Thursday, November 9, 2017
Lary Nichols is currently a Sergeant of the Dallas Police Department. Nichols, like his father and grandfather before him, was born and has lived his entire life in Dallas, Texas. He attended Lake Highland high school and had a part-time job selling cars at his father’s used car lot.
After high school, he headed to boot camp to join the Marine Corps. Because his goal had always been to become a Dallas police officer, Nichols joined the Marine’s military police to gain the necessary experience. After four years of service, Nichols left the Marines to pursue his dream. But unlike today’s standards—where recruits need to either have earned a minimum of 45 hours of college credit or have 3 years of military experience—DPD strictly required the minimum college credit then. Thus, Nichols took the requisite courses at El Centro, Dallas’s County Community College, before being admitted into Dallas’s police academy in 1992.
Upon graduation, Nichols worked full-time patrolling Southeast Dallas, until he was promoted to Senior Corporal in 1997. There, he worked with Dallas’s K-9 Unit for three years until he returned back to patrol. After four years, Nichols was promoted to Sergeant in 2004. As Sergeant, Nichols was placed in charge of one Dallas SWAT unit and has played a pivotal role in organizing the city’s security measures for large events such as marathons and protests. Currently, DPD is considering promoting Sergeant Nichols again, this time to Lieutenant.
Sergeant Nichols has been married since 1988, and has two children. His son recently graduated from Dallas’s police academy this year, following in his father’s footsteps; his daughter graduated from Texas A&M and is currently attending nursing school in Dallas.
Q: What training regarding marijuana detection and how to handle situations involving marijuana have you experienced?
A: In 1992, when I was in the academy, they had a narcotics officer come in and teach various things about the drugs we should expect to confront on the street. This included street names, what to look for; they also did something called a “controlled burn,” which is where they burned DEA-grade marijuana, so we could recognize the smell and be better equipped to testify about it in court if we made a traffic stop and we smelt marijuana. But I think that practice ended because now everyone knows what it smells like; plus, your trainer will say “Hey, that’s marijuana” while on the street. This was followed by update-training every few years. I’ve had some outside narcotics training, which consisted of either eight or forty-hour courses to improve narcotic detection and intervention. But most of my experience has come from making arrests and testifying in court.
Q: Do you believe that the methods currently used to detect whether someone is high on marijuana are effective?
A: I don’t think enough. Although there’s a lot of training to detect people high on marijuana, there probably isn’t enough to be adequate.
Q: Would you be open to police departments adopting a marijuana breathalyzer that would measure a person’s current level of THC?
A: Yes, I would. I think that would be a great tool. Especially as we move towards more states legalizing marijuana, law enforcement needs an effective method, similar to a BAC breathalyzer, to detect whether someone is operating a vehicle under the influence.
Q: What problems do you personally perceive regarding people using marijuana?
A: I actually think the use of marijuana is less problematic than alcohol. People don’t smoke weed and go beat their wives, but they do that with alcohol. But some problems associated with marijuana are long-term. The health effects are probably worse for you than smoking cigarettes; obviously there are cancer concerns. Also, marijuana tends to dull people’s initiative and motivation. From my high school experience, there were those stoner friends who smoked a lot of weed; they weren’t go-getters. Especially if people smoke too much. Overall, I believe the health effects and dulling of people’s initiative and ambition are the biggest problems. Also, people think they can smoke and then drive, but they can’t. Their reaction times are slow; their judgement is impaired. So that’s another large issue.
Q: Do you believe marijuana is a “gateway drug?”
A: I do; especially for younger people. It’s a way for them to start using illegal drugs. They feel like “Oh, I can smoke marijuana and go to school and then wake up the next day and feel fine? Well, maybe I can do this cocaine and pills too.” Adults though have a little more maturity. Similar to having a drinking age of 21, once people are more mature they realize “Yeah, I can smoke weed, but I’m not going to jump to heroin.” But I do believe it is a gateway drug for the more vulnerable population and younger people to lead them to more addictive drugs.
Q: Do you believe marijuana should be legal in any form? Explain.
A: We spend a lot of resources and a lot of money in the criminal justice system and law enforcement on enforcing marijuana laws. But I think that money could be spent better elsewhere. I think alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. So personally, I’m not opposed to legalizing it. But the problem I have is kids getting a hold of it. I know that’s a big problem in states that have already done so. Similar to getting older people to buy you beer here. I think marijuana is extremely detrimental to the young population. I’ve seen studies where it affects their mental and physical development. So, if it is legalized, it needs to be strictly controlled. I’m not opposed to it, and I think it will be legalized eventually because it doesn’t make sense all the time, effort, and money being spent putting people in jail. We are slowly reducing the penalties and enforcement of it. We should stop beating around the bush and just legalize, regulate, and tax it. We always talk about personal freedoms, well people should be free to do what they want. You can have an abortion and kill a baby, but you can’t smoke a joint in your own house. I think it’s kind of hypocritical; it’s similar to prohibition in the 1920s, which didn’t work at all.
Q: Do you believe your job would be easier if marijuana was legal for adults 21 and older?
A: There’s a catch 22 about that. Law enforcement would spend less time bringing people to jail for marijuana offenses, but there would be more people under the influence causing problems, so I don’t know if it would make our job that much easier. We would still have people driving impaired and stealing to get more marijuana. Especially initially after legalization, I believe there would be a lot more people using it, because believe it or not, there are people who refrain from smoking because it is illegal.
Q: In a given week, how many of your on-duty calls had some relation to marijuana?
A: I’m not in patrol right now, but back in the 1990s in Southeast Dallas, I would say probably 60-70% of what I did there involved some aspect of marijuana. Whether it was present, they were using it, or they were under the influence. So, it was consistently prevalent throughout my time patrolling.
Q: Do you believe marijuana enforcement has disproportionately impacted African Americans?
A: It probably does in a way, but ultimately, I believe it disproportionately impacts lower socioeconomic groups. Poorer people don’t tend to have private places to smoke, so they drive around or smoke in public place like the streets or in parks. This leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught by us. Whereas, someone with means and wealth will have a house or other place they can smoke where law enforcement won’t be able to catch them. Unfortunately, this is true for law enforcement in a lot of regards, not just marijuana.
Q: Which do you believe is more dangerous: marijuana or alcohol consumption?
A: In my experience, it’s clearly alcohol. If you look at traffic accidents, domestic violence, or other violent crimes, a lot of them involve alcohol abuse. Alcohol, especially in the short term, is worse. I don’t know if we have sufficiently studied the health effects of marijuana for the long term. I’ve heard there are things in marijuana that cause cancer, worse than in cigarettes.
Q: How do you think your job will be affected if marijuana is nationally legalized?
A: I think it will be a mixed bag. There will be some things that will be easier, some harder. Obviously, we will have more people using it, initially at least. But hopefully there will be more people using it responsibly. I think it will be a learning curve; I’m interested to learn from law enforcement in the legalized states on how they are dealing with these issues.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Atlanta has joined a host of cities and states throughout the country which have drastically reduced the penalties for marijuana possession that the federal government established decades ago. Atlanta's unanimous decision to decriminalize marijuana possession has inspired legalization advocates nationwide due to its breaking away from both the federal government and the state its located in. Carl Willis of WSB-TV reports the impact of Atlanta's new law:
The current law allows for a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone caught in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. The new legislation would lower that to just a $75 ticket and no jail time.
Councilman Kwanza Hall proposed this legislation during his current run for Atlanta's mayor. State Senator Vincent Fort, another candidate for mayor, also supported Hall's decriminalization efforts. They have both stated their motivation behind their efforts involves how the former law unfairly punished African-Americans.
Citing studies that show whites and blacks use marijuana at virtually the same rate, they reveal that 92 percent of Atlanta's arrests for marijuana possession under an ounce are African-American.
Stanley Atkins, an Atlanta citizen, supports the new law because a marijuana arrest as a teenager caused him to lose his employment. Atkins explains how the former law ruined lives:
"I have associates who have completely lost jobs. They've lost careers. I know students that have lost scholarships," Atkins said. "That cancels an internship, which later on cancels a potential job opening."
Opponents of the ordinance fear that removing jail time from marijuana possession offenses will be a disservice to young people because "it could encourage them to take more risks with marijuana, which some consider to be a gateway to harder drugs."
Another worry stems from increased driving fatalities. Police believe this law will "contribute to an increased possibility of folks driving under the influence of marijuana."
While this may be a big step towards Georgia pursuing similar laws statewide, the new city ordinance does not supersede state law. Thus, Georgia could withhold funding or send in state police to compel Atlanta to adhere to its state's law, if it so chooses.
Alternatively, Atlanta's Chief of Police could ignore the ordinance and continue making marijuana possession arrests. However, State Senator Hall believes this is an unlikely outcome due to police desiring stronger community relations. And when a community unanimously passes such legislation, Atlanta's police may find itself reluctant to go against the public's wishes.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
A New York mother possessed amounts of marijuana not even enough to be a misdemeanor. Prosecutors did not pursue charges, but Child Protective Services (“CPS”) decided it was enough to remove her children. Click here to read the full story from 2011.
A Michigan couple was state-licensed to use and grow medical marijuana for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis; however, CPS removed their six-month-old daughter, sending her to live with a grandmother a few hours away. The couple got their daughter back, but only under CPS supervision. Click here to read the full story from 2013.
Much more tragic, is the Texas couple whose toddler was removed from her home when CPS learned that the couple was smoking marijuana at night after their daughter went to bed. In a state-licensed foster home the toddler was beaten to death by her angry foster mother. Click here to read the full story from 2013.
As marijuana laws become more relaxed, the injustices to families at the hand of state agencies are on the rise. If CPS’s policies were updated to be consistent with state law and societal values, these stories likely would not have happened.
The public policy behind custody battles and CPS investigations is the best interest and welfare of the child. Up until recent years, society has generally viewed marijuana use as bad, and our agencies’ policies and state laws have reflected those societal values, as rules and laws should. Now, however, things have changed. Marijuana is decriminalized in over half of the states, and many states are adopting some form of legal marijuana use. Increasingly, marijuana use is no longer associated with danger or even substandard morals. As such, keeping the best interest of children in mind, it is time to rethink our standards as to agency rules and state laws to keep up with changing marijuana laws.
Suggested remedies for the problem include reform to the standard for assessing both recreational and medical marijuana use in the home and including “parent-protective” language in state marijuana laws and policies. (Family Law & Cannabis Alliance). However, these resolutions will take time to evolve. In the meantime, families are being affected in very real ways. If you find yourself in a situation like this, a great resource is the Family Law & Cannabis Alliance website. The website includes cannabis research related to family issues and a page on how to handle CPS.
Friday, September 8, 2017
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., has announced new sentencing guidelines in low-level marijuana possession cases. As reported in an article in PoliticoNewYork, the change will be an encouraging step for supporters of immigrant rights and recreational marijuana use.
The new approach is expected to help some immigrants avoid penalties that could lead to deportation and comes amid backlash from municipalities and states over President Donald Trump's immigration policies — specifically the use of courts to identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Vance announced that his office is also working on a policy, to be implemented in the spring, to end prosecutions for low-level drug possession.
The sentencing guidelines for marijuana possession in the Manhattan DA's office previously offered a 12-month "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" — or ACD — on the first offense, where the case is adjourned for 12 months and then dismissed and sealed if the defendant isn’t arrested again.
On a second offense, the previous guidelines allowed for the defendant to plea to either a marijuana violation or a disorderly conduct violation.
Now the Manhattan DA will offer an ACD for three months for the first offense and an ACD for six months for the second offense.
Vance explained the decision in a statement saying that a year is too long to have an open criminal case for a low-level, non-violent offense because it is publicly searchable online and can interfere with applications for college financial aid, housing or a job.
The city expects that some 4,100 individuals a year will be affected by the change. The program is set to being in the Spring of 2018. Proponents expect that it will mean fewer deportations for low-level possession.
-- Clarissa Dauphin
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Britain's largest newspaper has endorsed the recent Royal Society of Public Health proposal to decriminalize all illegal drugs. Here's a an editorial take on the proposal from The [London] Times:
Would it ever make sense to jail a chain smoker for smoking or an alcoholic for touching drink? On the basis that the answer is no, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is urging the government to decriminalise the personal possession and use of all illegal drugs. This is radical advice, but also sound. Ministers should give it serious consideration.
Prosecutions in Britain for small-scale personal cannabis use are already rare. To this extent the new proposals would not do much more than bring the statute book up to date with the status quo in most parts of the country. But the change the RSPH has in mind would go much further. It would push Britain into a small group of countries that have switched from regarding the use of drugs including heroin, cocaine and ecstasy as a health issue rather than one of criminal justice.
This is not a switch to be taken lightly, nor one the Home Office under present management is likely to take without sustained pressure from elsewhere in government. Yet the logic behind it and evidence from elsewhere are persuasive. Indeed, the government should be encouraged to think of decriminalisation not as an end in itself but as a first step towards legalising and regulating drugs as it already regulates alcohol and tobacco.
The RSPH’s model is a drug decriminalisation initiative in Portugal that is now 15 years old. Since 2001 possession of even hard drugs in Portugal has meant at most a small fine and, more likely, referral to a treatment programme. It does not earn the user a criminal record. More importantly, as of last year the country’s drug-related death rate was three per million citizens compared with ten per million in the Netherlands and 44.6 in Britain. Recreational drug use has not soared, as critics of decriminalisation had feared. HIV infection rates have fallen and the use of so-called legal highs is, according to a study last year, lower than in any other European country.
The Times suggests that the ultimate solution is to move to a legal supply chain for all of these drugs -- a step that the authors of the report didn't quite get to.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Two private British public health groups have released a new document calling for decriminalization of marijuana and all other "illegal drugs." nd The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health, two organizations whose membership works in the public health field, have released Taking a New Line on Drugs, which recommends that the U.K. take law enforcement out of drug policy at the possession level, while keeping it up against those who manufacture and sell the stuff. The paper's executive summary sets out the suggestions:
From a public health perspective, the purpose of a good drugs strategy should be to improve and protect the public’s health and wellbeing by preventing and reducing the harm linked to substance use, whilst also balancing any potential medicinal benefits. RSPH is calling for the UK to consider exploring, trialling and testing such an approach, rather than one reliant on the criminal justice system. This could include:
a. Transferring lead responsibility for UK illegal drugs strategy to the Department of Health, and more closely aligning this with alcohol and tobacco strategies.
b. Preventing drug harm through universal Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in UK schools, with evidence-based drugs education as a mandatory, key component.
c. Creating evidence-based drug harm profiles to supplant the existing classification system in informing drug strategy, enforcement priorities, and public health messaging.
d. Decriminalising personal use and possession of all illegal drugs, and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate support and treatment services instead, recognising that criminalising users most often only opens up the risk of further harm to health and wellbeing. Dealers, suppliers and importers of illegal substances would still be actively pursued and prosecuted, while evidence relating to any potential benefits or harm from legal, regulated supply should be kept under review.
e. Tapping into the potential of the wider public health workforce to support individuals to reduce and recover from drug harm.
There's some special pleading here, of course -- turning things over to the health authorities means more money and jobs for health workers. And decriminalizing without maintaining penalties against those who make and sell the stuff isn't going to do much to harm the criminal gangs involved in the trade.
Still, an interesting take on the subject.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Ohio voters knocked out a crony capitalist legalization bill last fall. So what's happening these days in the Buckeye State? Over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, Professor Doug Berman offers his thoughts. The whole piece is worth reading, but here's his summary:
I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.
The good news seems to be that medical marijuana is moving forward in the Republican-dominated legislature. The bad news is that recreational marijuana might not get off the launching pad this year.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
We naturally tend to focus on pro-legalization stuff here. But it's important to remember that there are still intelligent and well-meaning folks who strongly oppose legalization. One of them is Frank Rapier, a 30-year Treasury Department agent who now runs the Appalachia HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). He's got a new op-ed in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, entitled Don’t fall for the lies from Big Marijuana:
In response to the column, “Stop waste of money, lives in criminalizing pot,” let me say that I agree with Sen. Perry B. Clark on one point: America is being bamboozled.
We are being bamboozled by Big Marijuana.
While it is entirely possible that the marijuana plant does contain elements that would be useful in treating specific disorders, there needs to be research and a process of approval like all potentially helpful medicines. The Food and Drug Administration performs this procedure daily. Let’s give that a shot before we can get serious about marijuana as medicine.Big Marijuana has lied for years in stating that the prisons are filled with people arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth.
With the current opiate addiction crisis in Kentucky and other states, law enforcement is too busy to bother with casual marijuana users. A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 0.7 percent of all state inmates were behind bars for marijuana possession only (with many pleading down from more serious crimes).
In total, one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of all state prisoners in the U.S. were marijuana-possession offenders with no prior sentences, according to a 1999 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Colorado’s passage of a responsible adult marijuana-use law has also resulted in other issues.A report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area compared studies of the two-year average of marijuana use during full legalization (2013-14) to the two-year average just prior to legalization (2011-12).
The latest results show Colorado youth, aged 12 to 17 years old, ranked No. 1 in the nation for past month marijuana use, up from No. 4. Their usage was 74 percent higher than the national average. College-aged adults, 18 to 25, increased 17 percent. This was 62 percent higher than the national average.
Legalization is about one thing and one thing only: Making a small number of business people very rich. There is indeed some bamboozling going on. Kentuckians shouldn’t fall for legalizing marijuana.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Doug Berman asks that question over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. My answer is the same as his. No. Here's his quick take:
But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front. Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies. And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).
He's hoping he's "missing something" in that assessment, but I don't believe he is. I don't see anybody at the federal level moving to do anything this year.
The Administration? President Obama has had seven years to start the process of rescheduling cannabis, and has shown absolutely no interest in doing it. Given that he's spending his last year doing a victory lap of world capitals and top golf courses (and spending whatever political capital he has left on making it harder for people other than drug lords and gangbangers to get guns), it's hard to see him suddenly get interested. Attorney General Lynch is an old-line drug warrior whose troops are still busy denying that Rohrabacher-Farr amendment limits them from prosecuting medical marijuana growers. Think she'll suddenly see the light?
Congress? It's an election year, which means that despite lots of promises to various constituent groups, virtually nothing will get done.
The presidential candidates? On the Democratic side, Hillary is an old drug warrior who had eight years as First Lady, eight in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State to do something about it, and has never made the slightest attempt to do anything. Sure, for enough money she'd come out in favor of it, but compared to investment banks and Silicon Valley, the marijuana industry is small potatoes. As for Bernie, he'd probably support it as President, but he doesn't seem capable of even talking about any issue that isn't out of Class Warfare 101.
On the GOP side, many of the candidates are conservative drug warriors who are philosophically opposed to legalization. Of the others, I suspect that they took note of the huge boost that coming out for legalization did not give to Rand Paul. The number of Republic primary voters whose choice will depend on the candidate's position on marijuana is probably somewhere between "almost none" and "zero." And in the general election, issues like immigration, the Islamic State, Obamacare, North Korean hydrogen bombs, and Hillary's record will trump (no pun intended) minor stuff like marijuana. Again, enough campaign cash could change that, but it's hard to see how the industry could come up with enough to make it worthwhile.
So I'm even less optimistic than Doug. Of course, if Rand Paul does win the Republican nomination, and a brokered Democratic convention gives us Rocky de la Fuente, things might change.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Well, it's not exactly man-bites-dog, I suppose. But an "investigation" by the Daily Caller suggests that tobacco companies -- who already sell paper tubes of dried plant material that provide a drug to users -- are indeed looking to capitalize when cannabis goes legal nationally. The piece does have some interesting background. Some highlights:
Big tobacco, despite its conservative image since the 1970s, has been closely eyeing the marijuana market which venture capitalists regard to be worth $50 billion in annual revenues.
Tobacco companies are now on a buying spree of e-cigarette companies which produce vaporizers, a smoking device marijuana users prefer because it can offer a higher high.
. . .
"We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed," [said a 1970 Philip Morris memo]. . . . "The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying these needs."
. . .
[Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford School of Medicine,] said big tobacco has a distinct advantage in marijuana production. "On marijuana, who knows better how to grow a plant that you dry up, wrap up in paper and smoke," he told TheDCNF. "They’re the masters of that worldwide and have wide brand recognition."
Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz Center and co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Center, told TheDCNF he believes the tobacco industry is privately looking at the legalization movement.
"If you’re specifically in the tobacco industry, of course you should be paying great attention," Caulkins said. "It would be unfair to your shareholders if you didn’t at least watch with interest and probably should have several analysts working full time trying to think of different scenarios of how this could play out."
Dr. Stanton Glantz of the UCSF School of Medicine and the American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control told TheDCNF, "They certainly would deny it if you asked them, but the reality is that tobacco firms are very well positioned."
"They know how to make the product very well and very efficiently," Glantz said. "More important, they know how to engineer the product to maximize the addictive potential, which is something that the current marijuana enterprises probably aren’t as good at."
. . .
"Since at least 1970, despite fervent denials, three multinational tobacco companies, Phillip Morris (PM), British American Tobacco (BAT, including its US subsidiary Brown & Williamson [B&W]), and RJ Reynolds (RJR), all have considered manufacturing cigarettes containing cannabis," the UCSF researchers concluded.
Glantz asserted tobacco companies "have the financial resources, product design technology to optimize puff-by-puff delivery of a psychoactive drug (nicotine), marketing muscle, and political clout to transform the marijuana market."
As noted previously, big tobacco is buying up American e-cigarette companies with fervor.
. . .
"For e-cigarettes, there is a huge crossover in e-cigarette use between marijuana and tobacco," Glantz told TheDCNF.
I suspect that a lot of non-tobacco businesses are also interested. Do we think that Frito-Lay and Kraft, for example, haven't at least thought about the potential of cannabis-infused edibles"?
Monday, January 4, 2016
No, the federal government did not legalize medical marijuana in recent omnibus budget bill. The bill reiterated language from last year's omnibus bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to prevent a state from "implementing" its medical marijuana laws. But while various news sites trumpeted this as effectively ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, Reason's Jacob Sullum, in a piece titled The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted, argues that the ambiguous language in the Amendment isn't stopping the Justice Department from prosecutions.
The problem with the Amendment is its language. The Justice Department interprets it to mean that it cannot use federal funds to prosecute state employees who are involved in medical marijuana licensing, taxation, and regulation -- that is, those who are actually implementing the state program. There seems to be a difference between implementing a law (for example, being a state employee who sets or enforces speed limits) and merely obeying a law (a driver who follows the speed limit). If Congress had wanted to ban individual prosecutions, the most natural way to do so would have been to bar DOJ from prosecuting individuals and businesses who are licensed by state medical marijuana offices and who are in compliance with those regulations. While it's true that the authors of the Amendment hoped it would ban individual prosecutions (and while one federal judge has said it does) the DOJ argument is, from a pure statutory construction perspective, perfectly reasonable.
Sullum concludes that even if the Amendment did bar DOJ from individual prosecutions, its effects are still very limited:
The rider has no impact in the 27 states that do not have medical marijuana laws, and it applies only to the Justice Department, so it has no effect on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services.
More fundamentally, the amendment, which has to be renewed every fiscal year, does not change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no legal uses. Because marijuana is still prohibited by federal law, people who grow and sell it, no matter the purpose and regardless of their status under state law, commit multiple felonies every day. If no one is trying to put them in prison right now, that is only thanks to prosecutorial forbearance that may prove temporary.
Anyone who provides services to marijuana businesses is implicated in their lawbreaking. Last week a Colorado credit union that wants to specialize in serving state-licensed marijuana businesses tried to persuade a federal judge that it is legally entitled to participate in the Federal Reserve's payment system, without which it cannot operate. The judge did not seem inclined to agree, saying, "I would be forcing the reserve bank to give a master account to a credit union that serves illegal businesses." The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that periodicals containing marijuana ads are "nonmailable," citing a CSA provision that makes it a felony to place ads promoting the purchase of illegal drugs. An accounting firm and a bonding company hired by a Colorado marijuana merchant recently paid $70,000 to settle a federal racketeering suit filed against them by a hotel whose owners were upset about plans to open a pot shop near their business.
Problems like these cannot be solved without changing marijuana's status under federal law. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment does not do that, no matter how many hopeful headlines it generates.
. . . is the headline of a story today reprinted in USA Today. Even Texas has medical marijuana in 2016, and there are lots of stories about states moving toward legalization. But here's the short version of the list (in alphabetical order) of states that probably won't be seeing much action on that front this year:
Friday, May 8, 2015
I wouldn't exactly call it a "broad" bill as this story does, but it's something: Kansas House approves broad marijuana bill.
The Kansas House has approved a measure that would decrease penalties for marijuana possession, allow the limited use of medical marijuana and study the use of industrial hemp.
House members voted 81-36 Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for consideration.
First- and second-time marijuana offenders without serious prior convictions would avoid jail time under the bill. That would decrease the population in the state's overcrowded prisons and save more than $1.7 million over the next two fiscal years, according to state estimates.
Two amendments to the bill also would legalize the sale and production of hemp oil for seizure treatments and initiate a state study into industrial hemp.
Opponents say they're worried that the bill would open the door to wider marijuana legalization.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
As Douglas Berman pointed out, Derek Siegle, executive director of the federally funded Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, presented a guest column piece today at cleveland.com, in which he included nearly every argument he could imagine in opposition to ending marijuana prohibition. His article presents a wonderful (if stream-of-consciousness) summary of all the main talking points currently used by HIDTA officials around the country. This seems like a great opportunity to dispel some of the dire warnings we often hear. I’m cherry picking here, since there are so many arguments, a full response rather longish. But here are some of the more commonly used, and abused, arguments I see out there.
Not that many people are arrested for marijuana possession, so the impact on the criminal justice system isn't that great.
I never really understood this argument. It seems to be saying "we could be jailing everyone, but we really aren't doing it all that much - so that's good, right?" If it is so rarely invoked, then why allow for jail time at all? It seems to suggest that even the system recognizes that jail is not an appropriate sanction.
Of course, lots of people (particularly African Americans) are arrested for possession, so this argument might not be as compelling for those lucky contestants who win a free police escort to their local jail. But more to the point, the criminal justice system is far more than incarceration. Jailable offenses mean court appointed attorneys or private counsel, courtroom time, and the time law enforcement spends processing cases. On the back end, it can mean the loss of personal property and money in asset forfeiture proceedings, along with probation. Even technical violations of probation rules can lead to (re)arrest and incarceration, which would not show up in the claim that possession doesn't often lead to jail time. And then there is a criminal drug conviction that could show up in background checks for jobs, school, and housing for a lifetime.
Heavy consumers may find that the accumulation of THC in their system can affect them in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally.
If this is true, it is a compelling reason to not over-consume, but there is no reason to believe that criminalizing behavior changes people’s practices. Research has shown that teen use does not go up when penalties go down. Nebraska and Mississippi removed the possibility of jail in the 1970s, and teen use is lower in those states than in neighboring Texas, which treats possession as a crime. Studies also generally show that raising penalties for use does not deter behavior, and lowering penalties does not encourage behavior. The bottom line is that while marijuana over-consumption could possibly be a health concern, making it a crime does not deter consumption nor deal with the actual concern mentioned here - health.
Marijuana is more potent than it used to be.
There is some evidence that marijuana is more potent that it was several decades ago, but unlike both narcotic medications and alcohol — which take the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year — there are no known incidents of overdose deaths attributable to marijuana at any time. Despite its increased potency, it is still a safer alternative than substances we already regulate and control.
Potential tax revenue will only cover about 15 percent of the collateral costs to our community: increased drug treatment, emergency room visits, crime, traffic accidents and school "dropouts."
While it is not clear where HIDTA's statistics come from, the Congressional Research Service did an analysis of the revenue potential of a federally taxed adult marijuana market, published in November 2014, which is directly on point. It found these costs manageable with a modest tax:
Economic theory suggests the efficient level of taxation is equal to marijuana’s external cost to society. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada suggest that the costs of individual marijuana consumption to society are between 12% and 28% of the costs of an individual alcohol user, and total social costs are even lower after accounting for the smaller number of marijuana users in society. Based on an economic estimate of $30 billion of net external costs for alcohol, the result is an external cost of $0.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually for marijuana. These calculations imply that an upper limit to the economically efficient tax rate could be $0.30 per marijuana cigarette (containing an average of one half of a gram of marijuana) or $16.80 per ounce. An increased number of users in a legal market would raise total costs, but not necessarily costs per unit.
We do not know what the wholesale or retail sales rate would be under the better-known legalization effort in Ohio, or if they are comparable to prices in other parts of the country for similar products. If they were, a tax rate of 15% would be considerably higher than $16.80 per ounce.
States that do not tax medical marijuana find that their adult consumers cheat and sign up as medical marijuana patients. And most medical marijuana patients are under 40.
First of all, the “most are under 40 argument” is simply false. According to state marijuana program statistics, the average age of patients in Colorado is 42. The average in Montana is 47, and the average in Arizona is between 40 and 50.
Secondly, in states that have both medical marijuana and adult use, whether or not people are gaming the system is a question for regulators, not an argument in favor of maintaining the criminality of marijuana use. It is worth noting that according to research by the Toronto-based Center for Addictions and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, there are somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million self-reported medical cannabis users in Canada, or approximately 4% of the adult population, while only around 1/10 that number are registered patients. It is hard to speculate how many adult consumers would qualify as patients. But at the end of the day, it took a medical professional - not a law enforcement officer - to recommend medical use of marijuana in the first place.
Legalization will lead to greater use by our youth.
This statement is directly contradicted by peer-reviewed studies, which show that teen use either remained constant, or more often than not, dropped in medical marijuana states. (One interesting question is whether or not teen use of alcohol went up or down after alcohol Prohibition ended. Incidents of reported alcoholism actually did drop based on medical records from the time, but I have never seen this issue researched with respect to teen use.)
Marijuana is a gateway drug.
No anti-marijuana opinion piece is complete without the gateway drug myth, which has been repeatedly debunked by those who have actually studied it, most notably in a White House-commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. That study found that marijuana "does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse.” The gateway myth confuses causation and correlation. As recently explained by Susan Weiss, a psychologist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “[p]eople tend to use marijuana before they use other illicit drugs, but that’s probably because it’s much more available, and it’s the drug that people are more likely to come in contact with.” Just like alcohol does not cause people to use marijuana, marijuana does not cause use of harder drugs.
I would also point out that California has allowed practically unregulated medical marijuana since 1996 without any perceptible increase in hard drug use. 22 other states and D.C. followed. Where are all the new cocaine and heroin users ushered in by these laws? But hey, it sure sounds scary.
Accidents and fatalities on the highway will increase if marijuana is more available as it has in Colorado.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has called out HITDA for misusing state statistics in the law enforcement agencies' repeated efforts to advance this argument. In reality, very recent research by federal government’s own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found THC-positive drivers possess no elevated risk of motor vehicle accident, after adjusting for drivers’ age and gender. NHTSA acknowledges that this is the largest US-based crash risk assessment ever performed. They also note that their findings are ‘in line’ with other well-controlled studies also finding little to no increased risk.
If marijuana is medicine why isn't it prescribed?
This is one of my personal favorites. Here’s why not:
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studies and approves or rejects drugs for prescription use.
- It doesn't study a substance for medical benefit if the drug is already scheduled as having no medical benefits - it needs to be rescheduled first as something with at least theoretical medical benefit.
- The DEA has the authority to reschedule marijuana, thus enabling the FDA to begin study in earnest, but refuses to do so until there are studies on its medical benefit.
- Any studies on medical benefit (or any other use) must use marijuana provided by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- NIDA has an institutional policy, imposed by Congress, to only make marijuana available for research if that research examines its harmful effects.
The lack of study is based on the federal government’s general policy to refuse to make it available for studies on its benefits – not because marijuana actually does lack medical benefit.
Crime went up in Colorado after legalization.
No, it did not. Well, some types of crime did go up, while other categories dropped. The claim that crime increased selectively reports the data in order to fit the theory, ignoring the crime rates that dramatically fell. In fact, it's probably too early to really know what has happened to crime rates, although street cops in Denver don't seem to think it made much difference.
As I mentioned in the comments section following Doug’s post, the real problem with these sorts of arguments is that they lack any solution except "maintain the status quo – or else!" All they really do is present the possible harm to society/kids/budgets/crime rates if things change. But in reality they have been changing for decades and the sky is still, well, in the sky. If there really were horror stories to tell based on what states have been doing since reducing criminal laws since the 70’s, or adopting medical marijuana laws since the 90’s, or legalizing marijuana since 2013, we would not be arguing about hypotheticals.
March 24, 2015 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Local Regulation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, Research, State Regulation, Taxation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 6, 2015
Legislators in two northeastern states are looking at marijuana-related bills. The one before the Rhode Island Assembly, H5777 [text here] would open up sales of recreational weed under a tax-and-regulate scheme. Matt Ferner's HuffPo story on the bill gives this summary:
The Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, introduced in the state House and Senate, would legalize the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana for those age 21 and older. Adult residents could possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow one marijuana plant for personal use. Cultivation would be limited to secure, indoor facilities.
Retail stores and facilities to grow and test marijuana would be overseen by the state Department of Business Regulation. Of the taxes generated on marijuana sales, 40 percent would be earmarked for substance abuse treatment, anti-drug public education and law enforcement training. The measure proposes an excise tax of $50 per ounce of marijuana flower, $10 per plant and $15 per ounce of any other marijuana product sold wholesale from cultivators to retailers. A 10 percent sales tax would be applied to all retail sales.
Smoking marijuana in public would remain banned.
It would would make economic sense for the Ocean State to be an early mover. According to the Tourism Works for Rhode Island web site, tourism is the fourth biggest private-sector industry in the state, and 1-in-10 jobs in the state are tourism related. Rhode Island itself may have only a million or so residents, but it's an easy hop for the 10 million or so who live in Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as a fair-sized slice of New York. Not to mention the tourists from Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island, and so on.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, a legislative committee passed a decriminalization bill reducing penalties for possession of limited quantities:
New Hampshire may soon join other New England states in loosening the law when it comes to marijuana possession.
The Committee on Criminal Justice voted overwhelmingly Thursday to support a measure making it a violation, rather than a criminal offense, to possess a half-ounce or less of marijuana.
Under current law, possession of an ounce of marijuana or less is a Class A misdemeanor that carries with it a possible year in jail, but some believe that when it comes to societal problems, there are bigger fish to fry.
"We should be better spending our limited time and resources, and on top of that, the New Hampshire Constitution says the penalty ought to fit the crime," said Rep. Adam Shroadter, R-Newmarket.
Under Shroadter's bill, possession of a half-ounce would carry a penalty of a $100 fine for the first offense. Violators would not have a criminal record.
I understand you can get from Concord, N.H., to Rhode Island in under two hours by car.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
There are fair weather libertarians, and then there are Texas Libertarians. Rep. David Simpson is most certainly the latter. As noted by Prof. Snyder, he has presented a bill in Texas that utterly removes penalties for marijuana. All of them, for everyone. No regulatory system, either.
The press around the bill so far has centered on his reasons for doing so: God made the plant and put it here, why do we need to micro-manage it? (I would add to that argument by mentioning that for those of you who believe in a Creator, God also built our brains with cannabinoid receptors and then placed exactly one plant on Earth that just so happens to make cannabinoids. And our government has banned it.)
But I applaud Rep. Simpson for doing something few “libertarians” are really willing to do – apply his unapologetic ideals to marijuana. For many, libertarianism is really just a way to frame traditional conservative talking points. It’s easy to hate Obamacare and claim it’s because of libertarian views if enough voters in your district hate President Obama.
But step outside the traditional conservative talking points, and those very same ideals can quickly disappear. Take for instance a popular refrain of libertarians - state’s rights. Recently, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, self-proclaimed champion of state’s rights, lobbed a hand grenade into the legalization debate when he joined with his counterpart in Nebraska to file a lawsuit with SCOTUS intended to block Colorado from proceeding with its adult market. Here is a state’s rights advocate, jumping up and down on the playground demanding that the federal government go make Colorado cut it out. Who cares what the citizens of Colorado voted for. And still support.
And then there is Arizona Rep. Bob Thorpe, another one of these so-called libertarians, who saw a ballot initiative coming in 2016 that would impose a legalization system like Colorado’s. He presented a bill this year that would require that voter initiatives designed to establish state laws that are inconsistent with federal law can only pass with a 75% or greater majority vote. It was so obviously inconsistent with his own platform he was even called out by reporters in the course of announcing the bill.
Good ol’ Cannabis sativa L. It sure does have a powerful effect. For some, it gets them high. For others, it can alleviate pain or help them sleep. For fair weather libertarians, it can make them forget their talking points. Thank you Rep. Simpson for reminding us what it really means to be libertarian.
March 4, 2015 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Local Regulation, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Voter Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
In journalism, the phrase “man bites dog” refers to the notion that the unusual is more likely to receive coverage than the ordinary. Today’s man bites dog story comes from the District of Columbia, where the chief of police voiced her support for the district’s new law that that allows adults to be in possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, give one of those ounces to another adult, and grow up to six plants at home. The law went into effect February 26. Today, quotes attributed to Police Chief Cathy Lanier include such zingers as “It’s a small change,” “We’ve embraced it,” and “No big deal.”
But of course it is a very big deal. The nation’s capital - the seat of the federal government - now allows individuals to possess, grow and distribute (free of charge at least) a substance that is illegal under federal law. And we don’t often hear law enforcement take that sort of thing in stride.
I say we don’t often hear it, because in jurisdictions such as Colorado and Washington, law enforcement has generally found that significantly changing marijuana laws has not produced the swarm of locusts or rivers of blood we were promised.
Now that gay marriage is a reality in many parts of the country, stories on gay marriage just won’t be news much longer. It is heartening to think that as more jurisdictions move away from failed marijuana policies, and law enforcement finally gives a collective shrug over the end of prohibition, these types of stories won’t be news either.
The event was a huge success. The more than 300 guests nearly overflowed the Orca Ballroom at the beautiful Tulalip Resort, so much so that the fire marshal ordered that no more tables be brought in. There was a mix of lawyers, advocates, policy experts, business people, and (most important) a large number of tribal leaders from around the country.
Doug Berman over at MLP&R did some live blogging during the morning after his opening panel ended. I echo everything he says about the quality of the program. I'm a professor, so I've sat through a lot of conferences in my time, and I've rarely been to one where the quotient of good information per hour of time was higher.
Perhaps the best thing about the event was its practical focus. Marijuana-related events sometimes have a tendency to drop into rah-rah mode, and my sense was that the crowd in the room (based on where the applause came) was generally pro-legalization. But the speakers themselves emphasized over and over that the devil is in the details.
At the lunch session, two veteran marijuana observers, Mark Kleiman of UCLA and Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine, emphasized some basic economic realities: in a legalized world the price of weed won't be anywhere near the current market price, and thus the vision of making several thousand dollars per plant is likely unsustainable. Yes, there's potential profit there, but as in any commodity business it's likely to go to those who are the most efficient producers.
Perhaps the day's most informative panel -- at least for me -- was the one that featured two city attorneys who have been intimately involved in the hard work of making legalization systems work, Thomas Carr of Boulder and Pete Holmes of Seattle. The sheer number of moving parts involved in the process is enough to make tribes wary. Their advice: Plan ahead. Then plan some more.
In my view, the tribes considering marijuana sales face a conundrum. Those who move first into sales will likely make a lot of money, given the current artificially high prices. But they are also the most likely to run into the problems that come from hasty action and are most liable to any shifts in the political winds. Those who take their time and plan carefully will avoid the problems, but by the time they act, increasing competition will have driven much air out of the price, and potential profits will be lower.
One possibility, though, is that in non-PL 280 states, tribes might be able to sell weed without complying with state regulate-and-tax schemes, and thus will continue to have a huge price advantage over potential competitors. Professor Kleiman suggested that this would be "catastrophic," since tribes could thus upend carefully crafted state policies. As I've said before, I don't view it as a bad thing -- it would be nice to see a capitalist industry grow up so that we can examine it in detail before we decide how best to regulate it.
I want to add that I was extremely impressed by the three lawyer-organizers of the event who served on the panels. I'd never met Robert Odawi Porter, but after hearing him there's a reason he's regarded as one of the best in the country at tribal law. And the two young lawyers from Harris Moure who covered business issues in the day's final panel -- Hilary Bricken and Robert McVay -- matched their knowledge of the issues with some thoughtful advice. It's good to see this kind of capable representation growing up in the nascent business.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Marijuana legalization proponents aren't likely to get much support from President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Ms. Lynch told Senators at her confirmation hearing that she doesn't support legalization and disagrees with the President's views on the relative harmlessness of pot. Matt Ferner at HuffPo has a summary. Here are the highlights:
Loretta Lynch, the nominee for attorney general, said Wednesday during her confirmation hearing that she does not support the legalization of marijuana, and that she disagrees with President Barack Obama's remarks about the drug being no more dangerous than alcohol.
During her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asked, "Do you support the legalization of marijuana?"
"Senator, I do not," Lynch replied.
Sessions then went on to quote a 2014 New Yorker profile of Obama in which the president discussed his marijuana use as a young person. In that article, Obama called pot a "bad habit and a vice" and said he views it as more or less similar to the cigarettes he also used to smoke. "I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama said of the drug.
When Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed with Obama's remarks about his marijuana use, she appeared to take a harder line than the president.
"I certainly don't hold that view and don't agree with that view of marijuana as a substance," Lynch said. "I think the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I'm able to share. But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization, nor would it be the position if I were confirmed as attorney general."
. . .
Under federal law . . . marijuana remains entirely illegal. States that have proceeded with legalization have been able to do so because of Department of Justice guidance that urges federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.
Earlier in the afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Lynch if she considered the DOJ's guidance "good policy."
Lynch didn't directly answer, but said that the DOJ's guidance still allows federal prosecutors to go after marijuana cases that involve at-risk children, driving under the influence of the drug or marijuana crossing state lines -- especially when it's going from a state where marijuana is legal into a state where it isn't. She also said the DOJ is looking at the availability of edible products "and the risk of those products falling into the hands of children and causing great harm there."
When asked what advice she might give to officials in a state that's considering the legalization of marijuana, Lynch simply said she'd refer them to current DOJ policy on narcotics, and that she'd tell them federal laws would be enforced.
Assuming she's telling the truth and not just trying to tell Senate Republicans what she thinks they want to hear, this is discouraging. Not unexpected, but discouraging.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
House Speaker John Boehner seems to be more interested in dealing with the "national agenda" than getting involved in the legalization issue in the District of Columbia. That's according to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who met recently with Mr. Boehner (a Republican) and two top Congressional Democrats. That Washington Post's Mike Debonis reports on the meetings, and here's an excerpt:
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser climbed Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a series of meetings with federal lawmakers — including two Democrats holding ranking positions on key committees, as well as the man who, more than any other, controls the fate of District matters in Congress: House Speaker John A. Boehner.
After the meetings, Bowser (D) said she was encouraged that Boehner (R-Ohio) was too busy dealing with the national issues on his plate — including soon-to-lapse homeland security appropriations and an expiring debt ceiling authorization — to try to micromanage District affairs. That includes, she said, the marijuana legalization initiative passed by D.C. voters on Nov. 4, which is now on Capitol Hill for a 30-legislative-day review period.
“He really reiterated his focus on a national agenda, and we talked about some things that are important to us,” Bowser said. “[Marijuana] came up in that I expressed to him, certainly, our interest in respecting the will of the voters. And I think that, again, his focus is not on the local affairs of D.C.”
. . .
Before meeting with Boehner in his Capitol office, they met with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both panels have jurisdiction over D.C. affairs.
Carper said after his meeting with the new mayor that the marijuana initiative was not among the topics that came up. Instead, he said, they focused on “issues of fairness.”
The article as a whole leaves the impression -- which may or may not be correct -- that Mr. Boehner might lay off the legalization issue if D.C. officials show more willingness to support school voucher programs. Stay tuned.