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by | Dec 1, 2020

Video 1

Video 1: “Marijuana Legalization Successes Pave Way for National Conversation on Drug Laws: Experts”

 Note: In addition to the video, please see the following article included at the above-referenced internet address:

 “Marijuana Legalization Successes Pave Way for National Conversation on Drug Laws: Experts”

According to the article, a majority of voters in five states, both red and blue, passed ballot measures that legalized marijuana on Election Day.

This show of support at the polls will put more pressure on other states and the federal government to update its drug policies, according to advocates and experts.

“This indicates that people are frustrated with the outdated drug policies from the 1970s,” said Mason Marks, a law professor at Gonzaga University and a fellow in residence at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy.

In some cases, like New York, elected officials are publicly sounding the call for major policy changes.

In ballot measures passed in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona, residents over 21 will be able to purchase and consume marijuana for recreational purposes. South Dakotan voters also passed a separate measure that legalized medicinal marijuana in the state. Mississippi will also allow adults to use medical marijuana after voters passed an initiative on Election Day.

State legislatures and health departments in the five states will come up with specific regulations for recreational marijuana next year.

The ballot measures came after marijuana advocates across the country ran campaigns promoting the benefits of legal marijuana by citing the examples from the states that already passed it, according to Matthew Schweich, the deputy director of the nonprofit group the Marijuana Policy Project.

A study released last year by Washington State University found “no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws, or the initiation of legal retail sales, on violent or property crime rates,” in Washington State or Colorado, the first states to legalize recreational pot.

Last year, Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, generated more than $1 billion in sales from marijuana, which increased the state’s coffers.

“The message that has resonated with voters in all five states was the fact that marijuana legalization is a proven policy and worked successfully in other states,” Schweich told ABC News. “Eleven states had legalized marijuana in the lead up to Election Day, and none of those states have repealed legalization.”

Marks said the ballot measure successes in the five states could create a domino effect for the surrounded state leaders who have been hesitant to take up the calls for drug policy changes.

“I think other states will definitely follow suit when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana,” he said.

In New York, leaders from all three branches of government have already begun those calls.

A day after New Jersey passed its ballot measure, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the state, which currently allows medical marijuana use, to its lead.

“We see it in New Jersey. Now, it’s time for New York State to do it. Legalize marijuana the right way,” he said during his daily news conference.

Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed that call a day later during an interview on WAMC public radio, contending the conditions for legalization were “ripe” because of the state’s budget issues.

“I think this year it is ripe because the state is going to be desperate for funding,” he said.

Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also called on the federal government to end its marijuana prohibition “to undo the harms done by the War on Drugs, particularly in Black and brown communities.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies marijuana as a “schedule 1” drug that is illegal and has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Marks said while this rhetoric indicates more support for changing the nation’s drug policy, he noted there is still resistance from major groups.

The advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization, contended in a statement that the legalization efforts have benefited corporate entities “intent on expanding addiction for profit.”

Kevin Sabet, the nonprofit’s president, and co-founder praised President-elect Joe Biden’s marijuana policy, which emphasizes decriminalizing marijuana and expunging criminal records for people who were arrested for possessing small amounts of the drug.

“We are ready to work with the Biden Administration to help promote science-based drug policy that benefits people, not the addiction-for-profit marijuana industry and its investors from Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, Big Pharma, and others on Wall Street,” he said in a statement.

Marks noted that Biden has come under heavy criticism for his role in passing legislation in the ’90s that punished Americans for minor drug offenses. He added there has been criticism of Biden’s current drug policy proposals, particularly his call for diversion programs where persons arrested for drug offenses are placed in treatment programs instead of jail.

“A lot of advocates say that’s the equivalent to incarceration,” Marks said. “They impact people’s civil rights. It could do more harm than good. If someone doesn’t follow the court’s order for treatment, they can still end up in jail.”

Schweich said Biden’s policy is good for advancing legalization across the country. He noted that the president-elect’s change in drug policies since he left the Senate reflects the new tone among Americans when it comes to drug policies.

“His position represents an evolution that many Americans, particularly those of his age, have gone through,” Schweich said.

Schweich added that Biden’s stance on letting the states decide their marijuana policy will be an important factor in the future of marijuana. This will allow more states to pursue legalization plans and future ballot measures with less concern that the White House will block it, according to Schweich.

“On the state level, we will see more progress regardless of what happens in Congress,” he said. “The marijuana reform movement has very strong momentum.”

 Discussion Questions

1. Are you surprised by the November 2020 vote results legalizing marijuana? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Certainly, the November 2020 vote results legalizing marijuana are consistent with the approximately 10-year overall trend of states in the United States legalizing marijuana.

2. Comment on the latest “round” of states legalizing marijuana: New York, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona. Are you surprised that both “red” and “blue” states are legalizing marijuana? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Apparently, marijuana legalization is beginning to transcend political differences between “red” and “blue” states.

3. Should an issue like marijuana be addressed directly by the vote of the people (by referendum), or should they instead be addressed by their government representatives (legislators)? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary.

Video 2

Video 2: “US Attorney Alex Acosta Showed Poor Judgment When Giving Jeffrey Epstein State-Based Plea Deal in 2008: DOJ”

 Note: In addition to the video, please see the following article included at the above-referenced internet address:

 “US Attorney Alex Acosta Showed Poor Judgment When Giving Jeffrey Epstein State-Based Plea Deal in 2008: DOJ”

According to the article, Alex Acosta, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, exercised “poor judgment” when he resolved a federal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein through a state-based plea agreement in 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has concluded in a new report.

The finding was revealed in an executive summary of the report released recently by the Department of Justice.

The Office of Professional Responsibility cleared Acosta of misconduct in opting to resolve the case in the way that he did.

“Acosta’s decision to decline to initiate a federal prosecution of Epstein was within the scope of his authority, and OPR did not find evidence that his decision was based on corruption or other impermissible considerations, such as Epstein’s wealth, status, or associations,” the summary said.

“Nevertheless, OPR concludes that Acosta’s decision to resolve the federal investigation through the NPA constitutes poor judgment. Although this decision was within the scope of Acosta’s broad discretion and OPR does not find that it resulted from improper factors, the NPA was a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein.”

Prior to the release of the report’s executive summary, the Department of Justice briefed alleged Epstein victims and their attorneys on the findings during a four-hour meeting recently at the Miami office of the FBI.

“It felt very much like another slap in the face,” said Jena-Lisa Jones, who alleges that Epstein sexually assaulted her at his Palm Beach home in 2004, when she was 14.

“I’m still very, very mad at this whole situation,” Jones said. “I was hoping to have a little bit more peace when I came out of this, a little bit more answers on to what had happened, what was going on. And if anything, it left me more angry.”

Another alleged victim who attended the briefing, Dainya Nida, said she’s losing hope of ever getting answers to the questions that have troubled her for years.

“Any time I am involved in any of this I never have any expectations anymore because I know I am never going to get the answer why,” Nida said.

Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who has been among the most vocal members of Congress demanding answers about the Justice Department’s handling of Epstein, excoriated the conclusion.

“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ — it is a disgusting failure. Americans ought to be enraged,” Sasse said in a statement.

Acosta, who would later be named the secretary of the Department of Labor in the Trump administration, and almost everyone else involved has left the government. Even if there had been a finding of misconduct there would be no authority to punish. Acosta resigned as Labor secretary in July 2019 following criticism of his handling of the Epstein case.

“I am pleased that OPR finally has completed its investigation but am disappointed that it has not released the full report so the victims and the public can have a fuller accounting of the depth of interference that led to the patently unjust outcome in the Epstein case,” said Marie Villafaña, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Miami who led the office’s investigation of Epstein, in a statement.

“That injustice, I believe, was the result of deep, implicit institutional biases that prevented me and the FBI agents who worked diligently on this case from holding Mr. Epstein accountable for his crimes.”

“By not considering those implicit biases based on gender and socioeconomic status, OPR lost an opportunity to make recommendations for institutional changes that could prevent results like this one from occurring in the future,” she added.

Victims’ rights attorney Brad Edwards, who sued the Justice Department in 2008 on behalf of two victims who alleged the Epstein deal was reached in violation of their rights, criticized the reports while praising Villafaña, the prosecutor who prepared a 53-page indictment against Epstein that was never filed because Acosta decided in 2007 to negotiate a deal with Epstein.

“What jumped off the page to everybody today is that there was a line prosecutor who drafted the indictment and tried to fight for the victims all along,” Edwards said. “And above her, there were superiors, including Alex Acosta, that fought against her and fought on behalf of Jeffrey Epstein to keep victims in the dark and to ensure that the non-prosecution agreement was put in place.”

Edwards, who now represents more than 50 alleged victims of Epstein, derided the report for “backing into the conclusions they wanted.”

“They decided before it started, how are we going to reach the conclusion that there was no wrongdoing or that the victims’ rights weren’t violated,” Edwards said following the briefing on Thursday. “And let’s figure out a way to maneuver around the actual facts and reach those conclusions.”

The report was launched in early 2019, on the heels of renewed public outrage over the Epstein deal that was sparked by an in-depth series by the Miami Herald.

Alleged victims of Epstein and their attorneys were briefed on the report’s executive summary during a lengthy meeting recently morning at the offices of the Miami division of the FBI.

Epstein first came under investigation for alleged sex crimes against minors in 2005 by the town of Palm Beach Police Department. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami picked up the case in 2006 after the then-police chief of Palm Beach Michael Reiter publicly criticized the handling of the case by Barry Krischer, then the state’s attorney for Palm Beach County.

Federal investigators ultimately identified more than 30 alleged underage victims and prepared a 53-page indictment of Epstein that could have sent him to prison for decades if convicted. But the indictment was never pursued. Instead, prosecutors in Miami entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein that required him to plead guilty to two prostitution-related charges in Palm Beach County court.

He served just 13 months of an 18-month sentence and was granted lenient work release privileges that allowed him to spend up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week at a West Palm Beach office building and his home on Palm Beach Island.

One week after Epstein entered his guilty pleas in state court in June 2008, two alleged victims filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the so-called “sweetheart deal” with Epstein was reached in violation of their rights as alleged victims of federal crimes. Eleven years later, in February 2019, a federal judge in West Palm Beach ruled in favor of the victims, determining that federal prosecutors in Miami — under the leadership of Acosta — violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not conferring with the alleged victims prior to entering the deal.

The court was in the process of determining if Epstein’s deal should be rescinded — but then Epstein died by suicide in custody in August 2019. The case was then dismissed, but one of the alleged victims, Courtney Wild, has appealed that ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. A hearing is scheduled for next month in Wild’s appeal.

Wild has alleged that she was recruited as a 14-year-old by a peer to Epstein’s Palm Beach home under the expectation that she would be giving an older man a massage. She alleges that Epstein sexually abused her multiple times over the next two years. Wild was one of the more than 30 alleged victims identified and interviewed during the federal investigation. She was the only victim to attend both of Epstein’s court appearances in New York following his arrest in July 2019.

For more than 12 years, Wild has been pressing her case against the government trying to get Epstein’s deal, which also conferred immunity in Florida to Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators, torn up.

“Epstein’s death shouldn’t mean all the wrongdoing, in this case, is swept under the rug,” Wild said earlier this year. “People helped him commit these crimes. Everyone needs to be held accountable for the role they played in this.”

Discussion Questions

1. Explain what a plea agreement is.

A plea agreement is an arrangement between the prosecution and defense to settle the case against the defendant. Such an agreement can occur pre-trial, during the trial, or post-trial (for example, to avoid an appeal of a jury verdict). Like any other contract, a plea agreement is viewed as a mutually beneficial arrangement between the parties.

2. What is the best argument for a plea agreement? What is the best argument against a plea agreement?

From the prosecution’s standpoint, the best argument for a plea agreement is that it usually guarantees some punishment of the defendant for his wrongdoing. From the defendant’s perspective, the best argument for a plea agreement is that it avoids the possibility that a trial would result in even greater punishment. From the standpoint of both the prosecution and the defense, a plea agreement saves the time and expense of a trial.

3. In your reasoned opinion, should attorney Alex Acosta have received more than just an admonishment in this case? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Usually, prosecutors are given great discretion in deciding whether a plea agreement is appropriate, and what the actual terms of the plea agreement should be.