Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Is there any solid data on impact of 2009 Ogden medical marijuana memo?

Download

This week in my marijuana seminar we will be watching and discussing the terrific (though already dated) documentary "Code of the West" about medical marijuana reforms in Montana.  Among the many stories effectively documented by this movie is the important reality that, while Montana enacted via voter initiative medical marijuana reforms in 2004, the medical marijuana industry in the state only became active and prominent after the issuance of the 2009 Ogden Memo. This memo from the Obama Administration's Justice Department stated that the federal government would not prosecute "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

In addition to the coverage of this story in Montana in this great documentary, I have seen a number of anecdotal reports about how the medical marijuana industry kicked into high gear in many western states as a result of the 2009 Ogden Memo, especially states like California, Colorado and Washington. But, to my knowledge, nobody has yet done any systematic research on the impact of the Ogden Memo, in individual states or nationwide, on the number of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries or the number of persons working in and around the medical marijuana industry or the number of persons registered for or regularly obtaining marijuana in conjunction with a doctor's recommendation.

I am busy trying to finish an article complaining about the lack of rigorous social science research surrounding the real impact of state-level marijuana reforms, and I am especially intrigued and troubled by how little systematic data I can find concerning the medical marijuana industry and users. If anyone knows of any significant recent data collections or other research on these fronts, please let me know.

March 4, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Major uptick in support marijuana legalization according to General Social Survey

As reported in this new Wonkblog posting via the Washington Post, notable new survey data documents new national affinity for major marijuana reform. The post is titled "A majority favors marijuana legalization for first time, according to nation’s most authoritative survey," and here are excerpts:

For the first time, the General Social Survey -- a large, national survey conducted every two years and widely considered to represent the gold standard for public opinion research -- shows a majority of Americans favoring the legalization of marijuana.

In interviews conducted between March and October of last year -- when the legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington were ramping up -- researchers asked 1,687 respondents the following question: "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?"

Fifty-two percent said pot should be legalized, 42 percent opposed it, and another 7 percent were undecided. Support is up 9 percentage points from 2012, the last time the survey was conducted.

The GSS marijuana numbers trace the trajectory of U.S. drug policy over the past 40 years. In 1974, a year after the Shafer Commission recommended removing marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, public support for full legalization stood at 19 percent. Support rose through the 1970s, reaching nearly 30 percent in 1978, only to plummet during the Reagan years, "Just Say No" and the advent of the drug war.

The year 1990 represented the nadir of legalization support, when it stood at 16 percent. But the numbers rose steadily through the 1990s as states began adopting medical marijuana laws, starting with California in 1996. As recently as 2006, support stood only at 32 percent -- just a little bit higher than the previous peak in 1978. In the fewer than 10 years since then, support has jumped 20 percentage points -- mirroring, in many ways, the dramatic shift in public opinion on gay marriage over the same period.

Legalization supporters have been able to capitalize on that energy and secure full legalization in four states, with a partial legal status in DC similar to the Schafer Commission's original recommendation. Opponents have scrambled to catch up, but the sharp and sustained increase in public opinion means they're facing an uphill battle. That fact that they've been drastically outspent at every turn -- partially a reflection of greater public support for the pro-legalization camp -- hasn't helped things....

For a public increasingly weary of the toll of decades of costly and ineffective drug policies, these cases will be a tough sell. Younger Americans -- including Republican ones -- overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization. And after a year of legal pot, Colorado doesn't appear to be experiencing buyer's remorse. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 58 percent of Colorado's voters said they supported the state's marijuana law -- slightly more than the 55 percent who approved it in 2012.

The strong numbers in the latest General Social Survey indicate that the issue isn't losing salience with the public. At the national level, support for legal marijuana remains robust -- and doesn't show signs of wavering any time soon.

March 4, 2015 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three of "Kettle Falls Five" convicted on least serious federal marijuana charges in Washington

This AP story reports on the notable mixed verdict in a high-profile federal prosecution of a group of defendants in Washington state who claimed they were growing marijuana only for medical purposes.  Here are the details:

Three people were found guilty Tuesday of growing marijuana, but they also were exonerated of more serious charges in a widely-watched federal drug case in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.

The three remaining defendants of the so-called Kettle Falls Five were all found guilty of growing marijuana. But a jury found them not guilty of distributing marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and firearms charges that carried long prison sentences.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice set sentencing for June 10.

The defendants were Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, her son Rolland Gregg and his wife, Michelle Gregg. Firestack-Harvey wiped away tears as she declared victory in the case. "The truth comes out," she said, noting that the defendants were growing marijuana for medical purposes and had cards permitting that use. "We would have loved to be exonerated of all charges."

However, there was no doubt that federal drug agents found marijuana plants growing on their property near Kettle Falls, she said.

Federal prosecutors did not speak with reporters after the verdict, which followed a full day of deliberations by the jury. Prosecutors asked that the three be taken into custody until sentencing, but Rice declined.

"It's a victory, but it's bittersweet," said Jeff Niesen, an attorney for Firestack-Harvey. "They've been convicted of a federal crime." But while the tougher charges carried sentences of a decade in prison, growing marijuana should bring a much lower sentence, Niesen said.

On Monday, attorneys for the defendants asked jurors to throw out what he described as an overzealous and overreaching case. Attorney Phil Tefleyan criticized the government's prosecution of the three, who contend they were growing medical marijuana for personal use in a case that has drawn wide attention over the government's willingness to prosecute marijuana growers. "They roped in this innocent family," Tefleyan told jurors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks told jurors Monday that Washington state's stance on marijuana doesn't matter. He says the question for the jury is, "Is it legal under federal law?"

The defendants contend they didn't distribute the marijuana. But they were barred from telling jurors their claim that they grew the marijuana only for personal medical use. That issue can be raised during sentencing. Tefleyan said the government could not point to a single sale of the drug by the family. He said the evidence seized by drug enforcement agents during a raid in August 2012 — 4 pounds of marijuana and about $700 in cash — didn't support the conclusion the family was dealing.

The government has argued the family grew the plants in violation of federal law. "I don't believe there's any question in this case that we're talking about the manufacture of marijuana," Hicks told the jury.

Tefleyan placed blame for those plants on Jason Zucker, a former defendant who cut a plea deal last week, just before the trial started. Zucker, 39, testified Friday that he fronted $10,000 in costs to get the operation up and running. Zucker's plea deal called for a 16-month sentence....

Larry Harvey, 71, was recently dismissed from the case after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December.

I believe that these defendants' acquittal on gun charges means that that they are not subject to any mandatory minimum sentencing terms, and the judge's decision to allow them to be free awaiting sentencing suggests to me that they will likely not receive significant (or perhaps any) prison time for these offenses. In addition, these defendants might have various grounds for appealing to the Ninth Circuit (although they many not want to bother if they get relatively lenient sentencing terms).

Prior related posts:

March 4, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Florida jury embraces medical marijuana defense to state cannabis manufacturing charge

As reported in this local article, for "the first time in Florida history, a Broward jury acquitted a marijuana grower after finding he has a medical need for the illegal drug."  Here is more about this notable trial outcome:

Jesse Teplicki hid nothing from the detectives who showed up at his Hollywood home two years ago acting on a tip that he was growing pot on the premises. And he hid nothing from the jury on Thursday when he took the stand at his criminal trial, even admitting that he smoked a marijuana cigarette earlier in the day to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for decades.

Teplicki is the first defendant in Florida to argue medical need in a marijuana case. The jury of four women and two men deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict. "You saved my life," a tearful Teplicki told three jurors who stayed in the courtroom after they were discharged by Broward Circuit Judge Michael Ian Rothschild.

Manufacture of cannabis is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Teplicki, 50, had rejected several plea offers, admitting his actions but referring to the plant as "medicine" he needs to function. Teplicki has suffered from anorexia since age 9, according to trial testimony.

Medical need has worked as a defense before, but it's never been tried in front of a jury. In two cases dating back more than 20 years, marijuana smokers have defended themselves at trial before a judge. In each case, the judge convicted the defendants only to see appeals courts overturn their decisions and order not-guilty verdicts.

Rothschild warned Teplicki that the verdict does not change Florida law. Marijuana remains illegal to grow, possess and sell. But Teplicki was never accused of selling pot. He did not say how he plans to secure marijuana in the future.

Prosecutor Kathleen O'Brien argued that Teplicki had failed to demonstrate the "medical need" central to his defense. She faulted Teplicki for not only self-medicating, but for also self-diagnosing, never seeking alternative treatments that do not involve breaking the law. "There was no follow-up by a treating physician," she said.

"This is an historic decision in the state of Florida," said defense lawyer Michael C. Minardi. "Hopefully prosecutors heed the decision and are less likely to prosecute this kind of case in the future."

March 3, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new UCLA Law Review comment by Jordan Cunnings. Here is its abstract:

Marijuana is being decriminalized in many states and localities throughout the United States. While recreational use of marijuana is legal in only a handful of states, in many other areas it has become a type of pseudo-violation with such low criminal penalties that defendants may be issued just a citation or ticket and are often not entitled to the assistance of a public defender. While low-level marijuana offenses have fewer meaningful consequences within the criminal justice system in these jurisdictions, these offenses continue to create serious immigration consequences for noncitizen offenders. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines “conviction” in such a way that even civil infractions with very low penalties count as drug convictions that make lawful permanent residents deportable.

The combination of lowered criminal penalties for marijuana offenses and severe resulting immigration consequences causes significant problems for noncitizens. First, as the penalties for marijuana offenses are lowered at the state and local levels, a defendant is less likely to have a right to appointment of a public defender when charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. This situation implicates potential violations of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings, which has been held to cover affirmative advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal charge. Additionally, even with the assistance of a public defender, individuals may still be unable to avoid the harsh immigration consequences that often result from marijuana offenses. These harsh consequences violate our society’s understanding of proportionality of punishment in criminal law. Even though immigration law is traditionally insulated from proportionality considerations because of the plenary power doctrine, deportation for low-level marijuana offenses provides one example of why this doctrine should be reconsidered.

March 3, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Mitch McConnell’s Love Affair with Hemp"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Politico article, which carries this sub-headline: "How the Kentucky senator picked a fight with the DEA and became one of Washington’s top drug policy reformers." Here is how the story gets started:

Last May, a shipment of 250 pounds of hemp seeds left Italy destined for Kentucky as part of a pilot project made legal by the 2014 federal farm bill.  Kentucky farmers had long hoped for a crop that could fill the void left by the decline of tobacco, and many thought that industrial hemp, which is used in a vast array of products, could be that crop.

The hemp seeds cleared customs in Chicago, but when the cargo landed at the UPS wing of Louisville International Airport, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized it, arguing that importing hemp seeds required an import permit, which could take six months to process.  If farmers couldn’t get those seeds into the ground by June 1, the entire first year of the hemp pilot program would be dashed.

The DEA would have succeeded in blocking the seeds from reaching Kentucky farmers and university researchers but for the efforts of the state’s agricultural commissioner, who sued the agency and, most improbably, Mitch McConnell.

McConnell — then the Senate’s minority leader — worked furiously to free the seeds from the DEA’s clutches and continued the pro-hemp drumbeat throughout 2014, as he campaigned for reelection.  This year, as Senate majority leader, he’s taken a further step by co-sponsoring the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015.  While the farm bill carved out an exception to allow hemp cultivation in Kentucky, the 2015 bill would remove hemp entirely from the list of drugs strictly regulated by the Controlled Substances Act.  It would, in essence, legalize hemp production in the United States.

“We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” McConnell told me.  “And by exploring innovative ways to use industrial hemp to benefit a variety of Kentucky industries, the pilot programs could help boost our state’s economy and lead to future jobs. … I look forward to seeing industrial hemp prosper in the Commonwealth.”

Yes, Mitch McConnell said that.  About hemp.

To grasp how McConnell — the quintessential establishment Republican — came to champion industrial hemp, you must first understand the economics and internal politics of Kentucky, as well as McConnell’s relationship to Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul.  It’s also helpful to know that close to $500 million worth of hemp products produced by Canada and other countries is already sold in the United States through such stores as Whole Foods.  McConnell’s move also has potential ramifications beyond the marketplace, providing a credible threat to the Controlled Substances Act since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.

“The fact that Majority Leader McConnell is a co-sponsor of a hemp bill shows how fast the politics are changing on this issue,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that favors reform.

March 3, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lots of official new Colorado data about state's marijuana realities showing lots of job growth

As detailed in this local article, headlined "Colorado releases trove of marijuana data," the Colorado Department of Revenue today released this 40-page "Annual Update" report that "may very well be largest collection of data about marijuana use ever released in human history."  Here is a partial summary of some of the data cite the press report:

74 tons of marijuana flower were sold in the state, of which only 19 tons were sold as "recreational," telling us medical patients used more than twice as much marijuana flower (buds) as did recreational customers....

Conversely, recreational users consumed vastly more edible marijuana products in 2014 than did medical marijuana patients.  1.96 million units of medical edibles were sold. 2.8 million of them were sold to recreational buyers.

That means a total of 4.8 million edible marijuana products like cookies, candy bars and drinks sold in 2014. That's equal to almost one edible to every resident of Colorado....

The state of Colorado was cranking out almost 17,000 new plants each day at the end of 2014....  At year's end, Colorado recreational pot growers were cultivating more than 200,000 new plants each month to support their businesses, compared to just 25,000 in January, the first month of legal sales.

Plants need to be designated as either "retail" or "medical" when they are potted. By contrast, growers cranked out more than 300,000 new medical plants in all but two months of the year.

Each plant is tagged with an RFID chip, which is tracked through each step of cultivation and preparation for sale.  The state tracking system logged 37 million "events," including new cutting planted and plants processed into various products.

Denver is the undisputed capitol of the marijuana trade in Colorado. 60 percent of all the recreational buds sold in the state were sold in Denver, 11.5 tons.  The next nearest competitor, Boulder County, looked paltry by comparison with 2.5 tons.

Denver is also tops in medical pot with 31 tons sold compared to just 11 tons in El Paso County. By a 5-1 margin, the Denver County's recreational sales of infused products outpaced its next nearest competitor with 1.3 million units sold.  About 2.6 million edibles sold in Denver.  A half million sold in Boulder....

The data reveal that 9,400 jobs were created above-board in Colorado's marijuana sector with the dawn of recreational sales.  There were 6,600 state badges issued to workers in the medical pot industry as 2014 began.  By year's end, the figure mushroomed to 16,000.

833 brand-new recreational marijuana facilities opened in Colorado in 2014, including 322 retail stores.  At year's end there were 1,416 medical marijuana facilities, a slight increase over 2013.  State regulators suspended 30 licenses for violations over the course of the year. An additional 153 agreed to corrections or shut-downs.

Though there is a lot of data to take in and assess, the economic development story in the form of jobs created strikes me as a hugely significant factors for the future of marijuana reform.  This other official Colorado document seems to indicate that total job growth in Colorado numbered 80,000, which suggests that perhaps as much as 25% (if not more) of the job growth in Colorado can and should be fairly attributed to Colorado's marijuana sector.

February 27, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Obama backs pot decriminalization efforts"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN article reporting on some notable new comments from President Obama concerning marijuana law, policy and reform.  Here are the comments:

President Barack Obama said states could overhaul their laws to discourage marijuana the same way "we've been able to discourage a lot of other bad things that people do" -- like using tobacco.

His comments to Kansas City-based KMBC during a series of interviews Thursday afternoon with local television stations, the same day that Washington implemented a new law decriminalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana over the objections of some congressional Republicans.

"I think that we have to separate out legalization -- there's a lot of concern about drug abuse of any sort by our children and the general population -- versus the heavy criminalization of non-violent drug offenses," Obama said. "And I think that a lot of states are taking a look to see, do we have proportionality in terms of how we are penalizing the recreational user."

He said the United States has managed to discourage the use of other harmful products like tobacco without stiff jail sentences. "I think that's what every state across the country, including some very conservative states that don't have a lot of tolerance for marijuana, are looking at," Obama said, "is do we want to be throwing people in jail for five, 10, 15 years if they're not major drug dealers but they're using a substance that's probably not good for them but is probably not hurting too many other people?"

February 27, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Learning so much already even in first few hours of first Tribal Marijuana Conference

ImagesI feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been invited to participate the nation’s first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference taking place as I write this post from a huge ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, just North of Seattle.   This post from Canna Law Blog discusses the basics, and this agenda highlights all the informed speakers in the mix who are already making this an amazing event in which I am learning so much.  

For example, right now on the podium now are Thomas Carr, the Boulder City Attorney, and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, are providing an extraordinary set of insights about local enforcement of local laws in the first two recreational marijuana states. Carr also reported that, because Dunkin' Donuts does not have a store in Boulder, it is easier to get marijuana (and munchies) in Boulder than Dunkin' Donuts (and Munchkins) in some parts of Colorado. Of course, that should not worry public health advocates too much, given that there is good reason to believe Munchkins are perhaps much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

1403002903506This local article, headlined "Indian tribes looks to marijuana as new moneymaker," highlights some reasons why there are hundreds of persons at this event:

After making hundreds of billions of dollars running casinos, American Indian tribes are getting a good whiff of another potential moneymaker: marijuana.

The first Tribal Marijuana Conference is set for Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington state as Indian Country gets ready to capitalize on the nation’s expanding pot industry. Organizers said representatives from more than 50 tribes in at least 20 states have registered, with total attendance expected to surpass 300....

Robert Odawi Porter, one of the conference organizers and the former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, said tribes have “a tremendous economic diversification opportunity to consider” with marijuana commerce. He said the event would bring together “trailblazers” in the industry who will help tribal leaders understand the complex issues involved.

While it’s unknown how many tribes ultimately will seek to take advantage of the change, one analyst warned that any tribe expecting to hit the jackpot might be in for a surprise, particularly as the supply of legal pot in the U.S. increases. “People keep forgetting it’s a competitive market,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state’s top pot consultant. “And it’s cheap to grow.”

In Washington state, where retail pot stores opened in July, Kleiman said pot growers who sold their product for $21 a gram only a few months ago are now getting $4 a gram. “The price of marijuana is the price of illegality,” he said.

But the issue is generating plenty of buzz among tribal leaders. On Monday, tribal officials at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., attended a closed breakout session with two U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications of legalized marijuana....

Even though the talks are in the early stages, many tribal officials are pleased that the Obama administration is giving them the power to proceed. “The position of the administration is a strong indication of their commitment and acknowledgment of tribes’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and governmental authority,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

Marijuana is a divisive issue among tribes, with many tribal officials worried about high rates of drug addiction among American Indians. Last year, the Yakama Nation decided to ban marijuana from its reservation in south central Washington state. The Tulalip Tribe, located just north of Seattle, voted to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice to try to legalize medical marijuana.

Legalization opponents fear that more tribes will want to begin selling marijuana without understanding the risks. “I worry about this being a big expansion and I worry that the potential consequences – health, safety and legal – have not been properly communicated to them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group.

Regardless of what tribes decide to do, he warned that the situation could change with the election of a new president in 2016. “I don’t see this ending well for anyone, especially if a new administration decides to enforce federal law,” Sabet said. “The thing people should remember is that marijuana is still illegal – on tribal lands and otherwise – even if the law isn’t being equally enforced.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another of the planned speakers at Friday’s conference, said allowing tribes to legalize marijuana will move pot sales “into the light of day.” And he predicted there would be little change in the amount of pot sold on reservations. “Here’s the worst-case scenario: that a tribe just decides they want to be the epicenter of marijuana production, they want to undercut the state system, they want to be a mecca, if you will,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard no tribe say that. . . . We seem to be able to co-exist quite nicely.”

Kleiman said the tax issue would be one of the toughest to sort out as tribes ponder whether to join the industry. “It’s a big deal for people who are trying to make sense of marijuana policy, because if the tribes are exempt from state law, then the states can’t actually tax and regulate,” Kleiman said. “That would be catastrophic. It’s not a big deal for the tribes because there’s no money in it.”

February 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Conservatives convene and comment on cannabis at CPAC

Yet another notable sign of the modern marijuana times could be observed this week as leading lights from the GOP got together at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The first day of CPAC included a break-out panel debating marijuana reform, and these article highlight that a number of notable GOP voices have been making headline-making comments on the topic:  

UPDATE:  This new CNN piece, headlined "What's the conservative pot position?," highlights some parts of the marijuana debate session at CPAC. It includes this notable quote from Gary Johnson:

In an interview offstage, Johnson joked that the sparring session didn't qualify as a debate. "I mean having a debate on legalizing marijuana really is like having a debate on whether the sun's gonna come up tomorrow," the former New Mexico governor said. "It's coming up tomorrow."...

But Johnson suggested that Republicans will need to stake out a realistic position on marijuana. The Republican Party -- whose leadership largely opposes marijuana legalization -- will be ushered "right out of existence" if it doesn't change its stance, Johnson said, noting the groundswell of support for pot legalization among younger voters. "It should be [a conservative issue]," Johnson said. "This is your life and don't you have the freedom to do what you want to do with your life. But you also have the responsibility that your actions don't mess with my life. Isn't that kind of fundamentally conservatism, period?"

February 27, 2015 in Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fascinating (federal? federalism?) fracas unfolding over DC marijuana reform inside the Beltway

Images (4)As reported in this local article, headlined "Washington DC Law Legalizing Marijuana Goes Into Effect," an interesting fight is developing among politicians over marijuana reform law and practices in the District of Columbia.  Here are the basics:

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser defied congressional Republicans and implemented D.C.’s new local law allowing its residents to smoke marijuana. In implementing the new pot laws Thursday, Bowser has rebuffed two influential House Republicans who’d warned her that she’d be breaking federal law — and risking retribution.

“We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7-in-10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Bowser and Washington police implemented a measure approved by D.C. voters in November allowing Washington residents to possess up to two ounces of pot. The allowance applies only to those over 21. In addition, D.C. residents can grow up to six pot plants in their own yards. Buying and selling pot are still illegal, as is smoking in public places. But people can transfer up to one ounce to another person — just not for money.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said in a letter Tuesday that the city would be violating a spate of federal laws if it went forward with Bowser’s plan to implement the new pro-pot measure.

“We strongly suggest you reconsider your position,” the two wrote to Bowser — while, in a thinly veiled suggestion that there would be consequences for ignoring them, pointing to House rules that give Chaffetz’s panel broad investigative authority.

Bowser, though, brushed Chaffetz and Meadows back on Wednesday, saying they should worry about bigger problems — like funding the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to shut down at week’s end if Congress doesn’t act.

And she took a shot at Republicans who have suggested she could wind up in jail for breaking federal law — even though Congress has no powers to prosecute her. “A lot of reasonable people have a different view of this issue,” she said. “I have a lot of things to do here in the District of Columbia, and me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing.”

It’s the latest example of the strain between a heavily Democratic city that is ultimately controlled by a Republican-dominated Congress — which couldn’t stop similar marijuana legalization pushes in Colorado and Washington state, but is trying to use its power of the purse to do so this time.

Chaffetz and Meadows pointed to a provision included in a massive spending bill approved by Congress in December that prohibited Washington from legalizing marijuana, or cutting any drug possession penalties.

Bowser has insisted that the district’s measure was enacted before that December vote. But the two Republicans noted that any bill in Washington can’t become local law until it’s been through a 30-day layover period before Congress. Until that happens, they said, the measure can’t be considered enacted — which in this case means it “was not enacted prior to the language in the continuing resolution preventing it from moving forward.”

“If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” Chaffetz and Meadows wrote.

February 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newest (and most interesting?) laboratory experiment with marijuana reform officially underway in Alaska

DownloadAs detailed in this lengthy AP piece, headlined "No street parties, no citations: Alaska quietly ushers in legalized marijuana," the state nicknamed The Last Frontier is now an important and especially interesting new frontier in the state-level laboratories of democracy experimenting with recreational marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana. But the historic day passed with little public acknowledgement in a state with a savvy marijuana culture that has seen varying degrees of legal acceptance of the drug for 40 years.

Supporters said the day was a milestone, comparing it to the end of Prohibition. But unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska's biggest cities.

Dolly Fleck-Phelps, a Kenai resident with an ancillary marijuana business, said she thought people would look back on the day as a turning point for Alaska. "Absolutely this is history in the making," Fleck-Phelps said. "This is the opening of the door. Now it's time for the real work to begin."

Legalization marked the end of a 43-year political battle for Bill Parker, 70. The Anchorage man, who was listed as a sponsor of the initiative, first banded together with a group of young Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives to introduce a legalization bill in 1972. "Gee, there weren't enough votes to worry about," the retired deputy commissioner of corrections said.

Parker's hopes for legal weed dwindled as he saw Alaska become more Republican and more conservative over the years. He said perhaps the marijuana vote marks the end of that pendulum swing. Now that pot is legal, Parker is ready to take a pause to enjoy the moment, but he said he won't stop fighting. "Well, it makes me feel good. It's not over, of course. The initiative passed by between 5 and 6 percent, so 40 some percent of the people voted against it. Not all of them are ready to lay down and go along," Parker said....

Alaska has had a complicated history with marijuana over the years. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1975 said personal marijuana possession was protected under the state constitution's right-to-privacy clause. In 1998, voters legalized medicinal marijuana. But over the years, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession, creating an odd legal limbo, and never created rules for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution....

As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won't start until 2016 at the earliest. That's about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did. But the law there doesn't go into effect until July 1.

Police throughout Alaska were prepared to hand out $100 citations for anyone caught smoking pot in public, but departments stretching more than 1,100 miles from Nome on the state's western coast to Juneau in the southeast panhandle hadn't issued a ticket during the day. "We haven't even received a call or complaint about anybody doing it," said Steve Goetz, deputy chief for the University of Alaska Fairbanks police department....

Others remained concerned on Tuesday about the details not yet worked out regarding legalization. When the public voted last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, voters left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out. Elisabeth Schafer, a Sitka resident visiting Juneau for work, said she was worried about the state developing a workable system of regulations. "I just wish we had waited longer as a state," Schafer said. "I don't want to blaze the way for other states."

Among the questions remaining on Tuesday were what public places consumption was prohibited in, and how the regulations for a new commercial industry would look. The initiative bans smoking in public, but it doesn't define what that means, and lawmakers left the question to the alcohol regulatory board. There were missteps even as the board decided pot can't be smoked in places generally accessible to the public, like parks, schools or on the street in Alaska.

Board members met via a teleconference Tuesday, but it started late because organizers gave out the wrong telephone number. The call originated from the board's Anchorage office. However, a locked gate blocked access to the meeting site.

I think Alsaka is an especially interesting state to watch closely in the months and years ahead because it is such a unique state in so many ways: its size, small population, history of libertarian/conservative values and its relative isolation from the rest of the US. Also, Alaska as part of the second set of jurisdictions legalization recreational marijuana, can and should be able to draw some regulatory lessons from Colorado and Washington as it creates a new regulatory structure for a commercial marijuana industry. And, especially as debate over federal marijuana reform begins to heat up in Congress in the months and years ahead, Alaska's two GOP senators might provide to be especially important national players within the establishment of the political party that has been recently most resistant to reform of federal criminal drug laws.

February 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Poll shows, after a few years of experience, Colorado citizens still strongly support legalization

As reported in this Politico piece, headlined "Poll: Colorado residents still back legal marijuana," a new poll suggests significant experience with a marijuana legalization regime has strengthened in-state support for this major marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

More than two years after Coloradans voted to allow recreational marijuana use, the state’s residents continue to stand firmly behind keeping the drug legal, a new poll found.  The survey, commissioned by Quinnipiac University, found that 58 percent of Colorado voters support keeping pot legal, while only 38 percent are against it.

The result featured significant gender and age disparities.  Voters ages 18 to 34 favored it overwhelmingly, 82-16 percent, while 50 percent of those ages 55 and older were against it, with only 46 percent in support.  Likewise, men supported the measure by a margin of 63-33, while women only favored it 53-44....

Thus far, the Obama administration has decided not to intervene in states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, despite federal regulations outlawing the drug. Colorado’s marijuana legalization is currently being challenged in federal court by neighboring states that claim a legal pot industry next door has rendered them unable to enforce their drug laws at home.

The Quinnipiac survey was taken between Feb. 5-15 among 1,049 Colorado voters. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

February 25, 2015 in Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

What might be the modern public health story if marijuana had been kept legal and tobacco cigarettes widely banned?

Students in my marijuana seminar know that I think there is much to think about and learn from the history of (alcohol) Prohibition in the United States and the history of marijuana prohibition.   But I have now learned from this fascinating new Jacob Sullum piece that there was an interesting US history surrounding cigarette prohibition that also should be a lesson for modern marijuana advocates.   The lengthy Sullum piece, which is headlined "Today's Pothead Is Yesterday's Cigarette Fiend," should be read in full, but these passages are what engendered the question in the title of this post:

At first the anti-cigarette campaign, which had close ties to the temperance movement, focused on restricting children's access.  By 1890, 26 states had passed laws forbidding cigarette sales to minors, but many children continued to smoke.  Led by Lucy Page Gaston, a former teacher from Illinois whose career as a social reformer began in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the anti-cigarette crusaders next insisted that complete prohibition was necessary to protect the youth of America.  Between 1893 and 1921, 14 states and one territory (Oklahoma) enacted laws banning the sale of cigarettes, and in some cases possession as well.

Upholding Tennessee's ban in 1898, the state Supreme Court declared that cigarettes "are wholly noxious and deleterious to health. Their use is always harmful; never beneficial. They possess no virtue, but are inherently bad, bad only. They find no true commendation for merit or usefulness in any sphere. On the contrary, they are widely condemned as pernicious altogether. Beyond any question, their every tendency is toward the impairment of physical health and mental vigor."

In contrast to contemporary anti-smoking activists, who talk almost exclusively about the habit's effect on the body, early critics of the cigarette were just as concerned about its impact on the mind.  In the 1904 edition of Our Bodies and How We Live, an elementary school textbook, Albert F. Blaisdell warned: "The cells of the brain may become poisoned from tobacco.  The ideas may lack clearness of outline.  The will power may be weakened, and it may be an effort to do the routine duties of life…. The memory may also be impaired."

Blaisdell reported that "the honors of the great schools, academies, and colleges are very largely taken by the abstainers from tobacco," adding, "The reason for this is plain.  The mind of the habitual user of tobacco is apt to lose its capacity for study or successful effort.  This is especially true of boys and young men.  The growth and development of the brain having been once retarded, the youthful user of tobacco has established a permanent drawback which may hamper him all his life.  The keenness of his mental perception may be dulled and his ability to seize and hold an abstract thought may be impaired."

In the 1908 textbook The Human Body and Health, biologist Alvin Davison agreed that tobacco "prevents the brain cells from developing to their full extent and results in a slow and dull mind." He added, "At Harvard University during fifty years no habitual user of tobacco ever graduated at the head of his class."

These themes were taken up by prominent, widely admired Americans who were troubled by a cluster of traits that would later be associated with marijuana.  "No boy or man can expect to succeed in this world to a high position and continue the use of cigarettes," Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack wrote in 1913.  Biologist David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, concurred. "The boy who smokes cigarettes need not be anxious about his future," he said. "He has none."...

In the decades that followed, the cigarette's reputation underwent a complete reversal. Far from sabotaging intellectual achievement and economic productivity, it was seen as facilitating them through the stimulating action of nicotine.  But the dull, listless underachievers described by Ford and Edison reappeared in the 1960s, smoking something else.

Testifying before Congress in 1970, Harvard psychiatrist Dana Farnsworth noted that scientists had come up with a name for the condition that prevented marijuana users from reaching their potential. "I am very much concerned about what has come to be called the 'amotivational syndrome,'" Farnsworth said. ...

A decade and a half later, Robert DuPont declared that "millions of young people are living as shadows of themselves, empty shells of what they could have been and would have been without pot."  In 1989, his first year as the nation's first official "drug czar," Bill Bennett explained how smoking pot affects young people: "It means they don't study.  It causes what is called 'amotivational syndrome,' where they are just not motivated to get up and go to work."

It is plausible, of course, that smoking a lot of pot in high school might interfere with academic performance, just as heavy drinking might. But Farnsworth, DuPont, and Bennett are describing something more than that: a long-lasting impairment of the will that prevents cannabis consumers from being all that they can be....

Despite its continuing appeal as a propaganda theme, the idea that smoking pot makes people unproductive has never been substantiated.  In their 1997 book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, the sociologist Lynn Zimmer and the pharmacologist John P. Morgan examined the evidence and concluded: "There is nothing in these data to suggest that marijuana reduces people's motivation to work, their employability, or their capacity to earn wages.  Studies have consistently found that marijuana users earn wages similar to or higher than nonusers."

A 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences noted that amotivational syndrome "is not a medical diagnosis, but it has been used to describe young people who drop out of social activities and show little interest in school, work, or other goal‑directed activity.  When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but there are no convincing data to demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics."...

Like the symptoms of cigarette use that worried Ford and Edison, the symptoms of marijuana use are often hard to distinguish from the symptoms of adolescence. Peggy Mann's 1985 book Marijuana Alert, which Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan described in the foreword as "a true story about a drug that is taking America captive," is full of anecdotes about sweet, obedient, courteous, hard-working kids transformed by marijuana into rebellious, lazy, moody, insolent, bored, apathetic, sexually promiscuous monsters. "It was very easy for parents to blame marijuana for all the problems that their children were having, rather than to accept any responsibility," observes Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon, a leading authority on marijuana. "It became a very convenient way of dealing with and understanding various kinds of problems."...

Current fears about marijuana and other illegal drugs, like fears about cigarettes at the beginning of the last century, reflect the sort of worries that reappear in every generation. Parents want their children to be smart, to do well in school, to respect authority, and to become productive, responsible adults.  The dull, lazy, rebellious, and possibly criminal teenager―the cigarette fiend or pothead — is every parent's nightmare. Adults who have no children of their own worry that other people's kids will become tomorrow's parasites or predators, bringing decline and disorder.

Despite all the alarm that drug scares seem to generate, projecting these fears onto physical objects can be reassuring: Just keep the kids away from tobacco or marijuana (or alcohol or MDMA), we are implicitly told, and they will turn out OK. As symbols of all the things that might go wrong on the path from birth to maturity, drugs offer what every adult confronted by a troublesome teenager longs for: the illusion of control.

A few prior related posts:

February 23, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting the diverse nature (and job-growth impact) of modern marijuana entrepreneurs

One of many reasons I find the emerging marijuana industry so interesting is due to the diverse and unpredictable nature and background of those interested in marijuana businesses. This reality is well covered today in this notable local New York story headlined "From Wall Street to moms, business of marijuana attracting diverse set of entrepreneurs." Here are highlights:

Rachel Jones, 24, is a stay-at-home mother from Syosset, Long Island who quit her six-figure job and started her own business hoping to ride the marijuana wave. “I see myself as an entrepreneur,” Jones said.

Her business experiment Juana Box launches in just a few weeks, shipping boxes of smoking accessories – glass pipes, rolling papers, vaping pens – across the nation. However, the one key ingredient missing is marijuana.

This new mom currently markets tobacco use only to those over 19, but she’s poised to blow her business, partnering with marijuana growers and dispensaries, anticipating recreational pot will soon be sold in New York and across the U.S. “In a few years this could be a factory and I could be hiring other stay-at-home mothers,” Jones said.

From one woman entrepreneurs to well-funded multi-million dollar businesses, marijuana is no longer just a pipe dream. From growers to CEO’s, this business, estimated to be at $46 billion by 2016, is expected to grow 700 percent over the next five years.... Bethanny Frankel of Real Housewives fame, plans to use her Skinny girl cocktail fame to launch a Skinny Girl marijuana – guaranteed not to give you munchies. Even Wall Street wants in....

Leslie Bocksor started a hedge fund company dedicated to pot. He expects it will soon cap out and he’ll need to open another and says business opportunities are mind-blowing. “They are incredibly excited to be investing in it,” Bocksor said. “We haven’t seen an opportunity like this that even compares since the birth of the internet back to the mind to late 90’s.”

“People are spending money on cannabis–hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bocksor said. “They’re probably spending three times as much as that on flight, on rental cars, on hotels and restaurants and on shopping. The economic impact is extraordinary.”

And all those businesses need workers.

February 23, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Awesome (law student) commentary at new Drug Law & Policy blog

In this recent post highlighting a commentary by Professor David Ball, I briefly noted his new Drug Law & Policy blog.  Though I always enjoyed checking out all of David's occasional posts on that blog as he got it up-and-running last month, this past week the blog became a daily must-read as his students began to post content about many of the dynamic and diverse legal issues raised by modern marijuana reform.  

Here is a run-down of recent student posts at Drug Law & Policy, all of which merit attention:

February 21, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Near Irvine, CA? Stop by the Critical Perspectives on the Drug War symposium at UCI tomorrow

If you're in southern California and looking for a way to kill some time on Saturday (and earn CLE), consider dropping by the Critical Perspectives on the Drug War symposium at University of California Irvine School of Law.  

The event goes from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and features panels on a range of issues, including alternatives to incarceration and, of course, marijuana.  I'll be moderating a 2:00 pm panel on marijuana legalization efforts that will feature speakers talking about the latest news in Colorado, Oregon, and California.  The full conference schedule is here

February 20, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana's Pauline Sabin?: "85-year-old Houston woman fighting to legalize marijuana"

I just got finished watching the last segment of the wonderful PBS Prohibition documentary, which stresses the role of  Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee and the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, who helped drive the movement to repeal the 18th amendment.  With that history fresh in mind, I found especially interesting this news report from Texas which has the headline quoted in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

"I've always been pretty outspoken," said Ann Lee. At 85 years old, Ann Lee looks like anyone's grandmother. "I don't know whether it's my age, the white hair, what is it, but it does seem to strike a chord," said Lee.

But don't let the white hair fool you. She's a fiery Republican who believes you have the right to use marijuana. "It's just me, I believe in this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's personal. She wasn't always a supporter of weed. That changed when her son was bound to a wheelchair, and needed it to treat his condition. "We realized marijuana wasn't the weed of the devil which I had been known to say," said Lee.

She and her husband Bob fought to legalize weed since then. Bob died last week. Now it's her job to finish what they started together. "This is heady stuff for this lady," said Lee. "I've been an activist for many years, but I've never had the response that I'm now getting."

She knows more about weed than someone half her age, and even has the occasional edible. Activists call her the perfect weapon in the marijuana reform movement. "It's not Republican to support prohibition," said Lee.

Some prior related posts:

February 20, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement

Despite a New Year's resolution to resume regular posts to this blog, I have somehow managed not to write a single one until now.  Hopefully I'll be able to pick things back up with regular contributions.  

I'll start with this quick link to a guest blog post I wrote for the American Constitution Society's two-week blog symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.  My post looks at some of the causes of the racial disparity in marijuana arrests and why the problem is so hard to correct.  Here's how my post begins:

In their influential 1970 study of marijuana prohibition in the United States, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread found that “racial prejudice” was the “most prominent” factor in the passage of early marijuana prohibition laws.  When states began passing these laws in the first few decades of the 1900s, it was not uncommon to see legislatures expressly link marijuana prohibition with race.

 

Reporting on a1929 hearing on a marijuana prohibition bill in Montana, for example, the Montana Standard told readers:

 

“There was fun in the House Committee during the week when the Marihuana bill came up for consideration.  Marihuana is Mexican opium, a plant used by Mexicans and cultivated by Indians.  ‘When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,’ explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, ‘He thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.  I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights in the ‘Bower of Roses’ or put on tournaments for the favor of ‘Spanish Rose’ after a couple of whiffs of Marihuana.’ Everybody laughed and the bill was recommended for passage.”

 

It is rare to see anyone rely on anything approaching this sort of overt racism in the debate over marijuana laws today.  Indeed, nearly everyone ― prohibitionists and legalization advocates alike ― agrees that racial disparities in marijuana enforcement (and drug enforcement more broadly) are undesirable.  Most also acknowledge the issue is a cause for real concern and action.

 

And yet, disparities in marijuana enforcement persist. 

Click over to the ACS blog for the rest.

February 20, 2015 in Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

California AG expresses openness to full legalization

As reported in this local article, headlined "Kamala Harris not opposed to legalizing marijuana," the top law enforcement offices in the largest US state is expressing an openness to the idea of full marijuana legalization.  Here are the details:

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state’s top cop and Democratic front-runner in the race for a U.S. Senate seat next year, said Wednesday that she has “no moral objection” to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but cautioned that special care will be required to assess the impacts on children and public safety. “It’s easy to stand up and make a grand gesture, but we really do have to work out the details,” said Harris, who told The Chronicle that she believes “it is an inevitability” that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized in the state.

Harris’ comments were her first in-depth remarks since announcing that she would run in 2016 to fill the seat of Sen. Barbara Boxer, who announced last month that she would not run for re-election, and the first time as a Senate candidate that she has addressed marijuana legalization.  “But to be very clear,” she said of legalization, “it’s not a passive position,” adding that as the state’s senior law enforcement official, she has already been studying the impacts in Colorado and Washington state, where recreational use is legal. It becomes legal in Oregon later this year.

“I’m actually in constant communication with Washington and Oregon to watch what they are doing and to explore all of the options, to make sure we do this in a way that takes advantage of learning from their mistakes,” she said.

California will need to “figure out the important issues” related to legalization, especially “as it relates to children, as it relates to schools and advertising and the quantities ... and issues like safe driving and enforcement of our rules around that,” as well as about the impacts of edible marijuana, she said. “That’s where I’m focused, on all the details of that.”

Her personal views on the drug: “I don’t have any moral opposition to legalization,” she said. “But I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details ... to make sure that if it were legalized ... that vulnerable people are safe,” she said.

February 19, 2015 in Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)