TIME Congress

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

Charlotte's Web harvest at the Stanley Brother's farm in Wray, Colorado for Pot Kids story.
Matt Nager for TIME Industrial grade hemp grows on the Stanley Brother's farm near Wray, Colo., Sept. 22, 2014.

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal pot—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for pot sales in 2015.

Now those plans have gone up in smoke. The omnibus bill contains a measure that would block D.C. from using funds to enact legalization. Congress has the power to scuttle the District’s plans because it controls the capital’s budget. D.C. politicians blasted the move, while many in Congress lamented the agreement. But there appears to be little that members can do to stop it.

Trampling on the district’s sovereignty was especially galling, says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and a D.C. resident, when it happens at the same time that lawmakers uphold states’ rights elsewhere. “Republicans see D.C. as so rock-solid Democratic,” St. Pierre says, “that they won’t give it the autonomy they are otherwise willing to grant states.”

The spending bill caps a year in which pot moved to the forefront of the political debate in ways that longtime advocates never thought possible. A majority of Americans now support full marijuana legalization. In January, Colorado became the first state to establish a legal recreational pot market, following by Washington last summer. Both debuts had successes, yet both states were beguiled in their own ways by lingering federal challenges. In Colorado, legal million-dollar businesses still must conduct their business largely in cash, because federal law that classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug blocks legal merchants from the banking system. In Washington State, the new weed shops comprise just a small slice of the marijuana economy, a thin legal layer piled atop the entrenched medical market and an illicit black market that continues to thrive because of better prices.

But Washington struggles also underscore why the medical-marijuana measure in the Congressional spending bill is important. Medical patients in the Evergreen State have been at the whims of overzealous U.S. attorneys or members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who had discretion to ignore the Obama Administration’s admonition to let the local experiments play out.

That left medical-marijuana patients like Larry Harvey, a septuagenarian retiree, trapped by a legal paradox. Harvey and his wife Rhonda were legal medical-pot patients who cultivated cannabis at their home in the mountains above Kettle Falls, Wash., until they were arrested on federal drug charges. They are currently awaiting trial. Larry Harvey, who has long suffered from gout and was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has been unable to use marijuana to ease the pain. Now, says Kari Boiter, a medical-marijuana advocate at Americans for Safe Access who has worked closely with the Harveys, the family’s attorneys can argue that the government has no standing to pursue the case.

Overall, the spending bill is “more mixed signals from Washington, D.C.,” Boiter says. “But for medical marijuana patients, it is a real clear blow to the Department of Justice prohibition that has been crushing them. It feels like we’ve been vindicated.”

Update, 12/12: The original version of this story noted the bill contains a measure that would block D.C. from using federal funds to enact cannabis legislation. It also blocks the use of local funds.

Read next: Colorado Approves Credit Union for Pot Store

TIME Guns

American Support of Guns Has Grown in Wake of Shootings, Survey Finds

A convention goer handles a Ruger 1911 model semi-automatic pistol during the142nd annual National Rifle Association convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston.
Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images A convention goer handles a Ruger 1911 model semi-automatic pistol during the142nd annual National Rifle Association convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 4, 2013 in Houston.

52% of Americans consider gun rights more important than gun control

Americans’ opinions on gun rights have shifted further into the “pro” column since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is approaching its second anniversary this month, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

About 52% of Americans said it’s more important to protect gun rights than it is to control who owns them, the survey finds. Just 46% said the latter is most important, marking a significant shift since 1993, when 57% of those surveyed felt controlling gun ownership should be the priority. In January 2013, about a month after the shooting that left 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School dead, support for gun control was at 51%.

The survey revealed an even greater shift in opinion among surveyed Americans of color. In December 2012, only 29% of black Americans said gun ownership does more to protect people from being victims of crimes, while 53% said it further risks one’s safety. This year, 51% said guns protect and only 41% felt they put safety at risk. The change among white Americans was far less dramatic.

Pew’s survey of 1,507 adults was conducted from Dec. 3-7. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

TIME justice

Execution Set for Man Whose Drunk Lawyer Botched His Defense

Robert Wayne Holsey
Georgia Department of Corrections/AP Convicted murderer Robert Wayne Holsey who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 9, 2014.

His attorney drank a quart of vodka a night

In 1997, Andy Prince’s life was in a downward spiral. The Georgia attorney was drinking a quart of vodka a night. He stole $100,000 from a client. He was arrested for disorderly conduct after threatening to shoot his neighbors. But none of that prevented him from representing Robert Wayne Holsey, a Georgia man convicted of shooting a deputy sheriff and scheduled to die this week thanks to what Holsey’s current lawyers describe as unthinkable and almost criminally poor legal representation.

On Dec. 17, 1995, Holsey shot and killed Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy Will Robinson in Milledgeville, Ga., after the officer pulled Holsey over for a suspected robbery. At the time, Georgia had no public defender office, leaving it up to judges to appoint a lawyer, often resorting to attorneys they knew personally. In this case, Prince was chosen to defend Holsey.

MORE: Ohio looks to shield lethal injection drugmakers

“When [Prince] took on Holsey’s case, he was in a lot of trouble,” said attorney Brian Kammer, the director of the Georgia Resource Center who is currently representing Holsey. “He was barely able to represent him. He was a chronic heavy drinker, an alcoholic. And it impacted his performance.”

Kammer says that in Holsey’s sentencing phase, Prince barely prepared the basis for why his client should be spared the death sentence. At the time, Holsey’s IQ was about 70, meaning by some standards he was intellectually disabled. Prince provided little evidence in court to bolster that defense and largely failed to provide the jury with information about Holsey’s childhood, which was rife with abuse and could have persuaded jurors to spare his life. A jury sentenced Holsey to death in 1997.

In the months and years following the trial, Prince was disbarred, sentenced to 10 years for stealing client money and later testified that he shouldn’t have been representing Holsey in the first place.

MORE: Missouri just tied its lethal injection record)

Yet the death sentence remains. While Holsey is set to die by lethal injection on Tuesday, his lawyers are working to halt his execution. On Monday, Kammer presented Holsey’s case to Georgia’s five-member clemency board, arguing that Georgia’s standard for determining intellectual disability is unconstitutional, a strict standard that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in Hall v. Florida that it was unconstitutional to automatically prohibit anyone with an IQ of 70 or above from being considered mentally disabled. The Florida law initially had a strict cutoff that made those with an IQ of 70 or above eligible for the death penalty.

The parole panel, however, denied clemency on Monday, and the Georgia Supreme Court decided against a stay of execution in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday. Holsey’s lawyers have presented a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court to halt the execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.

TIME justice

Officer Charged in Relation to Rikers Inmate Death in Overheated Cell

A picture of Jerome Murdough, a former homeless Marine who died in a mental observation unit on Rikers Island jail on Feb. 15, 2014 is held by his mother Alma Murdough left, and sister Cheryl Warner at Alma Murdough's home in the Queens borough of New York.
Jason DeCrow—AP A picture of Jerome Murdough, a former homeless Marine who died in a mental observation unit on Rikers Island jail on Feb. 15, 2014 is held by his mother Alma Murdough left, and sister Cheryl Warner at Alma Murdough's home in the Queens borough of New York.

Investigators said Jerome Murdough's cell had reached temperatures over 100 degrees

A Rikers Island correction officer has been charged with allegedly lying on jail records and making false claims that she had checked in on an inmate who died in an overheated cell in February.

Carol Lackner, 35, was indicted Monday on two felony charges — offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records — and other misdemeanors, the New York Times reports. Prosecutors say she claimed in her logbook that she had checked on inmates six times during the night, which conflicts with video footage from that evening.

A medical examiner ruled that the death of 56-year-old Jerome Murdough was an accident: Murdough, who was arrested on trespassing charges for seeking relief from the cold in a public housing project, died of hyperthermia when his schizoaffective disorder medication adversely interacted with the heat. Investigators said his cell reached temperatures higher than 100 degrees, and the Correction Department said that the heating system in the mental health observation unit of the prison was had been malfunctioning.

Lackner was suspended for 30 days and put on modified duty, which does not allow interaction with inmates.

[New York Times]

TIME justice

New Federal Racial Profiling Guidelines Worry Civil Rights Groups

Eric Holder
Tony Dejak—AP In this Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, file photo, U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference before a roundtable meeting in Cleveland.

Civil liberties organizations say some groups would still be subject to profiling

While the Department of Justice is set to unveil some major changes to federal racial profiling guidelines on Monday, some civil rights groups worry they don’t go far enough.

The Justice Department is expanding on guidelines released in 2003 that prohibited profiling based on race and ethnicity. Now, anti-profiling protections in federal law enforcement operations include national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. The guidelines also apply to both federal law enforcement agents and state and local agents on federal task forces.

But some carve-outs—such as screenings and inspections by the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—have raised eyebrows among groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition.

“It’s baffling that even as the government recognizes that bias-based policing is patently unacceptable, it gives a green light for the FBI, TSA, and CBP to profile racial, religious and other minorities at or in the vicinity of the border and in certain national security contexts, and does not apply the Guidance to most state and local law enforcement,” said Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU’s Washington legislative office.

Muslim Advocates, a faith-based legal and educational advocacy organization, echoed those sentiments. “While these changes are welcome,” a statement reads, “it is difficult to see how the guidance will improve the lives of law-abiding American Muslims who are singled out and targeted based on their faith, not evidence of wrongdoing, by the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and other law enforcement agencies.”

The Department of Justice guidelines do not apply to activities conducted by military, intelligence or diplomatic personnel. Border screening activities are also not covered, which has been of particular concern to civil rights groups.

After 9/11, sweeping counterterrorism efforts were imposed that led Arab and Muslim Americans—and some perceived to be Muslim or Arabic such as South Asians and Sikhs—to feel singled out and profiled by the federal government. A 2009 ACLU and Rights Working Group report found that Arabs, Muslims and South Asians “have been disproportionately victimized through various government initiatives” including FBI surveillance, questioning, airline profiling and no-fly lists.

But the fact that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t covered by the Department of Justice’s guidelines doesn’t mean the agency has free rein to profile.

“It’s important to remember that DOJ is one agency and DHS is another,” says Margo Schlanger, a University of Michigan law professor and former DHS officer for civil rights and civil liberties.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security issued its own guidelines on profiling in 2013. Under that policy, DHS personnel are only permitted to use race or ethnicity as a factor “when a compelling governmental interest is present, and only in a way narrowly tailored to meet that compelling interest.” Still, the DOJ’s new anti-profiling requirements apply to some DHS activities including civil immigration enforcement, Coast Guard, air marshal, and border patrol activities away from the border.

Border and transportation security screenings and inspections, however, remain among the few activities that are excluded. The Department says they will be reviewing the activities not covered by the guidance “to ensure we are including every appropriate safe guard and civil rights protection in the execution of those important security activities,” according to a fact sheet.

“The DHS policy is a little different, but it’s not unregulated,” Schlanger says. “The challenge for both DHS and DOJ going forward is going to be implementation.”

Implementation will be key, too, for both agencies in the ongoing effort to restore faith between law enforcement and minority communities. The nation is at a critical moment in terms of race relations, particularly as it relates to interactions with law enforcement. As protests to grand jury decisions not to indict two white police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men in New York and Ferguson, Mo., continue, the Obama Administration has made a point to draw attention to the issue of community policing. Attorney General Holder, who hopes the new guidelines represent one of his signature accomplishments.

“Our police officers cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected from the communities they serve. Bonds that have been broken must be restored. Bonds that never existed must now be created,” Holder said during a recent trip to Atlanta.

TIME justice

Federal Law Enforcement Banned From Religious Profiling

Eric Holder
Tony Dejak—AP U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference before a roundtable meeting in Cleveland, Ohio on Dec. 4, 2014.

"Profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective," Eric Holder said

Profiling on the basis of religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity by federal law-enforcement agencies will be banned, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The draft changes have been under review for months and Attorney General Eric Holder was eager to issue them before he steps down.

The new policy means that federal law-enforcement officers cannot use these characteristics as the basis for making routine or spontaneous law-enforcement decisions like traffic stops. The older rules, in effect since 2003, barred making those stops on the basis of race or ethnicity …
TIME justice

NYPD Chief: A Black Man in NYC ‘Doesn’t Have Anything to Fear From Us’

Mayor De Blasio And Police Chief Bratton Discuss Police Training
Andrew Burton—Getty Images New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton attends a press conference on Dec. 4, 2014 in the College Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of in New York.

NYPD internal probe into chokehold-related death will take three to four months

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton addressed on Sunday the nationwide protests sparked by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white cop in the chokehold-related death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner.

“Actually, [a black man in New York City] doesn’t have anything to fear from us,” Bratton said in response to a question on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But [protesters] do feel that. And it’s a result of, unfortunately, the stop, question and frisk controversy that overshadows so much of the success in reducing crime in the city for so many years.”

Bratton said the NYPD’s administrative investigation is underway, and it will determine if there were any violations of policies and procedures. The NYPD’s internal probe into Garner’s death will take as many as three to four months to complete, which means it’ll likely conclude before the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation.

“Part of the [NYPD investigation] will be to determine what everybody has seen on the video — is that, in fact, within the framework of what we teach our officers in terms of, ‘How do you take down the person you’re attempting to arrest?'” Bratton explained. “Chokehold is not illegal. It’s not against [New York] law. It’s against department policy and protocol.”

The New York City medical examiner’s office ruled weeks after the incident that Garner’s death was a homicide resulting from the “compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

TIME justice

Prominent Ferguson Protester Charged With Assault

Obama Holds Meeting On Building Trust In Communities After Ferguson Unrest
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Rasheen Aldridge, second left, listens to President Barack Obama at the conclusion of a meeting with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles Ramsey and other elected officials, community and faith leaders and law enforcement officials on Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington D.C.

The youngest member of the Ferguson Commission has been charged with assault for allegedly pushing a city marshal during a demonstration

A young Ferguson protester who has been tapped to help study the issues afflicting the city was charged with assault on Thursday over an incident outside St. Louis’s city hall last week.

Rasheen Aldridge is accused of pushing a city marshal during a demonstration in which protesters squared off against law enforcement as they tried to enter the building, the St. Louis Dispatch reports. Aldridge has said that he didn’t see the marshal get pushed by any of the protesters.

Aldridge, 20, faces a misdemeanor charge for the incident, which was caught on video. He’s the youngest member of the Ferguson Commission, a group of community members assembled by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to study the social issues in the city that have contributed to the protests. The members of the commission, including Aldridge, visited Washington Monday to meet President Obama.

[St. Louis Dispatch]

TIME Parenting

Pregnant Woman Says She Was Fired for Taking Too Many Bathroom Breaks

Portrait of woman wearing striped dress
Getty Images

A supervisor accused her of “stealing” from the company

A woman in Portland, Ore., claims she was fired from her job in 2013 for taking too many bathroom breaks while pregnant with her second child.

People reports that Dawn Steckmann was told by her supervisor at Maxim Integrated Products that “not clocking out to use the restroom is stealing from the company” and she could have been “watching a movie” during bathroom breaks.

Steckmann, who worked for Maxim for ten years, claims she had been told during her previous pregnancy not to bother with clocking out when using the restroom.

Steckmann is reportedly seeking $400,000 in damages in a gender and discrimination lawsuit.

Read more at People.

TIME Crime

Protesters Rally for Second Night Against Decision in Eric Garner Case

Thousands took the streets and chanted Garner's last words: "I can't breathe"

Thousands of protesters gathered in major U.S. cities for a second night Thursday to rally against recent grand jury decisions against indicting white police officers in the deaths of black men, blocking major highways in New York City and Chicago, and staging “die-ins” in public areas.

The demonstrations came the same day New York’s mayor announced a citywide police retraining program, after a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict a white NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner.

In New York City, 200 people were arrested as protestors streamed onto the Brooklyn Bridge and shut down parts of the West Side Highway. Chicago demonstrators halted traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway, while in Washington D.C. protestors attempted to upstage the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony near the White House with a “die-in” – lying in the street as if they had been shot.

Garner died in July after officer Daniel Pantaleo subdued him with a chokehold, an aggressive move that is banned by the New York Police Department. Pantaleo has reportedly denied using an illegal maneuver.

Wednesday’s grand jury announcement, which came just over a week after a similar outcome in the Ferguson, Mo., case involving teenager Michael Brown, sparked an immediate outcry and led a number of activists and elected officials to demand a federal investigation.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that the Justice Department had opened a civil rights inquiry into the incident, which was caught on video and later went viral.

MORE: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Announces Police Retraining Program

As footage of the rallies filled news segments Thursday evening, with many protesters chanting Garner’s final words “I can’t breathe,” his mother Gwen Carr opened up about her reaction to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo.

“I couldn’t believe that they came back and didn’t come back with probable cause to bring this case to trial. I couldn’t even answer a phone call,” she told CNN. “I just wonder… what video was they watching? Because obviously it wasn’t the one the whole world was watching.”

Carr said she does not accept Pantaleo’s apology. “He was choking him and my son was begging for his life. That was the time for the apology. He should have got up off of him and let him breathe… I would have still had my son,” she added. “He has no regard for human life if this is the way he treats suspects.”

She hopes that Pantaleo will still face charges in federal court.

Read next: Eric Garner and Why Cameras Are Not Magic Wands

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