Monday, June 20, 2016
The White House doesn't have much interest in medical marijuana legalization, but support is now coming from a surprising Congressional source. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a physician who strongly opposed D.C.'s legalization last year, is now leading efforts to ease restrictions that prohibit research on marijuana's medicinal benefits. From the Baltimore Sun:
Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist who hangs a white lab coat in his waiting room on Capitol Hill, has been working for roughly a year to build a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who want to ease restrictions on marijuana for the purpose of studying its effect on debilitating diseases.
Harris and other lawmakers intend to introduce legislation this week to create a less cumbersome process for marijuana researchers seeking Department of Justice approval to work with the drug.
Among other changes, the measure would require federal regulators to approve or deny research applications within two months.
. . .
“Part of my frustration in the entire debate around legalizing medical marijuana is that there really isn’t good scientific evidence about what it’s good for and what it’s not good for,” Harris, who still practices medicine, told The Baltimore Sun. “We really don’t have good data supporting widespread use.”
That position is uncontroversial — even some proponents of looser marijuana laws have lamented a lack of peer-reviewed research. The American Medical Association calls for “further adequate and well-controlled studies” in the opening lines of its formal policy on medical marijuana.
There is anecdotal evidence that the drug has helped patients who are suffering from seizures, Parkinson’s and other complex conditions. But Harris and others say states are making decisions about which types of disease can be treated with marijuana without a clear sense of the drug’s efficacy.
In that sense, both supporters of expanding the use of medical marijuana and opponents can find reasons to back the legislation. Both sides agree that one of the reasons there is so little data is because it’s been difficult for researchers to get their hands on the drug.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
We naturally tend to focus on pro-legalization stuff here. But it's important to remember that there are still intelligent and well-meaning folks who strongly oppose legalization. One of them is Frank Rapier, a 30-year Treasury Department agent who now runs the Appalachia HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). He's got a new op-ed in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, entitled Don’t fall for the lies from Big Marijuana:
In response to the column, “Stop waste of money, lives in criminalizing pot,” let me say that I agree with Sen. Perry B. Clark on one point: America is being bamboozled.
We are being bamboozled by Big Marijuana.
While it is entirely possible that the marijuana plant does contain elements that would be useful in treating specific disorders, there needs to be research and a process of approval like all potentially helpful medicines. The Food and Drug Administration performs this procedure daily. Let’s give that a shot before we can get serious about marijuana as medicine.Big Marijuana has lied for years in stating that the prisons are filled with people arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth.
With the current opiate addiction crisis in Kentucky and other states, law enforcement is too busy to bother with casual marijuana users. A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 0.7 percent of all state inmates were behind bars for marijuana possession only (with many pleading down from more serious crimes).
In total, one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of all state prisoners in the U.S. were marijuana-possession offenders with no prior sentences, according to a 1999 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Colorado’s passage of a responsible adult marijuana-use law has also resulted in other issues.A report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area compared studies of the two-year average of marijuana use during full legalization (2013-14) to the two-year average just prior to legalization (2011-12).
The latest results show Colorado youth, aged 12 to 17 years old, ranked No. 1 in the nation for past month marijuana use, up from No. 4. Their usage was 74 percent higher than the national average. College-aged adults, 18 to 25, increased 17 percent. This was 62 percent higher than the national average.
Legalization is about one thing and one thing only: Making a small number of business people very rich. There is indeed some bamboozling going on. Kentuckians shouldn’t fall for legalizing marijuana.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin has now decided to back legalization in the Green Mountain State. In his State of the State message, Shumlin said he'll back legalization for the state, which decriminalized weed in 2013 but does not have a licensed market. His "key requirements" for a bill from the legislature include:
have protections in place to keep adolescents from buying;
feature taxes modest enough to keep prices low, and hence put black-market sellers out of business;
provide tax revenue to expand addiction prevention programs;
strengthen existing DUI laws;
and finally, ban the sale of edible marijuana products that have proven vexing in Colorado and elsewhere, at least until the state can figure out how to regulate them properly.
Not a bad list, although the "modest" taxation thing runs counter to the "provide tax revenue" goal; any tax significant enough to raise a chunk of money is probably significant enough to keep the black market going. There will probably be a lot of jockeying for special favors in whatever bill comes out of the legislature, but it will be interesting to see what emerges.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who ran for president as a Libertarian in 2012, says he’s running again. The Daily Caller is excited:
His entrance is undoubtedly a game-changer for the marijuana policy discussion, as he represents the most permissive approach to marijuana so far. Rather than simply opposing the drug war or maintaining that the federal government should not interfere with state legalization policies, Johnson is the only candidate to come out and say that marijuana should be legal on the federal level.
Actually, I’m kind puzzled why the Governor’s entry is a "game changer," since (a) he was the Libertarian nominee in 2012, and (b) haven't pretty much all Libertarian Presidential candidates been in favor of legalization since 1970 or so?
Still, this could potentially be a problem for Republicans trying to win this November, and also for the legalization movement. How? Well, if Rand Paul is the GOP nominee, Govenor Johnson could siphon enough of the pro-marijuana vote in swing states to throw the election to Hillary Clinton.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Doug Berman asks that question over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. My answer is the same as his. No. Here's his quick take:
But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front. Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies. And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).
He's hoping he's "missing something" in that assessment, but I don't believe he is. I don't see anybody at the federal level moving to do anything this year.
The Administration? President Obama has had seven years to start the process of rescheduling cannabis, and has shown absolutely no interest in doing it. Given that he's spending his last year doing a victory lap of world capitals and top golf courses (and spending whatever political capital he has left on making it harder for people other than drug lords and gangbangers to get guns), it's hard to see him suddenly get interested. Attorney General Lynch is an old-line drug warrior whose troops are still busy denying that Rohrabacher-Farr amendment limits them from prosecuting medical marijuana growers. Think she'll suddenly see the light?
Congress? It's an election year, which means that despite lots of promises to various constituent groups, virtually nothing will get done.
The presidential candidates? On the Democratic side, Hillary is an old drug warrior who had eight years as First Lady, eight in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State to do something about it, and has never made the slightest attempt to do anything. Sure, for enough money she'd come out in favor of it, but compared to investment banks and Silicon Valley, the marijuana industry is small potatoes. As for Bernie, he'd probably support it as President, but he doesn't seem capable of even talking about any issue that isn't out of Class Warfare 101.
On the GOP side, many of the candidates are conservative drug warriors who are philosophically opposed to legalization. Of the others, I suspect that they took note of the huge boost that coming out for legalization did not give to Rand Paul. The number of Republic primary voters whose choice will depend on the candidate's position on marijuana is probably somewhere between "almost none" and "zero." And in the general election, issues like immigration, the Islamic State, Obamacare, North Korean hydrogen bombs, and Hillary's record will trump (no pun intended) minor stuff like marijuana. Again, enough campaign cash could change that, but it's hard to see how the industry could come up with enough to make it worthwhile.
So I'm even less optimistic than Doug. Of course, if Rand Paul does win the Republican nomination, and a brokered Democratic convention gives us Rocky de la Fuente, things might change.
Monday, January 4, 2016
No, the federal government did not legalize medical marijuana in recent omnibus budget bill. The bill reiterated language from last year's omnibus bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to prevent a state from "implementing" its medical marijuana laws. But while various news sites trumpeted this as effectively ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, Reason's Jacob Sullum, in a piece titled The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted, argues that the ambiguous language in the Amendment isn't stopping the Justice Department from prosecutions.
The problem with the Amendment is its language. The Justice Department interprets it to mean that it cannot use federal funds to prosecute state employees who are involved in medical marijuana licensing, taxation, and regulation -- that is, those who are actually implementing the state program. There seems to be a difference between implementing a law (for example, being a state employee who sets or enforces speed limits) and merely obeying a law (a driver who follows the speed limit). If Congress had wanted to ban individual prosecutions, the most natural way to do so would have been to bar DOJ from prosecuting individuals and businesses who are licensed by state medical marijuana offices and who are in compliance with those regulations. While it's true that the authors of the Amendment hoped it would ban individual prosecutions (and while one federal judge has said it does) the DOJ argument is, from a pure statutory construction perspective, perfectly reasonable.
Sullum concludes that even if the Amendment did bar DOJ from individual prosecutions, its effects are still very limited:
The rider has no impact in the 27 states that do not have medical marijuana laws, and it applies only to the Justice Department, so it has no effect on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services.
More fundamentally, the amendment, which has to be renewed every fiscal year, does not change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no legal uses. Because marijuana is still prohibited by federal law, people who grow and sell it, no matter the purpose and regardless of their status under state law, commit multiple felonies every day. If no one is trying to put them in prison right now, that is only thanks to prosecutorial forbearance that may prove temporary.
Anyone who provides services to marijuana businesses is implicated in their lawbreaking. Last week a Colorado credit union that wants to specialize in serving state-licensed marijuana businesses tried to persuade a federal judge that it is legally entitled to participate in the Federal Reserve's payment system, without which it cannot operate. The judge did not seem inclined to agree, saying, "I would be forcing the reserve bank to give a master account to a credit union that serves illegal businesses." The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that periodicals containing marijuana ads are "nonmailable," citing a CSA provision that makes it a felony to place ads promoting the purchase of illegal drugs. An accounting firm and a bonding company hired by a Colorado marijuana merchant recently paid $70,000 to settle a federal racketeering suit filed against them by a hotel whose owners were upset about plans to open a pot shop near their business.
Problems like these cannot be solved without changing marijuana's status under federal law. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment does not do that, no matter how many hopeful headlines it generates.
. . . is the headline of a story today reprinted in USA Today. Even Texas has medical marijuana in 2016, and there are lots of stories about states moving toward legalization. But here's the short version of the list (in alphabetical order) of states that probably won't be seeing much action on that front this year:
Friday, June 12, 2015
Not everyone in Canada seems to be thrilled by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that it, and not the Health Ministry or other agencies of government, is the final authority on what medicines it is appropriate for patients to take. Initial reactions from Health Canada aren't supportive, according to this CTV piece:
Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she is "outraged" by the Supreme Court of Canada decision that expands the definition of medical marijuana beyond dried leaves, to include cannabis oils, teas, brownies and other forms of the drug.
In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that users should not be restricted to only using the dried form of the drug. They said the current rules prevent people with a legitimate need for medical marijuana from choosing a method of ingestion that avoids the potential harms of smoking it.
But Ambrose says, despite recent court rulings in favour of the use of marijuana, her government maintains that cannabis has never been proven safe and effective as a medicine.
"Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which requires rigorous safety reviews and clinical trials with scientific evidence," she told reporters in Ottawa.
"So frankly, I’m outraged by the Supreme Court."
She said Thursday’s decision, as well as prior court rulings that permit the use of medical marijuana, give Canadians the impression that the drug has been shown to be effective, when it has not.
"We have this message that normalizes a drug where there is no clear clinical evidence that it is, quote-unquote, a medicine," she said, adding that never in Canada’s history has a drug become a medicine "because judges deemed it so."
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.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Meanwhile, just on the other side of the Sabine River: Marijuana sentencing reform clears first hurdle in Louisiana Legislature. Details:
A New Orleans lawmaker easily moved his bill reducing penalties for simple marijuana possession past its first hurdle in the Louisiana Legislature Wednesday (May 6).
State Rep. Austin Badon's legislation, House Bill 149, drops the maximum sentence for second-offense marijuana possession from five years in prison to two years. It would also drop the maximum sentence for third-offense possession from 20 years to five. Subsequent convictions could allow for a maximum sentence up to eight years.
"This is a well-studied measure to produce reform and reduce recidivism," Badon said.
Badon has brought the same or similar legislation to the Legislature for nearly a half decade. It advanced Wednesday from the House's Administration of Criminal Justice by a vote of 10-4 and now heads to the House floor before moving to the Senate side for consideration.
Under current law, a first-time offender could be jailed up to six months -- that sentence would stay the same under Badon's proposal. Fines would be also be reduced. Maximum fines for second offenses would be reduced from $2,000 to $500; and for subsequent offenses from $5,000 to $2,000.
The bill could save taxpayers approximately $12 million over five years, Badon said.
. . .
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said while she supports lowering marijuana penalties, she opposed Badon's bill because it "doesn't do enough."
"This will do nothing for the woman who testified about her son...whose serving 15 years at Angola," Esman said, noting the legislation is not retroactive would not apply to inmates who are already incarcerated based on the current law.
Directors of two influential lobby groups, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and the District Attorneys Association, appeared at Badon's side and complimented his collaboration with them to get the legislation is an acceptable posture. The groups took a neutral stance on the bill but removed their opposition. Opposition from those groups on criminal justice is a bill killer in many cases.
Badon said his amendment removing the habitual offender application was a compromise he made with the lobbying groups after he learned simple marijuana possession was rarely a factor in the application of three-strikes sentencing.
State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said the legislation most affects poor citizens of Louisiana. He commended the associations and Badon for working together and indicated further reform must occur.
"It's not working for us -- locking them up and throwing away the key. We have to be progressive, and we have to think outside the box," Landry said, to cheers from spectators at the hearing.
. . .
Another bill on the Senate side, also sponsored by a New Orleans Democrat, seeks to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well.
J.P. Morrell's legislation, Senate Bill 241, carves out a new section of the law that deals strictly with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or synthetic marijuana -- all the offenses would be considered misdemeanors.
The maximum penalty for first-offense possession of an ounce or less would be a $100 fine. The maximum penalty for second offense possession would be a $500 fine and 30 days in jail; and the maximum penalty for a third "or subsequent" conviction would be a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. The bill has not yet been given an initial hearing.
As in Texas, the Louisiana legislature is dominated by Republicans. The fact that the bill got some GOP support at the committee level is a good sign.
BTW, I disagree with the ACLU's opposition to the bill. It's not a great bill, certainly. But it would keep at least some people from getting caught up in the disaster that is the nation's drug enforcement policy. It seems to me the ACLU is willing to make those folks involuntary martyrs in the service of the ACLU's own larger cause.
Me, I think we've had enough martyrs, and even a few less would be a good thing.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Rep. Daha Rohrabacher and ten of his colleagues have reintroduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana legalization laws. The bill is a response to the Obama Administration's position that its operatives are not, in fact, bound by language passed in last year's appropriations bill and signed by the President, which prohibits use of federal funds to pursue those who are in compliance with state marijuana regulations. From Matt Ferner at HuffPo:
“The American people, through the 35 states that have liberalized laws banning either medical marijuana, marijuana in general, or cannabinoid oils, have made it clear that federal enforcers should stay out of their personal lives," Rohrabacher said in a statement Wednesday. "It’s time for restraint of the federal government’s over-aggressive weed warriors.”
. . .
And while a federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama in December prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs, the DOJ has said that it doesn't believe the congressional measure prohibits them from prosecuting individuals or businesses in violation of federal law.
The House bill introduced by Rohrabacher would go further than those previous measures by amending the Controlled Substances Act so it would make an exception to federal law for states that have developed their own marijuana policies.
Under the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and several U.S. attorneys have raided hundreds of marijuana dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with state laws. According to a 2013 report from advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the Obama administration has spent nearly $80 million each year targeting medical marijuana.
The federal government has ignored the congressional action, also introduced by Rohrabacher, in ongoing federal asset forfeiture actions against multiple dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area. The congressman sent a letter to Holder slamming the DOJ's interpretation of his amendment, calling the department's interpretation "emphatically wrong."
Co-sponsoring the bill, H.R. 1940, are Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D. Wisc.), and Don Young (R-Alaska).
The bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary (where Rep. Cohen the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice), and the Committee on Energy and Commerce (where Ms. Schakowsky is ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade).
What's also interesting is the diversity of the sponsors. Mr. Rohrabacher is a former Reagan speechwriter and a strong free-market proponent, while Mr. Amash is the head of the House Liberty Caucus and is usually regarded as a Tea Party favorite. On the other hand, Ms. Schakowsky, Mr. Cohen, and Mr. Pocan are all active in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and are among the House's most liberal members.
That diversity, and the fact that a majority of Congress supported the restrictions that the Administration is now ignoring, means that the bill might have a much better chance now than it did when last introduced in 2013.
It will be interesting to see if President Obama, in light of his recent remarks, will make any effort to put Administration's support behind the bill.
That title of an article from BloombergPolitics from about sums up the general reaction among legalization advocates about Ms. Leonhart's ouster after fallout from sex-and-corruption scandals in the agency.
Like most in the community, I hope that her replacement will be less of a hard-liner, but I don't see any evidence he or she is likely to be. After all, President Obama knew exactly what she was about when he reappointed her five years ago, and he made no apparent attempts to restrain her even as armed DEA task forces descended like locusts on medical marijuana establishments. Neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder put a stop to that -- it took (weirdly enough) the Republican-dominated House of Representatives to do that via an appropriations bill.
So while I hope that the new DEA head will be open to doing something the Administration has refused to do for six years -- move toward rescheduling and thus allowing research -- I fear that weed advocates may be in for a letdown. This reaction, for example, is from the article linked above:
[Marijuana Majority founder Tom] Angell said that advocates were disappointed and shocked that Obama reappointed Leonhart—a holdover from the Bush administration—to the job in 2010. Since then she's taken a very firm anti-marijuana stance that has alienated supporters of less strict drug laws. In 2011 she was criticized for saying that increased drug war violence in Mexico, including the deaths of over a 1,000 children, was “a sign of success in the fight against drugs.” During a 2012 House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Leonhart refused to say whether marijuana is safer than crack.
Days after Obama, in January of 2014, told The New Yorker that marijuana is safer than alcohol, Leonhart reportedly criticized his comments and said that the lowest day of her 33 years in law enforcement was when a hemp flag flew over the nation’s capital. “Obviously we shouldn’t judge her based on her one comment, but it’s a very telling comment,” said [Marijuana Policy Project's Mason] Tvert. Tvert accused Leonhart of being “an anti-marijuana zealot” and said the next DEA chair “must be willing and able to recognize the fact that marijuana is relatively less harmful than alcohol and other illegal drugs.”
I very much respect Messrs. Angell and Tvert, but I'm afraid they may be giving too much credit to what President Obama says in an interview, and too little to what he does in office. If he really believes what he's now saying about marijuana -- rather than just pandering to what he thinks millennials what to hear -- you'd think he would have done something about it at some point in the past six years.
I mean, seriously, after spending two and a half terms killing children in Mexico, throwing vast numbers of minority users into jail, smashing doors and burning property, did he wake up April 19 and suddenly think, "Oh, hey, I didn't know there was all this science stuff out there? Maybe marijuana isn't so bad!"
That doesn't mean, of course, that he won't appoint someone who's less of a hard-liner, merely that he's shown considerable ability to say things in the media that do not reflect what he's actually doing. So I agree with Mr. Angell that what he does now will give us a good idea of what his Administration really thinks about the issue:
Angell noted that Obama now was a chance to prove his commitment to science over ideology. “The president always talks about how science should dictate public policy,” he said. “Well, now he has a chance to actually appoint someone who’s going to carry that through.”
I certainly hope I'm being too pessimistic.
Friday, April 17, 2015
The Pew Research Center has released a survey that has some fascinating new look at polling data on marijuana legalization. There's a lot of information to chew on -- this is just one chart, which shows some stark differences in opinions on the subject based on race, sex, and age.
Note that men strongly favor legalization, while women are about equally split.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
On the game show The Price is Right, contestants have to guess the price of whatever consumer item is placed before them. The person who gets closest to the actual price wins, but if he or she goes over, that contestant automatically loses. There is often some crafty contestant who guesses the lowest possible price (usually $1.00), so that if everyone else is over, he or she wins.
When asked by Hewitt if he would enforce federal drug laws in those states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, Christie responded unequivocally.
"Absolutely," Christie said. "I will crack down and not permit it."
"States should not be permitted to sell it and profit" from legalizing marijuana, he said.
Never mind that New Jersey is a medical marijuana state, or that this is a federalist system in which states get to make that decision. I'm sure both Nancy Reagan and Drew Carey would be proud of the strategy. Yeah, it's Drew now. Bob Barker retired.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Doug Berman at MLP&R links to a Vox article entitled "Democratic voters love marijuana legalization. Hillary Clinton doesn't."
The piece quotes Marijuana Policy Project's Dan Riffle:
Clinton's stance to let states decide whether to legalize is "unnecessarily tepid for a Democrat [said Riffle]. There's nothing to lose and a lot to gain for her if she were to take a more aggressive position in favor of regulation. By not doing so, she leaves the door open for a candidate like [former Maryland Gov. Martin] O'Malley, who is trying to outflank her with liberals and young voters, to make marijuana reform part of his platform."
I'm not a Democrat, but from an outsider's position I can't see any benefit for her to do anything controversial at this point. Unless she's very, very afraid that marijuana will be the key issue for millennial, minority, and women voters in the primary -- and I don't see that being the case here -- why risk alienating older white voters, at least some of whom she'll need to win in the general election?
Now, if the marijuana lobby were to cough up $100 million or so in contributions, there might be a good reason to do it. But that seems unlikely.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
As Douglas Berman pointed out, Derek Siegle, executive director of the federally funded Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, presented a guest column piece today at cleveland.com, in which he included nearly every argument he could imagine in opposition to ending marijuana prohibition. His article presents a wonderful (if stream-of-consciousness) summary of all the main talking points currently used by HIDTA officials around the country. This seems like a great opportunity to dispel some of the dire warnings we often hear. I’m cherry picking here, since there are so many arguments, a full response rather longish. But here are some of the more commonly used, and abused, arguments I see out there.
Not that many people are arrested for marijuana possession, so the impact on the criminal justice system isn't that great.
I never really understood this argument. It seems to be saying "we could be jailing everyone, but we really aren't doing it all that much - so that's good, right?" If it is so rarely invoked, then why allow for jail time at all? It seems to suggest that even the system recognizes that jail is not an appropriate sanction.
Of course, lots of people (particularly African Americans) are arrested for possession, so this argument might not be as compelling for those lucky contestants who win a free police escort to their local jail. But more to the point, the criminal justice system is far more than incarceration. Jailable offenses mean court appointed attorneys or private counsel, courtroom time, and the time law enforcement spends processing cases. On the back end, it can mean the loss of personal property and money in asset forfeiture proceedings, along with probation. Even technical violations of probation rules can lead to (re)arrest and incarceration, which would not show up in the claim that possession doesn't often lead to jail time. And then there is a criminal drug conviction that could show up in background checks for jobs, school, and housing for a lifetime.
Heavy consumers may find that the accumulation of THC in their system can affect them in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally.
If this is true, it is a compelling reason to not over-consume, but there is no reason to believe that criminalizing behavior changes people’s practices. Research has shown that teen use does not go up when penalties go down. Nebraska and Mississippi removed the possibility of jail in the 1970s, and teen use is lower in those states than in neighboring Texas, which treats possession as a crime. Studies also generally show that raising penalties for use does not deter behavior, and lowering penalties does not encourage behavior. The bottom line is that while marijuana over-consumption could possibly be a health concern, making it a crime does not deter consumption nor deal with the actual concern mentioned here - health.
Marijuana is more potent than it used to be.
There is some evidence that marijuana is more potent that it was several decades ago, but unlike both narcotic medications and alcohol — which take the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year — there are no known incidents of overdose deaths attributable to marijuana at any time. Despite its increased potency, it is still a safer alternative than substances we already regulate and control.
Potential tax revenue will only cover about 15 percent of the collateral costs to our community: increased drug treatment, emergency room visits, crime, traffic accidents and school "dropouts."
While it is not clear where HIDTA's statistics come from, the Congressional Research Service did an analysis of the revenue potential of a federally taxed adult marijuana market, published in November 2014, which is directly on point. It found these costs manageable with a modest tax:
Economic theory suggests the efficient level of taxation is equal to marijuana’s external cost to society. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada suggest that the costs of individual marijuana consumption to society are between 12% and 28% of the costs of an individual alcohol user, and total social costs are even lower after accounting for the smaller number of marijuana users in society. Based on an economic estimate of $30 billion of net external costs for alcohol, the result is an external cost of $0.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually for marijuana. These calculations imply that an upper limit to the economically efficient tax rate could be $0.30 per marijuana cigarette (containing an average of one half of a gram of marijuana) or $16.80 per ounce. An increased number of users in a legal market would raise total costs, but not necessarily costs per unit.
We do not know what the wholesale or retail sales rate would be under the better-known legalization effort in Ohio, or if they are comparable to prices in other parts of the country for similar products. If they were, a tax rate of 15% would be considerably higher than $16.80 per ounce.
States that do not tax medical marijuana find that their adult consumers cheat and sign up as medical marijuana patients. And most medical marijuana patients are under 40.
First of all, the “most are under 40 argument” is simply false. According to state marijuana program statistics, the average age of patients in Colorado is 42. The average in Montana is 47, and the average in Arizona is between 40 and 50.
Secondly, in states that have both medical marijuana and adult use, whether or not people are gaming the system is a question for regulators, not an argument in favor of maintaining the criminality of marijuana use. It is worth noting that according to research by the Toronto-based Center for Addictions and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, there are somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million self-reported medical cannabis users in Canada, or approximately 4% of the adult population, while only around 1/10 that number are registered patients. It is hard to speculate how many adult consumers would qualify as patients. But at the end of the day, it took a medical professional - not a law enforcement officer - to recommend medical use of marijuana in the first place.
Legalization will lead to greater use by our youth.
This statement is directly contradicted by peer-reviewed studies, which show that teen use either remained constant, or more often than not, dropped in medical marijuana states. (One interesting question is whether or not teen use of alcohol went up or down after alcohol Prohibition ended. Incidents of reported alcoholism actually did drop based on medical records from the time, but I have never seen this issue researched with respect to teen use.)
Marijuana is a gateway drug.
No anti-marijuana opinion piece is complete without the gateway drug myth, which has been repeatedly debunked by those who have actually studied it, most notably in a White House-commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. That study found that marijuana "does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse.” The gateway myth confuses causation and correlation. As recently explained by Susan Weiss, a psychologist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “[p]eople tend to use marijuana before they use other illicit drugs, but that’s probably because it’s much more available, and it’s the drug that people are more likely to come in contact with.” Just like alcohol does not cause people to use marijuana, marijuana does not cause use of harder drugs.
I would also point out that California has allowed practically unregulated medical marijuana since 1996 without any perceptible increase in hard drug use. 22 other states and D.C. followed. Where are all the new cocaine and heroin users ushered in by these laws? But hey, it sure sounds scary.
Accidents and fatalities on the highway will increase if marijuana is more available as it has in Colorado.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has called out HITDA for misusing state statistics in the law enforcement agencies' repeated efforts to advance this argument. In reality, very recent research by federal government’s own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found THC-positive drivers possess no elevated risk of motor vehicle accident, after adjusting for drivers’ age and gender. NHTSA acknowledges that this is the largest US-based crash risk assessment ever performed. They also note that their findings are ‘in line’ with other well-controlled studies also finding little to no increased risk.
If marijuana is medicine why isn't it prescribed?
This is one of my personal favorites. Here’s why not:
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studies and approves or rejects drugs for prescription use.
- It doesn't study a substance for medical benefit if the drug is already scheduled as having no medical benefits - it needs to be rescheduled first as something with at least theoretical medical benefit.
- The DEA has the authority to reschedule marijuana, thus enabling the FDA to begin study in earnest, but refuses to do so until there are studies on its medical benefit.
- Any studies on medical benefit (or any other use) must use marijuana provided by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- NIDA has an institutional policy, imposed by Congress, to only make marijuana available for research if that research examines its harmful effects.
The lack of study is based on the federal government’s general policy to refuse to make it available for studies on its benefits – not because marijuana actually does lack medical benefit.
Crime went up in Colorado after legalization.
No, it did not. Well, some types of crime did go up, while other categories dropped. The claim that crime increased selectively reports the data in order to fit the theory, ignoring the crime rates that dramatically fell. In fact, it's probably too early to really know what has happened to crime rates, although street cops in Denver don't seem to think it made much difference.
As I mentioned in the comments section following Doug’s post, the real problem with these sorts of arguments is that they lack any solution except "maintain the status quo – or else!" All they really do is present the possible harm to society/kids/budgets/crime rates if things change. But in reality they have been changing for decades and the sky is still, well, in the sky. If there really were horror stories to tell based on what states have been doing since reducing criminal laws since the 70’s, or adopting medical marijuana laws since the 90’s, or legalizing marijuana since 2013, we would not be arguing about hypotheticals.
March 24, 2015 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Local Regulation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, Research, State Regulation, Taxation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 20, 2015
I've been saying for a while that Texas is an under-appreciated battle state for marijuana legalization. Chris's post on Wednesday shows the flurry of legislation that will come before the state legislature this year:
In a state that many would consider one of the last to reform marijuana laws, so far there have been four medical marijuana bills presented, another four that would reduce penalties for possession to a non-jailable offense, and one that completely legalizes marijuana. Considering that two prominent law enforcement officials and Governor Perry came out last year indicating that reducing penalties wasn’t such a bad idea, it is possible Texas could begin reforming its laws sooner than many would have guessed.
There's a lot of other stuff going on. I noted previously the birth of the Texas Cannabis Industry Association here in traditionally bright-red Fort Worth, and the folks at ComfyTree are putting on one of their Cannabis Academy programs right across the street from the Texas A&M Law School on March 28.
I think non-Texans often misunderstand the strong libertarian streak in Texas, and its long-standing dislike of being told what to do by the federal government. The libertarian, small-government, pro-business case for legalization is getting some traction. Maybe not enough to get something done this session -- the Texas legislature meets only every other year and there's a lot of business to get done -- but things are moving.
My advice: When you see a Texas Republican who's introduced a bill that you don't think goes far enough, don't attack him! Play nice, explain why his ideas are great, you admire his progressive idealism, and show him how his bill would be even better if this or that were done to it. That's politics.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Lots of folks seem to think that marijuana legalization is going to be an important issue in the next presidential election year. We keep seeing articles (like this one and this one) on the question of what politicians -- Republicans in particular -- need to do about the weed issue of they want to improve their performance among millennial voters.
I haven't been optimistic that there's really much of an issue here. I think President Obama confirmed that this week when he basically told voters that he's not about to support marijuana legalization and that they shouldn't be spending time worrying about that issue when there's more important stuff going on. President-elect Hillary Clinton has long been an opponent, although she's made some noises recently that suggest that she might go as far as President Obama has in not actually interfering with state-level legalization.
So it seems to me extremely unlikely that Democrats in 2016 will be peddling weed as an important issue at the national level. And if the Democrats aren't doing that, why would Republicans want to take that on when they're already in what they feel is a target-rich environment? Any GOP nominee who comes out clearly for legalization (e.g., Rand Paul) risks alienating a goodly chunk of the current base, which probably is a really bad idea in the primaries.
I could be wrong, of course. It's possible that a year and a half from now the idea of legal weed is so popular that everybody will want to get on board. But I suspect that we're going to have two nominees who each will do their best to avoid saying anything about it at all. Imagine it's Secretary Clinton against Governor Jeb Bush -- a 69-year-old semi-liberal who never smoked a joint in her life, against a 63-year semi-conservative who sold joints to friends in college. Would marijuana activists have a strong preference?
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)