We should all want to fight exploitation and human trafficking. Yet some of the current, popular methods of disrupting sexual labor are highly abusive, and waste resources.
I’m talking about partial criminalization and full criminalization of consensual sex work.
Both derive from a “tough-on-crime” stance, which is both archaic and inhumane. Criminologists know that punitive measures against “vice crimes” often reinforce extortion of individuals, and trap poor people in cycles of incarceration and recidivism.
Scientists, public health experts, and researchers have noted the benefits of full decriminalization for decades.
The spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) is lower, victim reporting is high, and all types of sex workers are safer in places where consensual sex work is decriminalized.
The facts don’t support criminalization. Yet police departments and government officials insist it is the perfect intervention to prevent victimization. Perhaps some officials don’t want to lose their funding or authority.
To get back to basics, let’s examine some of the terms of the debate.
Full criminalization of sex work refers to the arrest or punishment of sellers and buyers.
In practice, it often takes the form of prostitution stings, where authorities use taxpayer money to fund operations in which an officer pretends to be a client, may even have sex with the target, and then arrests that target.
This can be dangerous and traumatic, as one individual who experienced it recalled in an interview with me. (She requested anonymity.)
“I answered an ad and started doing my thing, and then doors bust open and I thought I was gonna be raped,” she said. “It was scary.”
Then she was led to another hotel room, where other officers sat with their surveillance equipment and planned their next sting, which she was forced to watch.
I also spoke with another individual, who recalls working sex from the ages of 17 to 22, while living with her boyfriend, whom she later regarded as her pimp.
The relationship was abusive, he had isolated me from any friends, and I had no family. When I finally left him, I realized I could still do sex work, because I had clients that I liked, I knew how to meet people and be social, and do the work, but now I didn’t have to answer to him.
The only reason I never left him sooner was because he repeatedly told me that what we were doing to make money was illegal, and if cops got involved [over domestic violence charges] we would both go to jail.
In a decriminalized state, she could have fled her abuser a lot sooner.
It’s important to note that sex workers are vulnerable to police violence when they live in places that criminalize their labor, whether or not it’s consensual.
Full criminalization prevents sex workers from reporting crimes against them, and labels them as criminals too.
Sometimes called “The Nordic Model” or “Swedish Model,” partial criminalization of sex work refers to the arrest and punishment of clients, aka buyers. What are the problems with partial-criminalization models?
Some states and police departments do decoy stings, like in the case of Portland, Oregon which used 85 percent of its Human Trafficking Unit funding to hosts decoy stings last year. Would-be clients believe they are interacting with consensual sex workers like me and my friends, and are looking for some pleasure.
Instead, police show up, and the would-be client is sometimes incorrectly labeled in media as engaging in “sex trafficking”.
It is irresponsible to falsely label people as perpetrators of human trafficking. It can endanger their lives and subject their family and friends to harassment and violence or ostracization from their community.
Victims arrested in prostitution-related stings often are required to pay for and complete multi-hour programs which misinform participants about how sexual exploitation happens: that consensual buying of sex directly exacerbates human trafficking.
This is also false.
Many police departments and predatory officers around the U.S. are enabled by bad laws to use use taxpayer funding to trick and to trap people in cycles of poverty and recidivism, rather than fund programs for resources, rights or rehabilitation.
Youth, unhoused, immigrants, and poor people are most targeted by criminalization of consensual sex work.
Intervention Beats Criminalization
Full criminalization and partial criminalization of consensual sex work prevents people from reporting to police when they need intervention
Safe Harbor provisions are not an adequate fix for victim’s reporting. Some states, like Alaska, require the victim to be able to show proof of coercion from their trafficker. 19 states still arrest minors for prostitution related charges, even though by true federal definition they are victims of trafficking and couldn’t legally consent to the acts or labor.
Decriminalization of sex work means that people could no longer be arrested, fined, jailed, or extorted for working or buying consensual sexual services. Any actions relating to force, fraud, fear, coercion, or with minors, would remain a crime.
Sex workers have explained for decades why they chose their labor; in books, interviews, and now online. Sex workers have reported enjoying being able to choose a flexibility of hours, have more time to spend with their children, and the potential to pay off emergency expenses like healthcare, debt more quickly.
STI transmission is lower, victim’s reporting is higher, and consensual sex workers are safer in places where consensual sex work is decriminalized.
New Zealand police and sex workers can attest to the positive impacts of The Prostitution Reform Act in 2003.
Why Not Legalization?
A logical next step, some might argue, is simply to legalize sex workers — But some people will not qualify for the requirements that legalization might create: permits, applications, background checks, IDs, a tax ID number, a permanent address.
Runaways, for instance, won’t necessarily have those documents. People living in extreme poverty won’t either.
As an Oregon stripper, I can show up to a venue with my state-issued ID to prove I’m 18-plus and work a couple of shifts if I need to make some money. Other states require lengthy background checks, permit and application fees. Fingerprinting-heavy regulation of consensual sex work can be a barrier to the marginalized people that decriminalization is designed to protect.
In Nevada, brothel-keeping is legalized. The only places where folks are not arrestable for selling or buying sex are in the few, sparsely located brothels in low population counties. If you can’t get hired or transport there as a client, you’re not awarded those legal protections.
Anti-porn people have correctly cited this in their arguments: Legalization is not a way to reduce harm and prevent human exploitation, even as it gives more power to managers, property owners, and privileged workers like myself.
Decriminalization’s Soft Footprint
What would decriminalization look like in practice? The fiscal impacts are potentially very low: cities and states and can stop funding decoy stings and prostitution stings, and instead budget for resources like safer reporting hotlines, transportation assistance, food, shelter, job-training, childcare assistance, and other basic human rights.
If someone wants to leave an abusive pimp, partner, parent, give them ways to do that. Most non-profits currently only call the police.
The federal government has repeatedly declared war on “vices”, such as alcohol and drugs. Historians and crime experts know that these were not effective methods of combating overuse, violence, or trafficking
Instead they created or reinforced underground networks of trafficking, and empowered organized crime and police corruption.
The “War” on consensual sex work has already had a similar impact. It has empowered those who will benefit most from the exploitation of sex workers.
As a method of major harm-reduction, it is time that we proactively support decriminalization of sex work. Elle Stanger is a certified sex educator with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), a longtime adult entertainer, and co-chair of Oregon Sex Workers Committee. Read their work at ellestanger.com
NEW YORK–In a grandeur conference room within the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this afternoon, Indigenous people from every continent (excluding Antarctica) spoke on the importance of preserving and enhancing Native languages. Notably, most of them spoke in the language of their colonizer: English, Spanish, French, and Russian.
“I stand before you today speaking English, because my father used to teach me his Cree dialect,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief, RoseAnne Archibald. “Fortunately, my mother insisted on teaching me her dialect, of which I'm still not fluent. The intergenerational trauma from these institutions is evident in today's adults and children who don't speak their language fluently.”
Today, The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) hosted its twenty-first session. The UNPFII is a high- level advisory body that provides expert advice to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council. The rotating sixteen-member Permanent Forum has met annually since 2002, with the mandate to examine issues impacting Indigenous communities in economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights.
Each year’s forum also centers on a specific theme–this year, it’s “Indigenous peoples, business, autonomy and the human rights principles of due diligence including free, prior and informed consent.”
International Year of Indigenous Languages
The United Nation’s lobby was colorful with regalia of the Nations attending—notably lots of reds and oranges. One person in the elevator, after a cluster of us were sent up and down several times by an attendant unsure of which floor to access the General Assembly hall on, aptly remarked how it felt like the first day of school. New faces, a bit of chaos, and anticipation.
After a morning of opening ceremonies and some general housekeeping items, the afternoon session on Indigenous Languages was the first opportunity for participants to speak (if they signed up in advance). For two hours, I listened—sometimes with a translation device in my ear (affixed to each leather-cushioned chair)—to people from Canada and Mexico and New Zealand and the Caribbean; Nepal and Bolivia and Arizona; Finland and Peru; the Cherokee Nation; Guyana, Australia, and the Ukraine’s Crimea. All speak on the significance of Native language preservation and enhancement.
Indigenous languages were described as more than words, as a birthright, as the most direct expression of a culture that carries the eternal ethical values of ancestors and—if lost—directly impacts Indigenous community health.
The U.N. says that almost all of the world’s approximately 6,700 languages are spoken by only 3% of the population, primarily the Indigenous peoples. Estimates say that 95% of the world’s languages will become extinct by the end of this century.
In response to these estimates three years ago, the General Assembly proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, intended to bolster and protect threatened Indigenous languages across the world. The Assembly later adopted a resolution proclaiming the years 2022–2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, to further underscore attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize, and promote Native at the national and international levels.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was appointed to serve as the lead agency for the International Decade. The agency created a global action plan with four main outcomes: to integrate Indigenous languages across all socio-cultural, economic, environmental, legal, and political domains and strategic agendas; recognize Indigenous languages as a means of justice, public service, well-being, and development of societies; and build capacity of Indigenous language users, and develop appropriate language services and tools.
Three speakers received standing ovations for their words. Anpo Jensen (Oglala Lakota), a member of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, a group of Native youth from across the United States, was surrounded by caucus when she delivered their address. Jensen expressed the group’s deep gratitude to Native elders who preserved their indigenous languages, and said that the U.N. and individual states must go further to reverse the impacts of colonization to Indigenous languages.
“We start by affirming that the importance of the protection of indigenous languages for the health of the planet is severely underappreciated, especially in the U.S.… against climate change,” she said. “As Indigenous peoples lose their languages, they also begin to lose the cultural practices and traditional knowledge which protected them against violence.”
The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus made two recommendations to the U.N. Permanent Forum: to encourage the expansion of K-12 Indigenous language immersion schools to help Indigenous youth reclaim their languages for all member states, and to recommend that the World Health Organization prioritize indigenous languages as a determinant of personal and planetary health, and invest funds accordingly in their revitalization.
A second standing ovation came later, for a woman in a blue dress–Emine Dzhaparova, the First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, who added perspective to the forum on what it can mean to be an Indigenous person. Dzhaparova is Crimean Tatar, a Turkic ethnic group who are an indigenous people of Crimea, an area in Southern Ukraine historically colonized by Russia and then illegally annexed in 2014.
“I'm here with you today while my country is being shelled by Russian bombs,” Dzhaparova said. “Thousands of my compatriots have been killed, raped, and tortured to death for 61 days of the war. For eight years, Indigenous Crimean Tatar people suffered the occupation of their land Crimea. We tried to survive as we did for centuries, despite deportations, ethnic cleansing, oppressions and persecutions and— ironically— behind all these sufferings ofmy people was and is Russia, and crimes of its regimes and tyrants.”
Crimean Tatar is a severely endangered language, according to the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing. “I have no doubt that Russia wants to completely eliminate Crimean Tatar language and thus our identity, because we are the ones who physically destroy the false narratives of Russia that Crimea is a Native Russian land.”
Many speakers on Monday stressed urgency over complacency.
Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.—who attended the Forum just days ahead of a major Supreme Court hearing in Washington D.C. on Wednesday—said the Permanent Forum must set real goals for the end of the ten year period “to create and inspire more speakers.”
“The greatest enemy of the Cherokee language right now is the passage of time and the fragility of human lives,” Hoskin said. “We have no time to lose.”
A powerful synthetic opioid called nitazene, discovered in Ohio, has prompted state Attorney General Dave Yost to issue a warning that it is 40 times more lethal than fentanyl, Fox 8 and CBS report.
“Frankenstein opioids are even more lethal than the drugs already responsible for so many overdose deaths,” Yost said in a statement Wednesday. “Law enforcement and the public need to pay attention to these emerging hazards.”
To emphasize this warning and communicate with first responders, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Laboratory Division says additional doses of naloxone — a drug that helps reverse overdoses — may be required in nitazene cases.
The Bureau is also encouraging citizens who handle items that may contain this deadly drug to use caution, and to get access to naloxone.
“Several police officers who just touched a little fentanyl immediately fell out, overdosed and were rushed to the hospital,” said Yost, adding context to the growing health crisis.
He continued: “I’m worried about that not only happening to law enforcement but also members of the public.”
Yost’s office has found Frankenstein opioids all across the state, but Montgomery County is particularly a hot spot for them.
“In the first quarter of 2022, officials reported 143 nitazene cases in Ohio, which is an increase from 27 cases reported in the same quarter in 2021,” CBS News reports.
See Also: North Carolina Records 40% Rise in Opioid Deaths
These nitazene opioids are not approved for medical use anywhere in the world, yet they’re being made in secret DIY labs, comprised of a combination of fentanyl other drugs like cocaine, heroine and meth, Cleveland 19 details.
What makes them even more difficult to spot is that the compound can come in a variety of colors and textures: including white, black, orange, and green while being a powder, solid, or even a liquid.
CBS News details that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Laboratory Division says that these compounds are not necessarily deadly if taken in smaller doses, but that they’re highly addictive and “can induce dose-dependent respiratory depression…pos[ing] an increased risk for accidental overdoses, especially when combined with other substances that suppress the Central Nervous System.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried's lawsuit targets a federal requirement that prohibits medical marijuana users from purchasing firearms.
Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, plans to sue the Biden administration Wednesday to try to block a federal rule that prohibits medical marijuana users from buying guns or maintaining concealed-carry permits.
The lawsuit targets a federal form that asks whether the gun buyer is an unlawful user of drugs and specifies that marijuana is illegal under federal law. A person allowed by the state to use marijuana must then check “yes,” which results in denial of the purchase. Lying by checking “no” runs the risk of a five-year prison sentence for making a false statement.
Fried, whose office oversees concealed weapons permits and regulates some aspects of medical marijuana, argues in her lawsuit that the form violates the Second Amendment rights of lawful medical marijuana patients and runs afoul of a congressional budget prohibition on federal agents’ interfering with state-sanctioned cannabis laws.
The suit has ramifications beyond Florida: At least 37 states have legalized medical marijuana, and recreational use is legal in 18 states, as well as Guam and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit is timed to land on April 20 — a nod to the slang reference of "420" for marijuana.
The suit is laden with political opportunity for Fried, who became the only Democrat elected statewide in 2018 when she ran on an unabashedly pro-cannabis platform. Two years before, 71 percent of Florida voters legalized medical marijuana, and polls show a majority favor legalization of recreational use.
Florida also has 2.5 million concealed weapons permit holders, according to Fried’s office.
“Medical marijuana is legal. Guns are legal. This is all about people’s rights,” Fried said in a statement to NBC News. “And I don’t care who I have to sue to fight for their freedom.”
In her official capacity as agriculture commissioner, Fried is bringing the suit with three citizens who have been affected by the federal rules. It names the acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Attorney General Merrick Garland as defendants.
While it’s rare for a Democrat to sue a Democratic administration during an election year, Fried said the issue can no longer wait because of the volume of complaints her office has received.
A spokesperson for ATF said the agency “can’t speculate on possible litigation or discuss any pending litigation” but implicitly blamed federal lawmakers for not changing the Controlled Substances Act and the Gun Control Act, which respectively regulate marijuana and firearms.
President Joe Biden’s refusal to act on federal marijuana regulations has been a sore point for Democrats, including supporters like John Morgan, a Florida trial lawyer and Biden fundraiser who financed the state’s successful medical marijuana initiative.
“I talked to Joe about this personally, and he just won’t do it. Joe Biden doesn’t understand marijuana,” Morgan said, attributing the president’s resistance to his age, 79, and the members of his family who suffered from alcoholism and drug abuse, including his son Hunter Biden.
“Joe has so much drug abuse in his own family that in his mind it’s a no-go. The older you get, the less people understand what marijuana is all about. To them, it’s all the same — marijuana, heroin, LSD,” Morgan said, dismissing the idea that such substances are so-called gateway drugs with a profanity. “We know the gateway drug is alcohol.”
Although he likes Fried’s marijuana policy, Morgan is backing her rival in the governor’s race, Rep. Charlie Crist, and he said he’s not sure how much political mileage she can get out of it.
When asked by NBC News about Fried's lawsuit, Crist didn't comment on the policy but instead said the filing of it was "Interesting timing."
"You know, the Biden Administration has a lot of things it has to deal with right now, and I think that marijuana should be legalized, recreationally," he continued. "I think it’s appropriate. I don’t know if this is the best timing for such a lawsuit. But everybody has to do what they feel is important, and I’m sure that that’s what she’s doing.”
Fried’s former pollster, Keith Frederick, said any risks for her by bucking the Biden administration are offset because she’s raising her profile by embracing a popular issue.
“You can have the best affordable housing plan possible, but once you get to point No. 2, people’s eyes glaze over, and they stop paying attention,” Frederick said. “People care about this.”
Support for medical marijuana and cannabis legalization cuts across party lines, as does opposition to the conflicting regulations in state and federal law. Gun rights are also generally popular in Florida.
Fried’s lawsuit notes that even conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas groused in an unrelated case about the “half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids use of marijuana.”
“This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary,” Thomas said.
Other plaintiffs have tried and failed to sue the federal government over gun purchases. Fried’s lawsuit singles out the most recent lawsuit for presenting “a thin and stale factual record” that improperly ignored a federal study concluding that “marijuana use does not induce violent crime.”
In addition, unlike the other unsuccessful federal case, Fried’s lawsuit argues that the form violates the so-called Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits ATF from enforcing anti-cannabis policies in states that have opted for legalization.
Fried’s office said that instead of accommodating states that have legalized marijuana, ATF changed its gun-buying form, known as a 4473, by specifically adding: “Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to expedite research into potential medical uses of cannabis and its derivatives, including CBD.
A previous version of the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act — sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii — passed the chamber during the lame-duck session in December 2020 on a voice vote.
"Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions," Feinstein said in a statement. "This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients."
The bill would require the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional cannabis growers and streamline the approval process that researchers must go through to work with the drug.
Grassley said in a statement that the bill "will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data."
Expanding opportunities to research cannabis represents one of the few areas in marijuana reform where there is broad consensus on both sides of the aisle — and both sides of the legalization question.
Marijuana's status as a Schedule I substance has been a significant obstacle to performing the research that both advocates and opponents of legalization say is required. The University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research has been the sole grower of research marijuana approved by the DEA since the early 1970s.
Lawmakers, scientists and advocates have frequently decried the bottleneck in Mississippi for severely limiting the quantity and diversity of cannabis strains available for trials — especially when compared with the variety of marijuana products available in the states where marijuana is legal.
The bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
A similar House bill that also passed swiftly during the 2020 lame-duck session — the Medical Marijuana Research Act — was reintroduced in October as H.R. 5657. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Andy Harris, R-Md., who has opposed marijuana legalization in the past.
The House bill would require the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines on how researchers can use cannabis sold by state-licensed dispensaries.
It would also require the U.S. attorney general to review applications by researchers seeking approval to conduct studies using locally sold cannabis, and streamline a process whereby researchers who have already received approval can change the scope or nature of their studies.
A medical cannabis research lab has filed a new federal lawsuit accusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of stonewalling its applications to import and study cannabis for potential uses in treating chronic illnesses for the past three years.
In a complaint filed Friday in Rhode Island federal court, affiliated companies MMJ International Holdings Corp. and MMJ BioPharma Cultivation Inc. said the DEA had delayed the process, tying the companies' hands, and recently have refused to give an update despite multiple prods.
"Countless patients who have been affected by multiple sclerosis and Huntington's disease and are waiting on the potentially life-restoring treatments associated with the development of these pharmaceuticals," the companies wrote in their complaint.
The companies claim they first petitioned the DEA in December 2018 for the green light to import the specific strains of marijuana needed to conduct MMJ's planned clinical trials, which had already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"MMJ's research and development requires painstakingly careful control of all plant genetics in order to maintain compliance with FDA requirements regarding the consistent reproducibility of the compounds found in the pharmaceutical," the company said.
What allegedly followed was a yearslong slog whereby MMJ attempted to secure approvals from DEA to import research marijuana and manufacture its formula. The agency allegedly completed its inspection of MMJ's facilities in October but has not moved on the applications.
The company claims that in recent months it reached out to the agency director, asked its congressman to intervene and called the DEA's general customer line — all to no avail.
"Despite numerous attempts to follow up and check the status of the registration approval determinations for manufacturing and importing, DEA personnel have expressed to MMJ Cultivation that they have not yet made final determinations and they have no idea when that determination will be made," the complaint said.
Marijuana's Schedule I status has been a significant obstacle to performing the research that both advocates and opponents of legalization say is required. The University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research has been the sole grower of research marijuana approved by the DEA since the early 1970s. The agency only began receiving applications for new growers in the last few years.
Legislation pending in Congress would allow scientists to perform studies on cannabis sold in regulated stores in states where it is legal, but critics say it does not do enough to fund or incentivize new cannabis research.
The company is seeking a declaration that the DEA violated the Controlled Substances Act and Administrative Procedure Act and an order requiring the agency to move on the applications within seven days.
Counsel for MMJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for the DEA declined to comment on pending litigation.
MMJ is represented by Megan E. Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates Law.
Counsel information for the DEA and other government parties was not immediately available Wednesday.
The case is MMJ International Holdings Corp. et al. v. Merrick Garland et al., case number 1:22-cv-00152, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to offer its opinion on whether federal drug policy should outweigh state laws requiring insurers and employers to compensate patients for medical cannabis costs.
The high court invited the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief expressing the executive branch's position as the justices mull whether to take up an appeal that could resolve the issue, which has divided the state courts. A petition for certiorari was circulated for conference on Friday.
In the underlying decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court in October said that federal drug policy preempted a workers' compensation court decision ordering Mendota Heights Dental Center and its insurer, Hartford Insurance Group, to pay for medicinal cannabis that Susan K. Musta was prescribed for an on-the-job neck injury
Musta filed her petition for review in November, urging the court to take up the issue. In a subsequent brief, filed Feb. 1, Musta said her case was an "ideal vehicle" to resolve a tension between state and federal policy that has reached a breaking point.
"By this point 26 state supreme court justices have considered this question, with 11 finding preemption and 16 finding no preemption," Musta wrote. "With two state supreme courts on each side of the split, there is no possibility the split will disappear until this court intervenes. Delaying review will simply increase uncertainty and confusion. The time for certiorari is now."
Hartford Casualty told the high court there was no need to revisit the Minnesota high court's decision, and that Musta's bid for a rehearing was "a poor vehicle for review,"
The company noted that Musta's employer, Mendota Heights Dental, had been dissolved; that the field of cannabis law was changing quickly; and that the state court split over the issue of medical marijuana reimbursements was too narrow and too recent a development.
Musta said in her reply brief that the insurer's arguments were specious and immaterial.
"Respondents identify no pending legislative proposals or rulemakings that could affect the legal analysis," Musta wrote. "They simply conjecture that in light of changing poll results, the law might change at some unspecified time in some unspecified way. That is no basis for denying review."
In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently declined to take up cases challenging marijuana's Schedule I status under federal law. However, in rejecting one such case, Justice Clarence Thomas said in June that the federal prohibition on cannabis might no longer be "necessary or proper" given how much latitude states have been allowed to enact their own legalization policies.
"Once comprehensive, the federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana," Justice Thomas wrote. "This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary."
In an amicus brief filed in December, Empire State NORML and other New York cannabis industry advocates urged the high court to take up Musta's case and find that marijuana's Schedule I status is no longer tenable thanks in part to the federal government's de facto policy of inaction when it comes to prosecuting state-legal medical marijuana activities.
David C. Holland, the executive and legal director of the Empire State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Law360 on Tuesday that the invitation to the Solicitor General's Office was a "most welcome development."
Holland referred to Justice Thomas' comments and said that "definitive guidance is needed from the court due to the number of legal and ethical conflicts that are caused by this continuing battle between federal preemption and state medical marijuana regulation."
Counsel for Musta declined to comment Tuesday. Counsel for Hartford did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Musta is represented by Adam G. Unikowsky of Jenner & Block LLP and Thomas D. Mottaz and Cheri M. Sisk of Mottaz & Sisk Injury Law.
Mendota Heights Dental and Hartford Casualty Insurance are represented by Jonathan M. Freiman of Wiggin and Dana LLP.
The case is Susan K. Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental Center et al., case number 21-676, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
The war in Ukraine reminds us of how horrible war is and, for that matter, has been throughout the history of humankind. This modern war has exemplified how far one murderous dictator—Vladimir Putin—will go to satisfy his greed for land and thirst for power.
The disturbing images of hospitals being bombed, scared mothers clinging to their children and devastated Ukranian cities have been horrific.
Native American leaders have weighed in on the Russian invasion. When First Lady Jill Biden visited the Tohono O’Odham Nation on March 8, Chairman Nate Norris, Jr., offered a blessing. He asked for guidance for President Joe Biden as he makes critical decisions about the Ukraine War. Norris asked for "a moment of silence for our families, our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings who are being displaced by that war in Ukraine."
In late February, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. said: “The Cherokee Nation stands with the people of Ukraine and condemn in the strongest possible terms the unlawful invasion by the Russian Federation. Our Nation knows well how vitally important the right to self-determination is because, in our history, we have at times been denied that right and the ability to chart our own destiny as a people.”
Chief Hoskin could have also mentioned the relocation of his Nation from America’s southeast to the Oklahoma territory on a long journey known as the “Trail of Tears.” Thousands of Cherokee died as they made the journey.
Native Americans often have different worldviews than our non-Native counterparts. We view current events and history through different lenses.
As the news coverage of the Russian invasion began to escalate into a full-fledged war against the people of Ukraine, I thought about our country’s past. As white aggressors moved westward, for example, what would have happened had there been television images of our ancestors being massacred at places such as Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and Bear River, where at least 350 Northwestern Shoshone Indians were killed.
Of course, there was no television back then. There was no technology that delivered instantaneous news in the 1800s, instead the news still relied on printed newspapers and magazines. Reporters had to rely on pony express couriers and telegraphs to get their written reports to newsrooms far from the Indian war zones. News accounts from those days typically justified the federal government’s aggression and left out the American Indian viewpoints completely.
Fast-forward back to today to the Ukraine War. The media has been rightfully criticized for what appears to be double standards when it comes to covering news along racial, ethnic and religious lines. Frankly, some comments made by correspondents sound racist in nature.
In one instance, CBS News senior correspondent Charlie D’Agata, reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine, said: “With all due respect, this is not a place like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European … city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s not going to happen.”
The comment reminded me of how non-Natives felt it their task to “civilize” our ancestors.
In another instance, NBC correspondent Kelly Cobiella sounded very similar when she said: “These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine … they’re Christian, they’re white.”
The parallels of how missing white women get much more media coverage than do missing Indigenous women were quite apparent to me. The late PBS journalist Gwen Ifill, who was a Black woman, called it “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
“If there is a missing white woman, we are going to cover that, every day,” Ifill said at the time.
In the case of Ukraine, the media has a whole lot of white women and children to cover in its reporting. One wonders where the media was when the Russians were killing thousands of civilian women and children in Syria.
Regardless, news coverage of the Ukraine War is necessary because of the sheer possibility that Putin may take the globe to the brink of the third World War, which in itself is significant and scary.
As I think about the horrific nature of war, I wish the world could live by the words of Sun Bear (White Earth Ojibwe), the father of Native American economist, environmentalist and author Winona LaDuke. Sun Bear wrote: "I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man."
The National Registry of Exonerations recorded 161 individuals who were exonerated last year, amounting to 1,849 years spent behind bars for crimes they never committed or wrongfully charged.
“There is no longer a debate about the prevalence of wrongful convictions,” said the registry’s annual report released Tuesday. “They are not unicorns. They happen, frequently, and the Registry’s research has the data to show precisely the events that lead to exonerations.”
In terms of key findings related to the crimes the exonerees were accused of, just under half of all exonerees (77) were charged with homicides they didn’t commit. Nine defendants were exonerated of sex crimes; 24 defendants were exonerated of other violent crimes; and 51 were exonerated for nonviolent offenses like drug crimes and weapons possession.
Three of the exonerees had been on death row.
A close examination of the cases reveals that “official misconduct” was a contributing factor in nearly 70 percent of the cases.
Forty-seven exonerations in 2021 were from convictions based at least in part on mistaken witness identifications, and 19 exonerations were based on proven false confessions.
Moreover, 19 exonerations were based in whole or in part because of DNA evidence that established innocence. Sixty-one exonerations were because of the work of Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) and 67 were because of the work from Innocent Organizations (IOs).
Influence of Race
African Americans comprise a disproportionate number of exonerees. The National Registry of Exonerations plans on releasing a new report this year on “Race and Wrongful Convictions” to fully highlight the concern, but their 2017 report concluded, based on 1,900 exonerations boiled down into a few words:
African Americans are only 13 percent of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated.
The National Registry of Exonerations explored “basic patterns” by looking at the exonerations by jurisdiction. Illinois had the most exonerations (38), followed by New York (18), Michigan (11), and California (11), the report details.
“Illinois’s ranking continues to be driven by cases (14) tainted by misconduct of corrupt police officers led by Sgt. Ronald Watts of the Chicago Police Department, who planted drugs on people after they refused to pay bribes,” the report details.
Further breaking down New York’s 18 exonerations, 11 of them were for wrongful murder convictions.
It’s also worth noting that there were seven federal exonerees — proving that this isn’t just an issue for states to take note of, but rather, something that needs to be addressed from all levels.
The People Behind the Numbers
The National Registry of Exonerations has a motto that’s the driving force behind its missions: “Every story counts.”
Take Emerson Stevens of Virginia, for example, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1986 due to false or misleading forensic evidence, false accusation, and official misconduct.
Local police officers in Lancaster, Va., settled on Stevens as a killer after a witness said Stevens had a pickup truck like the one seen near the victim’s house. He was originally convicted on circumstantial evidence, and testimony from a few ‘expert’ witnesses that either recanted or said their testimony was “eyewash.”
Another individual is Muhammad Aziz, who, at 83, was exonerated after spending decades in prison for murdering Black activist and civil rights advocate Malcolm X in 1965. He was exonerated following an extensive investigation, cooperation with the Innocence Project, and a Netflix documentary.
Aziz said the exoneration was welcome but insufficient:
“I do not need this court, these prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent,” he said “I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system.”
The authors of the report said there are many more people like Stevens and Aziz — all of whom deserve a chance to have their truth told and to be exonerated.
“Will there come a day when wrongful convictions are truly rare? We hope so,” the report concludes.
“For now, we must continue to record these accounts of injustice. The work is vital. Each exoneration matters.”
The full report can be accessed here.