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Changes in the Law that will lead to a More Liberal America

State and Federal law, in each of its own separate capacities, has recently changed to adopt more lenient treatment of drugs and drug offenders, with punishment of small time drug offenders significantly decreased, and certain former crimes even becoming redefined as legal, in some parts of America.

Colorado and Washington have become the First American States in which the Use of Marijuana for Recreational Purposes is Legal, and how they apply.

Almost 20 years ago, California became the first state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. For this a license is required, proving medical necessity. Since then, 22 states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

Never before, however, has inhaling or ingesting THC for recreational purposes been legal in any part of the United States. This all changed in 2012 when voters approved the legalization of pot in Colorado; the law changed in January. Amendment 64, a state law that does not apply to federal law, dictates that it is now legal for residents of Colorado State aged 21 and over to possess up to an ounce (28 grams), whilst visitors are allowed to possess up to ¼ of an ounce (7 grams).

Residents are also allowed to own up to 6 marijuana plants, 3 of which may be flowering (containing the buds which are dried and smoked to induce a ‘high’). A report delivered by the Arc Group (of Silicon Valley) show Colorado’s legal marijuana market to be worth $253 million already, and this will only rise as time goes on; Silicon Valley News have predicted a tenfold increase in marijuana sales in the next five years.

75 ‘pot shops’ have appeared in Denver alone – more, locals boast – than there are Starbucks coffee shops; with them the formerly secretive, underground world of marijuana consumption has been completely abolished. Modern under-lit counters with colourful displays set out on iPads advertise various affects of the plethora of strains available, and perky shop assistants differentiate between these with the same passion and expertise as tea or wine connoisseurs.

Denver has become the number one destination for Spring Break, favoured over warm, sunny locations, and two prolific pot-centric companies in Denver will be hosting a legal weed start-up convention later this year for marijuana businesses to showcase their ideas and services, including the “Tinder of Marijuana” and a “crypto currency to help the cannabis industry overcome its banking challenges”, said the ‘Fast Company’.

However, the State law has not been without its challenges; the federal government as a majority is unhappy with the laws, and the US Bureau of Reclamation reiterated earlier this year that Colorado cannot use federal irrigation water to grow its weed – something that Colorado has no choice but to do. Equally, banks have been extremely reluctant to take deposits from pot businesses. However, Obama has so far declined to pursue legal action against Colorado for using federal water for marijuana growth, and the House of Representatives has voted to allow banks to accept deposits.

Washington took a little longer to action Amendment 64, eventually legalizing the consumption of marijuana on July 8th this year. The law is stricter here, only allowing for state certified growers to provide marijuana to licensed retail premises. Because of this, the stores that have been granted licenses have struggled to meet the demand; as such the cost of weed has been driven up, slowing the spread of marijuana use. Obtaining a license to retail marijuana is also an extremely slow process, with just 18 licensing investigators completely overwhelmed with an excess of 7000 license applications to work through.

Despite these challenges however, reports of numerous benefits are beginning to flood in. “During the first 6 months of 2014, violent crime in the city and county of Denver was down 3% compared to the same time period in 2013,” reported the Huffington Post. Dispensaries are set to hit a 3 year low in terms of its burglaries and robberies, it said, whilst in respect of its economics, $90 million has been collected in the sale of recreational cannabis – much of which was funded by ‘pot tourists’, and it “collected $35 million in taxes, licenses and fees from both the recreational and medical marijuana markets” (Huffington Post, 17th July 2014).

The rest of the United States look on with interest at Colorado and Washington’s pilot schemes, to see how the next few years unravel, before deciding whether to follow their example or not. However there is already keen uptake from a few new states, with Alaska set to put out a state ballot in November, and Nevada and California campaigning for a similar vote in 2016.

Low Level Drug Offenders Set to get a Better Deal

Eric Holder has called for low level, non-violent drug offenders to see earlier release from jail, arguing that rehabilitation processes could be used instead and long-term prison would be reserved for violent drug criminals. Mandatory minimum guidelines dictated a term of 63 to 78 months for possession of 500 grams of cocaine or 28 grams of crack. He proposed this sentence be reduced to 51 to 63 months, reducing the average sentence for this crime by 17%.

This is in part a reaction to the rising federal prison population, which, due to laws now considered over-harsh in the crack-cocaine wave of the 1980s, saw prisoners serving near life sentences for crimes now seen to be comparatively small. The federal prison population has increased by 800% since 1980, with prisons operating at 40% over capacity.

As a counterpart to this change in the law which is effective immediately, prisoners who were delivered what is now viewed as heavy-handed and over harsh sentences, can now apply for clemency if they have served at least the term which current (more lenient) laws would dictate, have no history of violent behaviour, have displayed good behaviour throughout their term, and have no links to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels.