research Project and Drug Policy Alliance report. The reason given: “police officers patrolling white neighborhoods typically do not search the vehicles and pockets of white citizens”.

Institutionalized racism persists despite our efforts. Perhaps this article will help people who think racism is a thing of the past to understand how this situation can persist.

You can read the entire article HERE


New report documents nationwide racial, economic disparities in incarceration

“The reasoning is clear: the combination of excessive incarceration and harsh punishment is a blunt instrument for social control that perpetuates the country’s painful, historical legacy of injustice and inequality, and deprives masses of black and brown
people unfairly of freedom and opportunity. It is the site of today’s civil rights struggle.”


“The House I Live In” premieres on PBS

Monday, April 8, 10:00 p.m. HST on PBS Hawaii, Independent Lens:

“The House I Live In”

The war on drugs is the longest conflict in U.S. history — and the least winnable. It has had a particularly destructive, devastating impact on black America. And still, drugs are cheaper, stronger, and more plentiful than ever. This Oscar-nominated documentary takes a penetrating look at the profound human rights implications of America’s longest war: the War on Drugs.

See an interview with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki:


Aloha State poised for meaningful marijuana law reform in 2013 legislature

Bills give lawmakers new opportunity to take modest, sensible steps while addressing urgent issues of government fairness & efficiency

Honolulu, Hawaii –  The marijuana law reform movement is about fair, effective use of government power and taxpayer money, and it’s based on two over-arching principles:

  1. There is no federal law preventing any state from legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. Every state has a right to determine how best to invest law enforcement resources.
  2. When laws outlive their usefulness or even do more harm than good, it’s only sensible to change them.

Around the nation, state after state is considering sensible reforms to marijuana policies, including here at home: Hawaii’s legislature saw 24 bills introduced at the start of the 2013 session relating to marijuana law reform – as far as we know that’s a new record – including several bills to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, similar to reforms passed in 2012 by voters in Washington and Colorado.

At this writing, supporters of reform are urged to ASAP contact their legislators about:

S.B. 472 – to decriminalize (with proper checks and balances) small amounts of marijuana for adult possession. There are also bills moving to improve Hawaii’s medical marijuana program, look for an update on these in the next few days.

Make a Difference Now. The current system is broken. By decriminalizing, or removing criminal penalties, of small amounts of marijuana for adult use — we can begin to reduce the harm on individual lives and make better use of the criminal justice system for more serious crimes.

In Hawaii as in the nation, our marijuana laws persistently and disproportionally affect communities of color, despite similar usage rates for marijuana across all ethnic groups. In addition to the potential life-long stigma of a criminal arrest for a small amount of marijuana, taxpayers are getting hit by a daily $24,000 price tag.  Every year that goes by, over 1400 people are arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana and $9M is spent in enforcement – an investment the majority of Hawaii’s voters do not think is wise. 69% of Hawaii’s people think the possibility of jail time for marijuana is not appropriate, and 76% of voters think that we should focus enforcement on hard drugs and violent crime – not marijuana.  We simply cannot let this go on. 

Hawaii Voters Want Change Now: Buoyed by positive polling, common sense and the national trend away from marijuana prohibition, Hawaii’s marijuana law reform bills are moving carefully through the 2013 legislature. That’s attracting attention from the opposition, including mainland lobbyists who oppose local efforts seeking modest and data-backed reforms that protect youth and free up resources for more serious crimes. Fresh Approach Hawaii is a reflection of the new direction that Hawaii wants. District by district, on every island, 75% of the registered voters said if their state legislator voted to decriminalize marijuana, it would either have no impact (42%) or it would actually make them more likely to vote for their legislator (33%).

Hawaii voters are ready for a fresh approach.

Join the fight! Information, action alerts, and more:

A coalition to reform Hawaii’s marijuana laws: <
Facebook: freshapproachhawaii  
Twitter: freshapproachhi
A confidential support group for medical marijuana patients, doctors and caregivers: <
Facebook: mccoalitionhawaii
Twitter: mccoalitionhi

Ready to decriminalize marijuana? Contact your legislators now!

SB 472 is up for a floor vote in the House of Representatives VERY soon and we need EVERYONE to call or email their elected official in the House of Representatives TODAY and tell them to vote YES on SB 472.

SB 472 (known officially as SB 472, HD 1) has gone through many changes as it has worked its way down the legislative pipes.  As it is written right now (view the bill here:, SB 472 would decriminalize marijuana in Hawai‘i by removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana of 20 grams or less for adults 18 and over, and instead treat the matter with a fine of $100, like a parking ticket.

This updated proposal fixes the problems of the Senate version by reducing the fine back to $100 (instead of $1000), including ages 18 and up (instead of 21 and over), but it reduces the possession from one ounce (28 grams) to 20 grams.

Those under the age of 18, if caught possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana, would still be charged with a petty misdemeanor and could lose their driver’s license for up to one year. While this updated language around minors’ possession is not what we advocated for, SB 472 is a step in the right direction for marijuana policy reform in Hawai‘i for adults 18 and over.

We plan to use the next year to have more conversations with community members and elected officials to answer questions they have on minors’ use of marijuana and how this penalty is affecting it.

But to get to that conversation with elected officials and community members, we need to pass SB 472 through the Hawai‘i House of Representatives.  

If you do not know who your Representative is, the Hawai‘i State Legislature website has an easy way for you to find out.

1) Go to

2) On the top right hand corner is a box that says “Find Your Legislator”.  Enter in your physical street name only (For instance, if you live on 123 Jones Street, Just enter in “Jones”).

3) Click “Go”.

4) Scroll down to find your Representative that corresponds with your street name and address number.

5) Click on the elected officials’ names to find the information for your legislator (office number or email address).

If you know who your elected official is, you can easily email them by entering in “Rep” and then their last name, followed by So if Mickey Mouse was your Representative, then it would

This is one of the final hurdles for SB 472 and Hawaii’s marijuana policy change for 2013. I know it has been a long couple of months with a lot of debate not only at the Legislature, but also around Hawai‘i, in the newspapers, on TV, and around the kitchen tables.

This is the moment to show our Representatives that this bill has the support from the Hawai‘i community by telling them to VOTE YES on SB 472. Please pass this on to your friends, family members, and colleagues and get them to support SB 472 as well.  Every call/email helps move this bill forward so the discussion can continue.

Again, mahalo for all your efforts thus far in reforming Hawaii’s marijuana policies.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!


Lightening up on cannabis – Honolulu Weekly cover story

An interesting article that covers the history of marijuana prohibition and eradication efforts in Hawaii, up to this sessions’ bills to rethink laws on marijuana criminalization, safer access to our 13 year-old medical marijuana program, and industrial hemp.


HB 699 stalls, advocates working to decriminalize marijuana possession, improve medical marijuana program

House Bill 699 to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol has stalled in the 2013 legislature

The House Committee on the Judiciary met for decision making on Tuesday, 2/12/13. On the agenda was House Bill (HB) 699, modeled after the successful voter initiative in Colorado. HB 699 would have removed criminal and civil penalties for marijuana possession, and established a “tax and regulate” system for marijuana similar to that used for alcohol. The Committee chose to “defer” HB 699, effectively stalling it for the remainder of 2013. The bill remains live and could be taken up again in 2014.

Pamela Lichty, President of the Drug Policy Action Group (“DPAG”) said: “Hawaiiʻs voters have spoken clearly and strongly – they want to reform our marijuana laws. Polling shows voters overwhelmingly want a fresh approach focused on smart spending, and improved public health and safety. Specifically, voters want to focus law enforcement resources on stopping violent crime and hard drugs – instead of on low-level marijuana enforcement. While we had hoped HB 699 would pass in 2013, we are working on this issue for the long haul. It’s early in the session and anything could happen. The Drug Policy Action Group and our allies in the Fresh Approach Hawaii coalition will now turn our attention to the live bills to reform marijuana laws in Hawaii”.

A recent poll commissioned by DPAG shows a groundswell of support for marijuana legalization over a similar poll conducted in 2005. 57% of Hawaii voters favor legalize, tax and regulate strategy for marijuana, up 20% from 2005. A companion report by an independent economist shows that Hawaii right now spends over $9 M per year – over $24K per day – on the arrest and prosecution of low-level marijuana possession. The report further conservatively estimates that a state like Hawaii could generate new revenue – at least $11M per year – from regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, similarly to Colorado and Washington State. This data is clearly not lost on the legislature. A total of twenty one bills introduced this session relate to reforming Hawaii’s marijuana laws and/or improving its medical marijuana program.

Vanessa Chong, Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (“ACLU”) said: “Hawaii still has an opportunity to pass more effective law enforcement policies.  A single arrest for marijuana is a lifetime stigma that limits one’s opportunities . These laws continue to devastate the lives of individuals, especially those who are poor and people of color.  The ACLU will continue to assertively make the case for sensible and responsible reforms. Legislative measures that remove criminal penalties for marijuana would be a good first-step in this direction”.

The Drug Policy Action Group and the ACLU of Hawaii have teamed up to form two new organizations to engage and educate locally: Fresh Approach Hawaii ( for legalization and decriminalization activists and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii (

Opinion poll on Hawaii marijuana laws


Economist estimates state & counties stand to save/ generate an estimated $20M/year through marijuana legalization

(Honolulu, Hawaii) With many states decriminalizing and even legalizing marijuana, where does Hawaii stand? Two new reports commissioned by the Drug Policy Action Group (“DPAG”) sought to answer this question, and the latest findings were presented at a January 10, 2013 Honolulu press conference. Barbara Ankersmit, President of QMark Research shared the results of a statewide poll of Hawaii voters’ attitudes toward marijuana and marijuana laws. Pamela Lichty, President of the Drug Policy Action Group, presented highlights from a new report on the potential economic impacts of marijuana legalization authored by David Nixon, Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center.

The text of both reports is published at:

Respected local polling firm QMark Research was commissioned to conduct a statewide, statistically significant poll of 600 Hawaii voters. The poll occurred between November 19 and December 4, 2012. Among its findings:

• 78% support a dispensary system for medical marijuana.

• 69% think that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate.

• 57% favor legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana, 20% higher than the last poll conducted in 2005.

Independent U.H. economist David Nixon was commissioned to update a 2005 study on the state of marijuana law enforcement in Hawaii. He was asked to examine the costs of current law enforcement policies, and to predict the economic impacts if Hawaii were to decriminalize or legalize, tax and regulate marijuana. Among his findings:

• Hawaii has seen a surge in marijuana arrests since 2004. Possession arrests have increased almost 50%, and distribution arrests have almost doubled.

• Hawaii’s marijuana laws overly impact males under the age of 25 and people of native Hawaiian descent. These groups were arrested in numbers disproportionate to their share of the population.

• By decriminalizing marijuana, Hawaii could redirect over $9 M annually in law enforcement costs.

• By legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana, Hawaii could conservatively add an additional estimated $11 M in yearly revenues.

Pam Lichty said: “From the survey findings, it’s clear that Hawaii voters are open to reconsidering local marijuana laws. The data in both of these reports will help our communities craft more effective, less costly approaches for the future. The Drug Policy Action Group, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and our allies will advocate for the policy reforms that people in Hawaii want.”

Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii added: “In Hawaii as across the nation, arrests for marijuana possession are one of the most common ways that individuals get caught up in the criminal justice system, at great social and economic cost. These studies provide important, updated facts for the Hawaii community as we consider new directions.”

The Drug Policy Action Group, founded in 2004, is a sister organization to the 20 year old Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. Its mission is to advocate for effective, non-punitive drug policies that minimize economic, social and human costs and to encourage pragmatic approaches based on science and concern for human dignity.