Saturday, September 16, 2017
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.
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
Monday, September 4, 2017
Despite the passage of legislation legalizing recreational cannabis in Alaska, local government remains an obstacle for some marijuana businesses. One business owner was able to successfully set up shop on the historic main street of an Alaskan tourist town -- Talkeetna, Alaska -- in an unincorporated municipality, all thanks to an omission in the legislation. The drafters don't always cover every base, and here we see that playing out. From Leafly.com:
“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.
His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts — like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.
State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.
“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.
-- Christopher Daves
Colorado is at the forefront for many things cannabis. but its laws aren’t always so friendly. Smoking weed in public has been illegal in Colorado, but Denver voters last year approved a measure to allow licensed social clubs where marijuana could be consumed on the premises. An Associated Press report notes that startup businesses are now seeking to fill the gap in available places for legal users to smoke. But it's not easy. Detailed restrictions include prohibitions against serving alcohol or being within a certain distance from places that do, restricting the ability to dispense marijuana on site, and license fees in the thousands of dollars. From the report:
"There are plenty of places where you can consume alcohol. Let's give people a place to go to consume marijuana," said Jordan Person, head of Denver NORML, which advocates for pot-friendly public policy.
But Denver's would-be "social use" clubs have faced one delay after another.
First, the state liquor board prohibited pot use at any place with a liquor license, making bars and many restaurants off-limits. And pot shops can't allow consumption on the premises.
That left gathering places like coffee shops, art galleries and yoga studios. Furthermore, would-be clubs must stay twice as far as liquor stores from schools and anywhere children congregate, including playgrounds and sports fields.
"We can't be in places where it makes sense," said Kayvan Khalatbari, a Denver marijuana consultant who helped run last year's club campaign.
City officials say the rules are as flexible as possible given stiff resistance from some community groups and marijuana skeptics. The voter-approved club measure also says the club licenses are a pilot program and neighborhood groups must agree to allow a club before it could open.
The voter-approved club measure also says the club licenses are a pilot program and neighborhood groups must agree to allow a club before it could open.
"There were no surprises in the rules," said Dan Rowland, spokesman for the Denver department that regulates marijuana businesses. "They reflect all the comments we got from the community."
One hopeful applicant says the regulations are stringent but still a step forward for the industry.
"A lot of us are hoping this will ... open the doors for a new kind of business," said Connor Lux, who runs a co-work space for the cannabis industry and plans to apply for a social use license to hold public, weed-friendly events at his business just north of downtown Denver. Applying for a license costs $1,000; the licenses itself is $1,000 a year.
-- Clarissa Dauphin
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Some new neighborhoods may be getting marijuana dispensaries in Seattle, thanks to a decision by the City Council to reduce buffer zones around cannabis-related businesses. A combination of zoning rules and the state's default 1,000-foot buffer zone rules meant that large chunks of the city had no such businesses. That's changed, as of yesterday:
On Monday, the City Council unanimously set buffer zones for producers and processors at 250 feet.
For retailers, the new buffer will be 250 feet downtown and 500 feet elsewhere in the city.
No more than two pot businesses can be within 1,000 feet of each other.
The 1,000-foot buffer had led to vast areas of the city without marijuana businesses and clusters in areas like SODO, where James Lathrop runs Cannabis City, the first legal marijuana store to open in Seattle.
"We're a block away from the dump. We're here because of this crazy zoning," Lathrop said.
Lathrop was among the marijuana business people who advocated for smaller buffer zones.
Supporters said loosening the buffer zones will help the state's legal marijuana system succeed by competing with the illicit market, and make it more available to visitors.
Some in the industry are also opposed to smaller buffer zones.
They urged the council to slow down, arguing that pot shops in more neighborhoods could lead to public backlash and businesses failing under competition.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Marijuana businesses, with their associated smells, traffic, and crime, are not being located in affluent white residential areas. That's according to a piece this week in the Denver Post. Rather, they're being zoned into commercial and industrial areas which is where poor people and minorities disproportionately reside. The Post has an interactive map, a snapshot of which is above.
The Denver Post used a city database of more than 600 marijuana business licenses to examine where industry growth has occurred and which neighborhoods faced the biggest transformations.
Facilities that grow recreational pot have concentrated along the I-70 corridor to the north and the Santa Fe Drive and I-25 corridors to the south, in neighborhoods where residential and light industrial areas mix.
Other marijuana-related businesses — medical dispensaries, retail outlets and marijuana-infused-product factories — have pocketed along thoroughfares such as Colfax Avenue, Federal Boulevard and Broadway, the analysis shows, and the neighborhoods that surround them.
"Many low-income neighborhoods are next to industrial sites. That’s just the lay of the land," said Charlie Brown, a former Denver city councilman who led committees that studied and recommended rules on where the businesses could go. "To change the rules today is tricky."
Neighborhood residents and business leaders say they’ve been concerned since the beginning that Colorado’s new marijuana industry would settle into their backyards and that communities of color and lower incomes would see a disproportionate share of those businesses.
"You would think we’ve borne our fair share already," said Candi CdeBaca, a member of the Cross Community Coalition in Globeville and longtime resident there. Her home — in the family since her great-grandfather — faces a large marijuana grow operation.
So zoning drives unpleasant uses into poor neighborhoods and away from rich ones? Who could have seen that coming?
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Boulder, Colorado, is implementing a marijuana education plan for teenagers, according to a piece on Colorado Daily.com.
A survey last year by the city showed that a substantial majority of teenagers believed that binge drinking was harmful, but that regular use of marijuana was not. The city of plans to make $250,000 available this year to change the perceptions of young people on marijuana.
Those in charge suggest that the program will focus on comprehensive substance abuse education, not just marijuana. The fear is if that you focus on one and not the other then you are telling the kids that one is less harmful than the other. The program wants to instill that the abuse of any substance can be harmful.
Substance abuse, say supporters, rarely happens in isolation and the program will work on helping kids with their “refusal skills.” Those in charge say that the money fueling the program will go to groups that have already been working on substance abuse programs in Boulder. The basic game plan is to fund these groups for three to five years and use an evidenced based approach -- as as opposed to simple scare tactics -- to change public perceptions. From the article:
Even as the perception of risk is going down, the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found that the number of teenagers who had ever tried marijuana declined from 39 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2013 and those who had used it in the last 30 days declined from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013. The decrease was not considered statistically significant. The 2015 Healthy Kids survey is being conducted now, with results to be released in 2016.
The city may also give money to efforts to educate parents about preventing accidental ingestion of edibles by young children. Hospital admissions for accidental ingestion have increased threefold since recreational marijuana was legalized, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Shawn Coleman, a lobbyist who represents marijuana businesses in Boulder, said it's not surprising that the city would put money into education, as that was one of the allowed uses for a special marijuana tax approved by voters in 2013. However, without evidence that teen use is increasing, he would like to see some of that money go for more clerks and inspectors so that it is easier for businesses to renew their licenses and expand their businesses.
In addition to regular sales tax, Boulder has an additional 3.5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana and a 5 percent excise tax, approved by voters in 2013. The ballot language says that tax revenue should go first for administration and law enforcement resources related to marijuana, then for "treatment, education, responsible use, intervention and monitoring with an emphasis on youth," then for the general fund.
In 2014, those marijuana-specific taxes generated $1.05 million, and the city had collected $1.6 million as of September of this year, the most recent month for which final sales tax numbers are available.
Stetson Cromer is a 3L student at Texas A&M Law School in Fort Worth.
Monday, January 4, 2016
An Arizona company in November won approval from a town in Maryland to open a cultivation in exchange for offering the city a 5% equity stake in the company. Residents of Hancock, Maryland (pop. 1,545) were split between excitement over the increased funding and feeling bribed into gaining an advantage for one of the limited number of Maryland licenses. Lawyers reviewed and addressed the legality of this type of agreement and city officials signed the agreement with Harvest, Inc., in early October.
The State of Maryland is offering 15 growing licenses to the entire state and over 400 applications have been received. The CEO and president Harvest, Steve White said the agreement with the town is not a bribe because it is the state and not the city that determines who gets the 15 growing licensees for all of Maryland. While the agreement with the town does not necessarily seal the deal, they will more than likely be granted a license based heavily on the agreement.
Because marijuana is still federally illegal, states like Colorado and Washington have had to be very careful with cities that do not want legalization in order to sidestep the preemption issue. To have a city that is not only willing, but also invested in a certain company obtaining a license illustrates to officials that there is one less city for them to worry about. It also starts a trend that gets cities on board one way or the other. Currently, Colorado applicants are restricted to a mere 33% of the state allowing operations in their city. In Washington there are zoning disputes left and right because the state law does not expressly prohibit cities from opting out of the state law, and thus cities are finding every way they can to keep these licensees out. If cities were able to bargain reasonably and not extort licensees I could imagine those currently suffering through zoning disputes would gladly offer up 5% equity in exchange for operating under the support of the City.
But how conscionable it is for cities to receive tax benefits from the State from sales generated by retail sales as well as a 5% equity on a cultivation company, just for the ability of the company to operate as normally as any other business would? The facility White anticipates for his cultivation is gated and all operations take place inside of a large manufacturing plant. There is no eyesore, noise, or other operating conditions which would even merit an additional permit from the city, and yet the company still felt the need to ensure a harmonious relationship by way of a 5% equity. That is unsettling for owners of cannabis businesses, most of whom are mom and pop start-ups with limited start-up capital. The tax revenue generated by retail sales alone should be enough to encourage cities to be supportive, and welcoming to these new highly profitable businesses.
Kayla Brown is a 3L student at Texas A&M Law School and is the Executive Director of the Texas Cannabis Industry Association.
Friday, May 8, 2015
The well-oiled crony-capitalist marijuana ballot initiative in Ohio may find itself with some competition come election time. The Buckeye State'sattorney general has initially certified the "Legalize Marijuana and Hemp in Ohio" ballot initiative, sponsored by a group called "Better for Ohio." which means it can now start collecting some 300,000 signatures by July 1 to qualify as a ballot initiative.
But there's not a lot of difference between the proposal already being pushed by "ResponsibleOhio," a group of rich and politically connected people who are trying to get a state-granted monopoly on weed built into the state constitution. The LMHO initiative basically sticks to that monopoly -- even using the same 10 properties ResponsibleOhio plans to use for growing and processing weed -- but it does add the options for individuals to own a few plants of their own withpout state registration, which may make it more attractive to some voters.
There's also a strange provision that seems to allocated licenses based on serial numbers of several mysterious $100 bills now locked in a safe, but whose serial numbers would under the bill become part of the Constitution of Ohio. Owners of those specific bills would apparently get the license. I'm a lawyer and I find that part of the amendment baffling at first (and second) read -- and the backers don't seem to have offered an explanation about how at works.
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)
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Little North Bonneville, Washington (pop. 968) has opened the first government-owned marijuana store in the country. The city, which lies up the Columbia River an hour east of Portland, Oregon, sees selling weed as a key to promoting itself and raising some badly needed money for the city coffers. USA Today has the story:
The Cannabis Corner in North Bonneville, Wash., opened over the weekend. The store is run by the town's public development authority, which the town specifically created to open it. The town loaned the store $15,000 to get the store going, a loan the authority has since paid back with money raised from private investors.
"It's great. It's a mixture of excitement and relief," said Mayor Don Stevens. "It's been a real community effort and it's absolutely rewarding to see."
Under Washington's legal marijuana system — the first legal sales began July 8, 2014 — store licenses are handed out based on population and geography. By snagging one of Skamania County's two available licenses, North Bonneville ensures that government officials play a major role in marijuana sales, which they say will help them keep pot out of the hands of kids while benefiting the town's bottom line.
In an extensive Q&A posted on the town's website, town officials note their lagging economy, property values and sales tax collections. Stevens said the town also hopes to persuade marijuana growers and processors to buy or lease land in the town, bringing with them possibly dozens of jobs. North Bonneville is inside the Columbia River Gorge, nearly 50 miles east of Portland, Ore.
"The reality is that our property values are already at record lows. It's hard to imagine how being in the forefront of an emerging era with the increased tourist traffic, greater economic opportunities and a national media (presence) could lower property values any further," the town said. "The only way appears to be up."
Washington state only permits 334 licensed marijuana stores statewide, although far fewer have actually opened their doors. Colorado, in contrast, put no limit on the stores and already has about 336 of them, although all are privately owned. The entire industry, of course, remains in violation of federal law, although the Justice Department has said it will generally leave alone marijuana stores that are doing a good job keeping pot away from kids and profits out of the hands of drug cartels.
By running the store, the town gets to keep any profits. Under state law, marijuana tax revenues go back to Washington state. In Colorado, cities and towns can collect their own sales taxes on pot purchases made at retail stores.
Stevens said he expects other Washington cities and towns will seek their own marijuana stores once they see the success North Bonneville expects. He said the fact that national news outlets are covering the story indicates the town is on the right track.
"I think this store is one more facet of the total package we have to offer," he said.
Other towns may start to look at North Bonneville if the project proves successful.
ADD: City mayor is the first customer, buys "one-gram packages of four varieties. He said he had tried two of them, Nobama Diesel and Blue Magoo, and found them 'quite enjoyable with a calming effect that made my evenings very relaxing.'"
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.
Monday, December 29, 2014
On the one hand, there's tax money to be had. And most of it comes from tourists:
Mountain towns dependent on tourists are reaping the rewards of legal marijuana. As the towns swell with visitors — skiers in February and March, summer vacationers in July and August — so do their sales-tax coffers.
"Most of our sales seem to be to our visitors," said John Warner, a dentist and the mayor of Breckenridge, which is tracking toward $8.8 million in marijuana sales in 2014. "Some people might think of it as a sin tax, and a lot of people don't like sin taxes. But it's certainly helpful to our community."
Like a lodging tax that doesn't burden locals, taxes on marijuana in the high country largely are paid by tourists. A midsummer report by the state Department of Revenue estimated that visitors in highly trafficked mountain communities accounted for 90 percent of marijuana sales.
On the other hand, many towns are worried about the effect that "pot culture" will have on family vacations:
Business is booming in Colorado's mountain resorts, and the addition of recreational marijuana stores this year has attracted customers curious about legalized pot. But there's mounting anxiety that ski towns have embraced stoner culture a little too much, potentially damaging the state's tourism brand.
That worry flared up in two resort towns last week. In Breckenridge, residents voted overwhelmingly to force downtown's lone dispensary off Main Street to a less-visible location. And just up the road in Granby, town officials used a property annex to prevent a dispensary from opening.
The fear is that some families — a mainstay of the ski tourism industry — will stop vacationing here.
"It's not a morality issue, or that we think marijuana is bad," said Breckenridge councilman Gary Gallagher, who supported legal marijuana but also voted to force the Breckenridge Cannabis Club out of downtown. "Marijuana, it is not in this country's DNA yet. It's a little bit too early."
This will probably shake out as more adult-oriented resorts play up the marijuana angle while the family-friendly variety do their best to prohibit it.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Time Magazine reports:
A Los Angeles-based smartphone application aimed at becoming the city’s first mobile medical marijuana logistics service was ordered to stop business by a judge on Tuesday.
Judge Robert O’Brien, of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, said Nestdrop, a mobile app hoping to connect the city’s medical marijuana patients with dispensaries, was in violation of a voter-approved law called Proposition D that explicitly bans medical marijuana delivery, according to the Associated Press.
Nestdrop claimed that they were not in violation of the law because they only connect distributors with patients and do not handle the marijuana themselves, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Dec. 2, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer filed an official complaint about the company’s supposed violation of Proposition D.
“Nestdrop is the technology platform that connects law abiding medical marijuana patients with local dispensaries to receive the medication that they need in a safe and secure manner,” Nestdrop co-founder Michael Pycher told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
Launched earlier this year, the company said that it will maintain its alcohol logistics service within Los Angeles while evaluating future options to operate there in the medical marijuana industry as well.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
My first take on the language in the massive FY15 funding bill dealing with marijuana in D.C. is that it did not interfere with Initiative 71. It seemed to me that language prohibiting the D.C. Council from spending money to "enact" or "carry out" marijuana legislation simply barred the Council from enacting its planned recreational sales project. Initiative 71 was "enacted" by the voters before the bill passed, and it had no provisions that the District would have to "carry out." I assumed it was a reasonable compromise that avoided the specter of street-corner pot vendors on the Mall without necessarily overriding the District's voters.
A lot of folks seem to be looking at this differently. This piece from Huffington Post , for example, seems to assume that Congress meant to overrule Initiative 71. It suggests that Council Chair is "ignoring" what Congress did and is going to submit the initiative to Congress in spite of it. (This can be dangerous; ignoring restrictions in a spending bill, you may recall, is what got Oliver North in trouble.) It also suggests that bad language in the bill creates a "loophole" for supporters of the initiative.
Nobody knows, or can possibly know, what Congress "intended" to do with the bill, so much of this argument strikes me as irrelevant. I'm in the process of trying to flesh out a fuller argument on why I think I'm right about the interpretation..
Friday, October 17, 2014
A FEW DAYS LATE IN LINKING TO THIS, but a here's an interesting recent podcast from Reuters and Harvard's School of Public Health. It's really hard to do a good job of covering all the bases and getting the viewpoints of seven different participants -- all of whom are very good -- but this is as good a stab at it as you'll see.