Sunday, October 21, 2018
On March 30, 2017, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) introduced S.776, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.
The bill’s official title is “A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for the taxation and regulation of marijuana products, and for other purposes.” The legislation aims to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and set out requirements for the taxation and regulation of marijuana products.
Specifically, the federal tax code would be amended to impose: (1) an excise tax on any marijuana product produced in or imported into the U.S.; and (2) an occupational tax on marijuana production facilities and export warehouses. The definition of “marijuana product” wouldn’t include industrial hemp or any item containing marijuana that’s been approved by the FDA for sale for therapeutic purposes and is marketed and sold solely for that purpose.
Consequently, the Department of Justice would be required to remove marijuana from all schedules of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The bill appears to have contemplated criticism of legalizing marijuana on a federal level. The legislation would require producers, importers, and exporters of marijuana products to comply with rigorous licensing, recordkeeping, packaging, labeling, and advertising requirements. This would mean there will be greater control over the production and use of marijuana. The bill would establish penalties for violations of marijuana laws, including the prohibition of the sale of more than one ounce of marijuana in any single retail transaction.
Further, S.776 amends the CSA to require penalties for shipping or transporting marijuana into any state or jurisdiction where it’s illegal. Thus, states where cannabis is not legal will be protected from the substance crossing their borders. Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana (either medicinal or recreational), and the trend is towards greater acceptance of the substance.
Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) believe the use of marijuana should be legalized—a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. This is twice the number that were in favor of legalization in 2000 (31%). And the majorities of younger Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, including Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%), and Baby Boomers (54%). Given these numbers, in addition to the clinical data showing that it can help improve patient quality of life and its potential for revenue and jobs, the proposed legislation has backing among most working adults in the country.
While there are numerous compelling arguments for legalization and the passing of S.776, opponents say there’s also research demonstrating the dangers of marijuana use. A study by Northwestern Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School found that young adults who used marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in two key brain regions that are important in emotion and motivation.
In addition, law enforcement claims that parameters don't exist for determining when someone is under the influence of marijuana. There’s no blood-alcohol content (BAC) test, which makes enforcement worrisome. Critics also point to the fact that THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can stay in the bloodstream for days or weeks. As such, getting an accurate reading of impairment, and determining when marijuana was used, would entail some guesswork.
Potential Implications for the Cannabis Industry
As mentioned above, passage of S.776 would have a positive economic impact for the cannabis industry. For example, researchers in Colorado found that their taxed and regulated cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy. Opponents are quick to point out that there was about $23 million in added costs to legalization, such as law enforcement and social services. However, the researchers at Colorado State University-Pueblo found that the county still wound up with a net positive impact of more than $35 million. The university’s report examined trends in revenue, construction, marijuana use, homelessness, crime, environmental impact, and other topics and found little conclusive evidence to support claims that marijuana legalization has caused widespread social change in the county.
Also, a national study in January found that legalizing marijuana across the country would create at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across the United States in the next decade. New Frontier Data, a data analytics firm that sponsored the study, said that the marijuana industry could create an “entirely new tax revenue stream for the government,” with millions of dollars in sales tax and payroll deductions.
The momentum certainly appears to be moving towards widespread legalization of marijuana at the federal level.
Another bill, the Marijuana Data Collection Act, with bipartisan support. would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment." If enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would conduct the research and publish its findings within 18-months.
However, none of the several bills recently introduced in Congress, including S.776, are given more than a 3% chance of passage into law by Govtrack. Whether the push towards adoption of bills such as these once Congress reconvenes after the mid-term elections remains to be seen.
Spearheaded by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and California Rep. Barbara Lee, the Marijuana Justice Act is attempting to set the foundation, on a congressional level, for what equitable and progressive marijuana legalization should look like.
The Senate Bill, S. 1689, was introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on August 1, 2017, during the 1st Session of the 115th United States Congress. In January of this year, an identical bill was presented to the House of Representatives during the 2d Session, titled H.R. 4815, by California Representative Barbara Lee. Although the proposals have not yet garnered traction within Congress, the bills mark a progressive attitude towards legalization.
Senate Bill 1689 and House Bill 4815, both named the "Marijuana Justice Act", are a pair of identical Congressional bills that center marijuana legalization around criminal justice reform, accountability, and community reinvestment, and they represent the first time that companion legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The Marijuana Justice Act, if enacted, would:
- Remove marijuana from the US Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending the federal criminalization of cannabis;
- Incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level marijuana arrests by:
- Cutting federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests and/or incarcerates low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses and;
- Allowing entities to sue states that disproportionately arrest and/or incarcerate low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses;
- Provide a process for expungement of federal convictions specific to marijuana possession;
- Allow individuals currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related violations the right to petition the court for resentencing;
- Create a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.
A Bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for other purposes.
The stated purpose of the Act is to de-schedule marijuana, apportion funds, and create a “Community Reinvestment Fund”.
Section 1. Short Title
Both bills began with their titles, with the Senate bill stating: This Act may be cited as the “Marijuana Justice Act of 2017”. The House bill has identical language, with the only amendment being the change of the date from 2017 to 2018 when the House bill was introduced.
Section 2. De-Scheduling Marihuana
This section serves as the cornerstone for the legalization aspect of the Act.
For context, the Controlled Substances Act is the federal drug policy that places all regulated substances into one of five schedules based on the potential for abuse, current accepted medical use, and degree of physical or psychological dependence resulting from abuse of the drug.
As quoted in the CSA, the finding for Schedule I drugs include that:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Section 2 (a) of the Marijuana Justice Act is titled "Marijuana Removed from Schedule of Controlled Substances." The purpose of this section is to de-schedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) by striking the terms "marihuana" and "tetrahydrocannabinols", and re-designating subparagraphs within §202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812). 21 U.S.C. 812 (c) (10) and 21 U.S.C. 812 (c) (17) force cannabis-related substances "marihuana" and "tetrahydrocannabinols," respectively, into schedule 1 regulated substances; therefore, by striking the terms as mentioned above, they would no longer be listed as schedule 1 substances under federal law.
Section 2 (b) of the Act, captioned “Removal of Prohibition on Import and Export”—§1010 (b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C 960) strikes the language that penalizes:
Any person who -
- (1) … knowingly or intentionally imports or exports a controlled substance,
- (2) … knowingly or intentionally brings or possesses on board a vessel, aircraft, or vehicle a controlled substance, or
- (3) … manufactures, possesses with intent to distribute, or distributes … a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marihuana.
Additionally, the Act would conform the following amendments to the Controlled Substances Act by striking variations of the term "marihuana" and restructuring the designations of paragraphs and subparagraphs within:
21 U.S.C. 802 (44) – Definitions
21 U.S.C. 841 (b) – Prohibited Acts, penalties
21 U.S.C. 842 (c) (2) (B) – Prohibited Acts, penalties with prior convictions
21 U.S.C. 843 (d) (1) – Prohibited Acts, penalties and terms of imprisonment
21 U.S.C. 859 (a) – Distribution to persons under age twenty-one, first offense
21 U.S.C. 860 (a) – Distribution or manufacturing in or near schools and colleges, penalties
21 U.S.C. 863 (d) – “Drug Paraphernalia” defined
21 U.S.C. 886 (d) – Payments and advances, Drug Pollution Fund
The last measure of de-scheduling marijuana would amend the National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986 by striking the terms "marijuana and other" and "marihuana" from the act.
Section 3. Ineligibility for Certain Funds
Although this section is titled, “Ineligibility for Certain Funds” the section also provides guidelines for expungement and sentencing review.
Section 3 (a) provides definitions for terms such as “covered state,” “disproportionate arrest rate,” “low-income individual,” and several other terms cited throughout the section.
Section 3 (b) details the considerations for distributing Federal funding to states. Under the Act, if a state is determined to have a disproportionate arrest or incarceration rate for marijuana offenses, they will be deemed ineligible to receive federal funds to staff or construct a prison or jail. However, covered states will not be subject to more than a 10% reduction of funds that would otherwise go to law enforcement assistance programs, block grants, and justice assistance grant programs. Additionally, any funds not awarded to covered states will be deposited into the Community Reinvestment Fund.
Section 3 (c) requires that each Federal court issue an expunction for marijuana use or possession offenses that resulted in a conviction. Subsection (d) provides for sentencing review and states that individuals who have been sentenced and imprisoned have the right to motion the court to conduct a sentencing hearing. Lastly, subsection (e) allows individuals who have been aggrieved by the disproportionate arrest or incarcerations rate the right to bring a civil action in appropriate district courts.
Section 4. Community Reinvestment Fund
The final section of the Marijuana Justice Act establishes a "Community Reinvestment Fund" within the United States Treasury. According to the bill, deposits to the Fund will consist of funds not awarded to covered states, states that have not enacted a statute legalizing marijuana, because they have disproportionate arrest and/or incarceration rates for marijuana offenses in addition to amounts otherwise appropriated to the Fund.
Section 4 (c) outlines the uses for the funds; making them available to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs by funding job training, re-entry services, community centers, and other programs and opportunities. The Act concludes by authorizing $500,000,000 to be appropriated to the Fund for each fiscal year from 2018 – 2040.
The Marijuana Justice Act is rooted in social justice and community development. While the objectives of the Act are noble and progressive, perhaps the Act is attempting to tackle too many issues at once. There has been vocalized support for federal legalization, making Section 2 of the Act the most accessible.
Additionally, expunction efforts for marijuana-related crimes have been a topic of discussion on both the West and East coasts. However, there is a likelihood that courts will get overloaded by individuals who desire to bring civil suits. In regards to the Community Reinvestment Fund, the introduction of the fund would be groundbreaking; however, it is important to realistically consider the logistics and operations of the fund, as there would need to be continuous data-collections and attention to the appropriations on a federal level. If the Act were to be passed in its entirety, it would be a victory for communities impacted by the war on drugs and individuals who have been negatively affected by the implicitly discriminatory enforcement of current marijuana laws.
Saturday, October 20, 2018
On October 17 Canada became the second country to legalize marijuana allowing Canadians to grow, possess, and consume marijuana recreationally. Canada expects the legalization of recreational marijuana to boost their economy, but the laws surrounding marijuana are left up to each province's experimentation. Inquirer.net reports:
... legalization is expected to boost the Canadian economy, generating $816 million to $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter without taking into account the black market, which is expected to account for a quarter of all joints smoked in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
A $400 million tax revenue windfall is forecast as a result, with the provinces, municipalities and federal government all getting a slice.
In total, Statistics Canada says 5.4 million Canadians will buy cannabis in legal dispensaries in 2018, about 15 percent of the population. 4.9 million already smoke.
Inquirer.net states that by legalizing marijuana, the Canadian federal government overturns the marijuana ban that had been in place since 1923. The federal government left the task of creating laws to regulate legal marijuana up to the individual provinces. Hence, the world gets to sit back and watch to see which province's experimental regulations work the best. The article further reports:
Several [provinces] have already said they will not fully implement the law.
For example, even though federal law will permit each household to grow up to four cannabis plants, central Manitoba and Quebec in the east say they will ban it and go all the way to the Supreme Court over the matter.
Like with alcohol and tobacco, the question of legal age also falls to the provinces. Nineteen seems to be the standard, but it is 18 in Alberta, while Quebec, whose new government will enter office the day after legalization, wants to raise the age to 21.
With regards to sales, some provinces such as Quebec will implement a public monopoly while others, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, have decided to trust the market to the private sector.
As for law enforcement, federal police will be ordered to abstain for 28 days before working, as will police in Toronto.
Officers in Montreal, however, are simply asked to not show up to work high.
Another issue for the provinces to mull over is open consumption, with Montreal deciding to impose the same rules as those for tobacco, while people in other provinces will have to light up at home.
Legalizing marijuana clearly leads to many new problems, but with each province able to conduct their own experiment concerning the laws surrounding legalization, perhaps these experiments will lead to a structure the rest of the world can implement when moving towards a greener future.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Doctors in Britain can start writing cannabis prescriptions in less than a month. The motivation for the government to quickly legalize medical use came from two cases of sick children whose suffering was eased by cannabis. Both kids have life-threatening epileptic seizures and are successfully managing their diseases with cannabis. The New York Times reports:
The change was announced on Thursday by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, after he called for an urgent review of cannabis-based medicinal products over the summer, and his office said in July it had decided that “senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need.”
Mr. Javid said on Thursday, “Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis.”
The home secretary commissioned the review after the cannabis-based medicine of Billy Caldwell, 12, who has life-threatening epileptic seizures, was confiscated at Heathrow Airport on June 11. The case was publicized in the British news media and prompted a national discussion on the legalization of medicinal cannabis products.
Ms. Caldwell, the young boy's mother, spoke praise of the Home Secretary for the "swift movements" on behalf of her son and others. The whole process, from Mr. Caldwell's case to approval of medicinal cannabis took about four months. The Home Secretary clarified that general practitioners will not be authorized to write cannabis scripts, but specialized doctors will have discretion to give patients who have exhausted other options access to medical cannabis. This change adds the U.K. to a growing list of states and countries that have legalized medical cannabis use.
--Manda Mosley Maier
Friday, October 12, 2018
As have various US states, BC is now faced with the dilemma of how to handle legalization of an industry that is still in its infancy. CBC has the story:
The B.C. government's expert on keeping people safe in the consumption of recreational cannabis says getting ready for legalization on Oct. 17 is still very much a work in progress.
"What we have been saying for the past eight months is that we are building the plane as we are flying it," said Gerald Thomas, the director of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and gambling prevention and policy for the Ministry of Health.
Thomas is an academic consultant on public health as it relates to consumption of those substances.
On Friday, he participated in a panel discussion at a cannabis conference at the University of British Columbia on issues concerning upcoming legalization.
. . .
Thomas did not take questions from media afterwards, but told around 150 people in attendance that the government doesn't "have it right," when it comes to its recreational cannabis policy.
Since the majority of marijuana legalization policy has not had to stand the test of time, there is not a tried and true basis for British Colombia to model their policies on. CBC goes on to report:
Despite the work done to date, there are still unknowns such as how people seeking to use marijuana for therapeutic uses will get reliable advice in the legal recreational system.
It's also unclear what will happen to producers of products, like edibles, which aren't currently part of the recreational plan, and how police forces will deal with impaired driving and marijuana.
"Having just spent the last eight months of my life consumed by the cannabis monster, I call it, I would suggest with most of folks here that we don't have it right," said Thomas.
"We have been pushed to the wall to try and make this happen in such a short time frame."
Still he told the audience though that people in the government who are working to be ready for legalization are doing their best to get it right.
The article lastly notes that Thomas hopes the government can get marijuana policies right before parties conform to the existing structure and make the policies difficult to modify.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
On Friday, a small US territory made a big splash in the country’s marijuana legalization history. According to Forbes.com, the Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands signed a bill into law that provides
adults over 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as infused products and extracts. Regulators will issue licenses for cannabis producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges. Home cultivation of a small number of plants will be allowed.
The article further points out that this is the first US jurisdiction “to go from having cannabis totally illegal to allowing recreational use without first having a medical marijuana program.” It was “unclear if the governor was going to sign or veto the legislation, as he had previously expressed concerns about the public safety implications of legalizing marijuana.”
Though the governor signed the recreational scheme into law, he also used his “line-item veto powers to cancel some provisions of the proposal, including one to allow a government entity to be licensed to grow cannabis, as well as a provision requiring recreational marijuana consumers to obtain $5 permits.”
Legalization advocates are hopeful about the effect this may have on other US Jurisdictions.
"This is the first legislatively enacted law in the U.S. that taxes and regulates marijuana for adults’ use, but it will be far from the last," Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview. "New Jersey could follow suit within weeks, and as many as five more state legislatures could do so within the next year. Public support for legalizing marijuana is strong and growing, and elected officials are increasingly getting the message."
Other advocates are hopeful that the “building momentum will add pressure on the federal government to modernize its approach to cannabis.”
--Ashleigh Morgan Williams
Nevada is the latest state to feel the economic boom of legalized cannabis, and so far it is smooth sailing for state regulators. The state fully legalized the drug beginning in January 2017 and total industry sales soared over $500 million, $425 million of which came from recreational sales alone. These numbers drastically outperformed both state projections, and first year sales of other states. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has the story:
Including recreational and medical marijuana as well as marijuana-related goods and accessories, Nevada stores
eclipsed a half-billion dollars in sales, just under $530 million, according to figures released Tuesday by the Nevada Department of Taxation.
Bill Anderson, executive director of the Tax Department, said that the industry “has not only exceeded revenue expectations, but proven to be a largely successful one from a regulatory standpoint.”
“We have not experienced any major hiccups or compliance issues,” he added. “As we move into fiscal year 2019, we expect to see continued growth in the industry by way of additional businesses opening up, and we expect revenues to continue to be strong.”
This stunning performance translated into $70 million in tax revenue for the state. To give some context to these metrics, state regulators projected $265 million in sales and $50 million in tax revenue, according to the Review-Journal. Furthermore, the states of Colorado, Washington, and Oregon–largely considered to be trailblazing states in the cannabis industry, and all with larger populations than Nevada by at least 1 million citizens–recorded first-year cannabis sales of $303 million, $259 million, and $241 million, respectively, putting them far behind Nevada's first year numbers. Perhaps most surprisingly, despite being home to Las Vegas, Nevada only collected $49 million in intoxicating beverage taxes from 2016-2017, signaling that marijuana may be a greater source of revenue for the state than alcohol moving forward.
Nevada's "sinful" tourist economy can likely be thanked for such astounding numbers, although the state's casinos have come out against marijuana use in their facilities, out of fear of losing their gaming licenses. Additionally, the state's marijuana law prohibits consumption anywhere but in private residences. State Senator Tick Segerblom told the Las Vegas Sun: “The numbers are kind of leveling off, and we need to reach the tourist market a little more. We need a venue where people can come and enjoy marijuana properly."
These results suggest a few things: first, that tourism economies can drive marijuana sales even in states with lower populations and where marijuana use is not widely supported by dominant businesses. Second, that as more states legalize cannabis they may take cues from states that have previously approved legalization in order to more efficiently bring the drug to market. Finally, that there is still much progress to be made with respect to laws surrounding marijuana consumption in states where it has been made legal. Perhaps as more states begin venturing into legalization, they will use Nevada as a model of how best to regulate, tax, and sell cannabis.
September 29, 2018 in Business, Commercial Law, Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Taxation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 21, 2018
A U.S. House committee approved a bill last week that would require the Department of Justice to issue licenses to marijuana growers for research purposes. Cannabis Business Times reports that while the bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote before the full House, the committee action is nonetheless a significant step in the legislative process.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 would open the door to a more robust federal licensing process that would allow medical-grade cannabis to be grown for state-funded research. Since 1968 and up to the present day, only the University of Mississippi has held such a license.
If the bill were to pass, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to license two research facilities for cannabis cultivation within one year. For each year after that, he (or the successive attorneys general) would be required to license an additional three research facilities.
While there have been a slew of cannabis-related bills written on Capitol Hill, Thursday's approval of the Medical Cannabis Research Act by the House Judiciary Committee places the bill ahead of most others. Here's a video of the hearing:
-- Jason Carr
Monday, September 10, 2018
A bill filed in Congress would allow veterans to get medical marijuana from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While a growing number of military veterans use medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD, chronic pain, and other mental and physical war wounds, however, federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing it. That might change.
Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently filed the Medical Marijuana for Veterans Safe Harbor Act that would legalize medical marijuana for veterans and empower physicians in the VA to issue medical marijuana recommendations in accordance with the laws of "the State in which the use, possession, or transport occurs." Despite the fact that state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana are preempted by federal laws which prohibit such use, this bill effectively harmonizes federal law governing the VA with state law in states where medical marijuana is legal.
According to Tom Angell of Forbes, who reports on the story, Senators Nelson and Schatz are addressing long-term goals such as cannabis research and reduction of opioid use among veterans. The bill allocates $15 million for research on "the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain" and "the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by States, the access of veterans to such programs, and a reduction in opioid abuse."
Some form of medical marijuana is permitted in 31 states and this legislation would grant veterans the same access to legitimately prescribed medication as other patients in those 31 states would have. Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, says that "Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality. The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act."
Monday, September 3, 2018
Maybe, according to lawyers Jinouth Vasquez Santos (Los Angeles) and Stanley Jutkowitz (D.C.) of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The pair have a recent client advisory that notes what's going on up in Baja Manitoba:
Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed medical marijuana legalization with 64 percent support. Now, North Dakota could join a number of sanctuary states legalizing recreational marijuana.
Through an effort called Legalize ND, proponents of recreational marijuana submitted more than the required 13,452 valid petition signatures to get a measure on the November 2018 general election ballot.
If passed, the measure would legalize the cultivation, possession, use, and distribution of marijuana and authorize the state, counties, and other municipalities to tax the sale of marijuana at no more than 20 percent. The measure would also remove penalties related to marijuana use from state law.
However, voters should expect an uphill battle. Opponents argue that legalization will create a lot of problems with regard to regulations and will increase crime. But if passed, one thing's for sure, if you can smoke it there, you may well be able to smoke it anywhere.
So how will this affect employers? It's a bit hazy. The measure does not have any specific provisions impacting an employer's right to drug test or to make employment decisions based on a positive drug test.
However, based on North Dakota's medical marijuana provisions which provide that the statute does not prohibit an employer from disciplining an employee for possessing or consuming usable marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana, one can assume the same may apply if North Dakota legalizes recreational marijuana.
Vasquez Santos and Jutkowitz
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
A vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey could be approaching in the upcoming month. New Jersey Senate President, Stephen Sweeney recently expressed confidence that there will be enough votes to pass a recreational bill as early as this Fall. However, the vote may face delay as there have been changes in budget proposals, and currently, a pair of new bills regarding recreational legalization and medical expansion are awaiting finalization.
Governor Phil Murphy has built a reputation as being a champion for legalization in the name of social justice. While Murphy's promise of legalizing recreational marijuana within his first 100 days in office did not come to fruition, he has been able to make strides in expanding the state's medical marijuana program by including more qualifying conditions.
Although Murphy wants the legalization efforts to materialize, budgetary obstacles are proving challenging to get around. Reports stated that Murphy intended to include $60 million in revenue of a state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, with many legalization supporters hoping the revenue would go toward an expungement program. More detail can be found in an article in Rolling Stone:
Advocates want this expungement to be automatic, where the state takes on the process of expunging records rather than the person charged. However Kate Bell, legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project, says that the phrase “automatic” is very misleading.
“People have this idea that the government can still press a button and magically expunge all these past convictions, but that’s not necessarily correct,” Bell says.
Record expungement is affecting marijuana policies across the nation, as a California expunction bill has just passed the Senate and is awaiting the Governor's signature. On the opposite coast, Senate Bill S-2702 was introduced in early June by NJ Senator Nicholas Scutari and would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over, and included a provision about expungement; however, expungements would still require an application.
Although there is no concrete time frame for New Jersey to pass legislation, an increase in cannabis-related arrests and racial disparities in said arrests has yielded a newfound urgency for legislative action.
-- Gianna Redeemer
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Californians who have marijuana convictions on their records may soon be getting some relief. NPR reports that a California bill, AB-1793, has passed the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in the coming week.
California legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016 when voters passed Proposition 64. That proposition applied retroactively to convictions for many marijuana-related offenses that occurred before 2016. But it did not contain provisions to enable those eligible to have such convictions removed from their record or reduced to from felonies to misdemeanors.
AB-1793 would mandate that eligible persons be given the chance to clean up their records. In fact, the Bill requires California State Department of Justice officials to determine which cases are eligible for review and send them to the District Attorneys' office by July 1, 2019.
While the bill has received pushback from those who believe people with marijuana-related convictions should not be given a free pass, the City of San Francisco has already begun the process of expunging or reducing convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975. aSince people were unfamiliar with the process, a mere 23 people in the city had started the process themselves. This is not surprising, as the expunction process can be expensive and those who were affected by these convictions likely do not have the resources to pay an attorney.
Brown has a history of pardoning people who were convicted on charges concerning controlled substances and drugs. It is likely difficult for many people with a criminal record to hire an attorney to discuss the mere possibility of expunction for charges filed up to forty years ago. By putting most of the burden on the state, AB-1793 will relieve the stress of those whose past actions would be legal today in California. . "[The] role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, "not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay."
Friday, August 17, 2018
There are about a dozen cannabis-related bills floating around Congress at the moment. The one that's probably getting the most attention is the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment by Entrusting States ("STATES") Act, introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Over at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority blog, Professor Rob Mikos (Vanderbilt) offers his take on the good and bad. The bill would substantially increase protections for marijuana businesses, but he notes at least three significant problems:
[T]he STATES Act effectively bars legal claims that might be asserted by a host of other parties, including other federal agencies (think of the Federal Reserve’s disapproval of marijuana banks), state officials (think of preemption claims filed by states), and private parties (think of Civil RICO suits brought by private landowners against marijuana suppliers). The STATES Act would do this by making marijuana legal, at least when a state chooses to do so.
To be sure, the STATES Act is less bold than some other proposals that have been floated in Congress . . . But the latest bill’s more cautious approach should make it more politically viable.
 The protection afforded by the STATES Act hinges upon marijuana suppliers (and users) staying in “compliance with State law.” . . . But . . . this approach could leave state licensed marijuana suppliers (and users) exposed to harsh federal criminals sanctions for committing seemingly minor violations of state law. Imagine, for example, that a supplier is licensed by her state to cultivate 1,000 plants, but she actually keeps 1,001 plants in her warehouse. The state might treat this as a minor violation, perhaps subjecting the supplier to a warning or small fine. But if the STATES Act is interpreted literally, she would now be criminally liable under federal law (after all, she is no longer in “compliance” with state law). And she might face a 10 year mandatory sentence under the CSA . . . .
 The STATES Act proposes to tie the federal government to the mast of 50 ships being sailed by the states. Indeed, the very title of the bill declares that the federal government “entrusts” the states with responsibility for this important policy domain. But this raises problems for both prohibitionists and reformers alike.
On the one hand, marijuana prohibitionists might worry that states will authorize objectionable marijuana activities–in the process, forcing Congress to do so as well. . . .
On the other hand, supporters of legalization might find the proposed bill somewhat hollow. In the press conference announcing the bill (watch here), Senator Warren gave an impassioned plea for legalization of marijuana. . . . But if prohibition is really so problematic, why not legalize marijuana throughout the nation? The STATES Act doesn’t really do that. . . .
 Here are just some of the questions raised but not answered by the bill:
--Would military personnel be allowed to use marijuana, medically or otherwise?
--Would employers or landlords have to accommodate medical use of marijuana under the Americans With Disabilities Act?
--Could states continue to ban commercial marijuana advertising, given that the constitutionality of such bans has arguably hinged on federal marijuana prohibition (see book pages 501-504)?
--Would the Food and Drug Administration continue to bar marijuana suppliers from making medical claims regarding the health benefits of their products?
-- Frank Snyder
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Some New York citizens are attempting to hold a state referendum to convene a state constitutional convention. They hope to accomplish state-goals like dismantling campaign finance laws, enacting term limits, and ending gerrymandering. But other supporters are seeking a state constitutional convention for a very different reason: the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Tom Precious of The Buffalo News reports:
Stymied in their efforts to get the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to go along with their idea, these advocates see a convention of delegates brought together to consider changes to the constitution as a means to loosen marijuana laws.
It's not an easy sell. Nowhere on the statewide ballot is there any guarantee that any issue, whether it’s marijuana or anti-corruption ideas, would even be considered in a convention…. Recent polls reveal that 49 percent of New Yorkers support adult-use legalization of marijuana, compared to the 47 percent who remain opposed.
This referendum, known as Proposal 1, is seeking support from left-leaning citizens like proponents of Senator Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter. Such support is crucial because of the appeal that a constitutional convention could lead to sweeping changes in the law which would create more equal opportunities and treatment for the state's citizens.
Surprisingly, this effort is not inducing the support of pro-legalization groups like the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. These groups are hesitant to support Proposal 1 because of their alliances on broader policy agendas with various groups that actively oppose the referendum.
Opponents of Proposal 1 fear the uncertain outcomes that could result from a constitutional convention—the United States last held one in 1787, and it led to the creation of an entirely new constitution. And while voters in New York consider whether to hold a state convention every twenty-years, the last one actually held was in 1968 and produced no changes to the state's constitution.
Another problem facing proponents of a state constitutional convention involves being badly outspent by their opponents:
[T]he one anti-Proposal 1 group, funded almost exclusively by an array of labor unions, has raised $1.5 million for its campaign to stop the convention. Four main groups backing the convention question have brought in under $400,000.
Meanwhile, pro-legalization supporters have raised less than $150,000 and spent just $9,700 in campaign expenditures since July. Raising money has proven difficult for supporters due to the overwhelming union opposition and the difficulty in convincing potential donors that the marijuana issue would even be decided if a convention was held.
Labor unions maintain a firm opposition to Proposal 1 because of the possibility that it would strip away hard-won rights, like collective bargaining. Nick Reisman of Spectrum Local News asked New York's AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento his take on Proposal 1:
“With those strong labor protections comes a way of life. We want to be able to protect what we have for ourselves and our families well into the future and that's why the labor movement in this state is so adamantly opposed to a constitutional convention[.]”
While every state that has legalized adult-use marijuana has done so through legislation, some citizens in New York have grown impatient with their state's legislature and thus are pursuing legalization through a different avenue. But this road to legalization contains many uncertainties— the most prevalent being whether the marijuana issue will even be raised if a convention is held.
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.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Marijuana advocates continue to develop new and exciting ways to partake in the booming business of marijuana consumption. Loopr, a Denver-based marijuana party bus company, plans to create another "green line" in Massachusetts' transit economy. But instead of a green line focusing on transporting passengers via the subway, Denver's 'Puff Bus' will provide passengers a fun transportation experience largely revolved around marijuana consumption. Alban Murtishi of MassLive.com reports:
Loopr allows patrons to consume various forms of marijuana while riding on a bus through downtown Denver. The bus route stops at restaurants, hotels, nightspots and marijuana dispensaries.
According to the company, the Loopr vehicles, called Puff Buses, offer dazzling multimedia experiences with curated music and light shows.
Riders are allowed to smoke or consume marijuana in the back partition of the bus. The bus comes equipped with several different smoking implements, such as water pipes, vaporizers and hookahs.
The company doesn't sell marijuana, but partners with different dispensaries to get riders discounts.
While at first glance the 'Puff Bus' sounds like a fun experience, the potential legal hurdles will likely hinder its operation. Although party buses involving alcohol consumption are quite common in America, there are many differences concerning marijuana and alcohol, especially pertaining to their legal statuses and effects on third persons.
The obvious concern is how the federal government will react to such a company. Loopr supporters will point to the federal government's lack of enforcing its marijuana ban on Loopr's current business model in Denver, Colorado. Supporters will argue that the states should retain their autonomy and decide for themselves if they want to enact the appropriate legislation to permit such a mobile-marijuana-consumption company.
Opponents of legalization will face a tough battle if they depend on federal enforcement. It has been 5 years since Colorado first legalized marijuana, and the federal government has not shown an intent to fully enforce its ban, instead requesting legalized states to follow certain priorities.
However, a strong argument against Loopr involves public safety. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use has a noted effect on those around it, even if they don't personally consume the drug. Opponents can argue that the bus driver will be affected by the rampant marijuana consumption in a small and enclosed bus, thus impairing the driver and creating an unsafe environment for fellow commuters on the road.
Opponents can bolster this argument by referring to one of the federal government's listed priorities from the 2013 Cole II memo: To prevent drugged driving and exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences.
Ultimately, until the federal government clarifies the national law or decides to enforce the current ban, legalized adult-use states like Massachusetts will issue the final decision on whether to legalize businesses such as Loopr.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Ever since the state-scale referendums in 2014 began legalizing adult use of marijuana, a
common concern amongst opponents of marijuana legalization is the overall uptick in marijuana use that will stem from said legalization. Although marijuana use has increased since 2015, a new study from the Addiction journal rejects that the increase was caused by the increased legalization of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Rather, an Addiction study found that a change in public opinion has led to a change in legislation, not the other way around. According to Tom Angell’s Study: Rise in Marijuana Use Not Caused by Legalization:
Researchers at the Public Health Institute's Alcohol Research Group analyzed data from periodic National Alcohol Surveys and stacked its results on marijuana use against changes in state laws.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have comprehensive legal medical cannabis programs, and eight states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.
They found that instead of being caused by policy changes, the rise in cannabis use was "primarily explained by period
effects," meaning societal factors that affect populations across age and generational groups. The authors identify a decreasing disapproval of marijuana use as one such factor potentially at play.
But they are clear that the rise in use was not caused by changes to marijuana laws.
"The steep rise in marijuana use in the United States since 2005 occurred across the population and is attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies in some states," the paper's abstract says.
Angell furthers his "chicken or the egg" argument by pointing to similar factors. For example: due to the growing acceptance of marijuana use by the public at large, coupled with the changes in regulation that reflect this acceptance, Angell believes that more people are simply willing to admit to using marijuana or marijuana derivatives. This logic leads Angell to believe that increased use and acceptance of marijuana has influenced recent legalization, rather than the other way around.
In Iowa, elected executives are advising the State's Department of Public Health to refrain from corroborating with its neighboring states to obtain cannabis oil. Barbara Rodriguez reports on how the lack of federal enforcement is causing confusion among states concerning how to implement medical marijuana legislation, according to an article in The Des Moines Register:
An unusual attempt by Iowa to work with another state to transport medical marijuana oil across state lines is on hold amid legal concerns it could invite scrutiny from the federal government.
The Iowa Attorney General's office advised the Iowa Department of Public Health this month that it should not implement a small section in Iowa's new medical marijuana law that requires the state, before the end of the year, to license up to two "out-of-state" dispensaries from a bordering state. Those entities would have been expected to bring cannabis oil into Iowa in order to sell it.
That's considered illegal under federal law, which categorizes marijuana as a type of controlled substance that is prohibited from being moved across state lines. But during the final hours of the legislative session in April, some Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature suggested adding the language to open the door for a partnership with a neighboring state like Minnesota.
The development is not expected to impact other provisions in the law that call for establishing an in-state production system for cannabis oil by the end of 2018. Still, some GOP lawmakers expressed frustration with the news because the provision was also aimed at creating more immediate access to cannabis oil. Currently, Iowans have no way of getting the product within the state.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, noted in a statement that no matter what the Legislature had decided, the state still would have been in violation of federal law.
"As I've said before, the federal government needs to act on this issue or let the states do their work," she said, adding, "The out-of-state distributors are the quickest way to supply sick Iowans with a product that doctors say could be beneficial. If that provision doesn't work out, then people will have to wait another year, and that's disappointing."
Possessing, manufacturing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum offering assurance that states could proceed with medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution, in part by avoiding agreements that would move marijuana from one state to another.
Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in an email that if a state program authorizes or encourages diversion from one state to another, "it is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government." He said the halt on implementation should remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."
The out-of-state dispensaries provision is tucked into the second-to-last page of a 20-page law, and is separate from requirements that Iowa license up to two cannabis oil manufacturers in Iowa and up to five dispensaries to sell it in-state. The oil would be supplied in Iowa by the end of 2018. Smoking marijuana remains prohibited.
Fear of federal enforcement against states who have legalized marijuana in some form is not new, but rather has steadily increased since the Trump administration assumed office in 2016. Although the Obama administration issued memorandums assuring states with medical marijuana regimes that they would be free from scrutiny if they followed certain standards, that may not be the case much longer. The United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, firmly believes marijuana is a dangerous drug and claims he will reconsider existing marijuana policies.
Assuming nothing changes in President Trump's federal enforcement of marijuana, Iowa's proposal to work with neighboring states presents a potential problem, even under the Obama administration's prosecutorial guidelines. The Cole II Memo stated that states could avoid federal intervention of its medical marijuana regime if they followed eight federal priorities. The pertinent priority here being to prevent the diversion of marijuana from legal states to illegal ones.
While Iowa's proposal only includes corroborating with its direct neighbors who have also legalized medical marijuana, the transportation of marijuana products across state lines is considered interstate commerce, thus invoking Congress' authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.
Therefore, Iowa's proposal not only clearly contradicts Congress' Controlled Substance Act, but may also trigger judicial review because Congress has clearly preempted the transfer of interstate marijuana. By proposing such a law, Iowa's legislature is inviting scrutiny from all three branches of government, something marijuana advocates attempt to avoid whenever possible.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va) wants Congress to get off its collective derrière and resolve the problem of marijuana legalization by turning it over to the states. Earlier this year he introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R. 1227), which would remove cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) from the Controlled Substances Act entirely and turn regulation over to the states.
It's basically the same bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) introduced a couple of years ago. In a story on PJ Media, GOP Lawmaker on U.S. Pot Policy: ‘We’re Completely on Our Asses,’ he has some blunt words about why he favors the approach:
On Monday, Garrett doubled down on the legislation, explaining the reasons he supports state discretion over medical marijuana policy. After he outlined his reasoning to his constituents, Garrett said at the Cato Institute, “I didn’t have anyone vehemently opposed.”
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, bringing it in line with alcohol and tobacco standards. Decriminalization would eliminate a justice system that Garrett believes disproportionately disenfranchises the poor and politically weak, would allow medical professionals rather than the federal government to make key decisions for conditions like epilepsy, and would allow states to realize hundreds of millions of dollars in economic revenue annually.
Garrett’s district grows about seven-eighths of all tobacco in Virginia, and his state, Kentucky and Tennessee, he said, could be economic “monsters” in the industry of agricultural hemp due to climate advantages if marijuana were decriminalized.
. . .
“You should be free to do what you so choose to do so long as it’s not an impact on others that’s negative. That’s easy, and that’s who we’re supposed to be as a nation,” he said, adding that the government closest to the people – local government – governs the most efficiently.
Garrett, a former prosecutor, described the Republican Party as “AWOL” when it comes to marijuana policy. At the same time, he said that more dangerous drugs like heroin should be treated differently for their rapid and widespread destruction.
“I am not pro-marijuana. I’m not anti-marijuana,” he said. “I’m pro-Constitution. I’m pro-liberty. I’m pro-government that enforces its laws.”
Monday, September 11, 2017
The ginormous spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump extends the Congressional prohibition on use of Justice Department funds to prosecute state-licensed medical marijuana facilities that are in compliance with state laws. There was some doubt about that earlier this week when the House Rules Committee blocked the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment from the House version of the spending bill, but it made its way into the final bill anyway.
President Trump, in his signing message, signaled that he wasn't necessarily on board with the amendment, however. The Washington Times reports:
MMr. Trump n his statement also questioned a provision in the law that bars the Justice Department from using funds “to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.”
Mr. Trump said, “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
That appears to be in line with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments that he opposes the “expanded use” of marijuana. A White House spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
Michael Collins, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance, said Mr. Trump “continues to send mixed messages on marijuana.”
“After stating during the campaign that he was ‘100 percent’ in support of medical marijuana, he now issues a signing statement casting doubt on whether his administration will adhere to a congressional rider that stops DOJ from going after medical marijuana programs,” Mr. Collins said. “The uncertainty is deeply disconcerting for patients and providers, and we urge the administration to clarify their intentions immediately.”
Twenty-eight states have some form of medical marijuana, but the drug is illegal under federal law.
The spending bill’s provision on medical marijuana prevents the Justice Department from arresting or prosecuting patients, caregivers and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The measure will only be binding through the end of September.
I'm not sure we should read too much into the statement. Given that the amendment now is the law, it is itself one of those that the President will have to faithfully execute. The real issue is whether Trump's DOJ reads the restriction as narrowly as Obama's DOJ did. He may decide that the way to get Congress off its collective backside to address the legalization question is to follow the previous Administration's approach. After all, as President Grant famously said, "I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution."