Friday, November 28, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Reason commentary by Jacob Sullum, which is headlined "A Cannabis Crackdown Contracts: After rising dramatically, marijuana arrests are falling and the trend seems likely to continue." Here are some data and context from the piece:
In 1992, when Americans elected a president who said he had smoked pot without inhaling, the number of marijuana arrests in the United States began a steep climb. It peaked in 2007, during the administration of a president who refused to say whether he had smoked pot because he worried about setting a bad example for the youth of America. Since 2009, when a president who "inhaled frequently" because "that was the point" took office, the number of marijuana arrests has fallen steadily — a trend that continued last year, according to FBI numbers released this month.
It's not clear exactly why pot busts exploded during the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, when the annual total rose from fewer than 288,000 to almost 873,000 — a 200 percent increase. There does not seem to be any consistent relationship between the level of marijuana consumption and the number of arrests, the vast majority of which (nearly nine out of 10 last year) involved simple possession rather than cultivation or distribution. Judging from survey data on marijuana use, arrests did not rise in response to increased consumption; nor did the cannabis crackdown have a noticeable deterrent effect. The risk of arrest for any given pot smoker rose substantially between 1991 and 2007 but remained small.
In 1991, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), about 15 million Americans smoked pot. That year there were about 288,000 marijuana arrests, one for every 52 cannabis consumers. In 2007, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (successor to the NHSDA), about 25 million Americans smoked pot. That year there were about 873,000 marijuana arrests, one for every 29 cannabis consumers.
Although the overall risk of arrest is small, it is decidedly higher for blacks and Latinos. In 2010, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, even though survey data indicated they were no more likely to smoke pot. In some jurisdictions the black-to-white risk ratio was even higher. It was 8 to 1 in the District of Columbia, which helps explain the dramatic turnaround in black Washingtonians' opinions about marijuana legalization.
The good news is that the downward trend in marijuana arrests since 2009 seems likely to continue, helped along by the spread of decriminalization and legalization. In recent years California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington have changed their marijuana laws so that people caught with small amounts are no longer arrested. That change has eliminated tens of thousands of marijuana arrests each year — more than 50,000 in California alone. Under ballot initiatives approved this month, Alaska and Washington, D.C., will eliminate all penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. (Possessing up to an ounce was already a citable offense in Oregon, where voters also approved marijuana legalization this month.)...
Even in New York City, where the cannabis crackdown has been especially noticeable, police are arresting fewer pot smokers, a trend that is likely to accelerate as a result of a policy change that took effect last week. Low-level marijuana possession arrests by the New York Police Department (NYPD) skyrocketed from about 3,000 in 1994, when Rudolph Giuliani took office as mayor, to more than 51,000 six years later. The crackdown continued during Michael Bloomberg's administration, when the NYPD arrested an average of nearly 39,000 pot smokers each year, compared to 24,487 under Giuliani, 982 under David Dinkins, and 2,259 under Ed Koch, according to data gathered by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine.
As the question in the title of this post highlights, I am eager to attach some kind of benefit (and perhaps cost) metric to these data about reduced arrest. In the context of incarceration changes, we know each prison year served costs the government about $30,000 taxpayer dollars (while also potentially preventing some criminal activity which is much harder to quantify). I am inclined to speculate that there must be $100 in administrative costs associated with formal arrests, which would mean that every 10,000 fewer marijuana arrests benefits taxpayers with about $1,000,000 in savings.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
I am pleased and intrigued to see that the ABA Journal's annnual Blawg 100 given some love to this blog. All the details of the ABA's latest Blawg 100 can be found here, and MLP&R appears under the Profs category with this description:
With all due respect to the revered Sentencing Law and Policy blog, this year we wanted to showcase Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman's latest. Now that marijuana is legal for recreational purposes in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C, new legal issues are sprouting up. Berman points readers to news coverage and podcasts discussing the mainstreaming of marijuana and its legal ramifications.
It is, of course, an honor just to be nominated. I am especially hopeful that the ABA Journal's recognition serves as yet another marker of the importance and legitimacy of serious discussion of the many law and policy issues surrounding modern marijuana reform movements. Also, my occasional co-bloggers Professor Alex Kreit and Professor Rob Mikos deserve credit and thanks for helping to elevate the substance and style of MLP&R.
Monday, November 24, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article. Here are excerpts:
From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar. Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers....
The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper. Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he's selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers....
Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air. One of the state's largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint. The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home.
Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. "It just tastes too good, we had to do it," Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company's holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies....
Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they're "sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price."...
For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn't know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado's 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That's because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.
Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.
November 24, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 22, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting and lengthy NBC News article. Here are excerpts:
The specter of corporate cannabis loomed large on Tuesday, when the family of Bob Marley appeared on NBC’s Today Show, announcing the creation of Marley Natural. The world’s first global brand of marijuana launched with the support of $50 million dollars in private equity and the same marketing machine that took Starbucks to the masses.
“We see the inevitability of large, well-run companies to sell cannabis,” said Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Privateer Holding, the Seattle-based company that’s behind the Marley brand. “That train left the station a long time ago.”
Less than a year after Colorado and Washington state opened the first commercial pot markets, and less than a month after two more states voted to follow suit, such frank capitalism has shocked the smiling wise-men of weed and their crusading friends in the legalization movement. Most hoped the market would remain a cottage industry of small-scale growers, collectives and dispensaries. Few expect it will....
Alcohol and tobacco interests are also keeping an eye on the burgeoning market. The alcohol industry in particular has been communicating with representatives of NORML, DPA, and the Marijuana Policy Project, according to sources on both sides of the table.
They want to know whether pot will be a friend or a foe — a complement to their products, or, as some marijuana reformers have argued, an alternative that could sap America’s love of drinking. The marijuana lobby accepts these overtures out of a combination of curiosity, realism, and smart strategy. If a takeover is inevitable, they figure, it’s better to be prepared.
“Beer, wine and tobacco people — I’ve met with them all,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, which is above all a consumer rights organization. He doesn’t love the idea of Big Pot, but he believes it will help guarantee that users get a quality product at a fair price....
St. Pierre hopes to create a “Dionysus lobby,” built on the shared interests of alcohol, tobacco and pot. All three industries want low taxes, the right to advertise freely, and the ability to make convenient sales, he said. But so far the legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington are plainly over-regulated, he added, prejudiced against pot consumers, who should be allowed to buy marijuana as easily and safely as they do beer or wine or a pack of smokes.
“I’ve tried to say, ‘look, none of us should be hiding,’” he said. “All of us are involved in a problematic adult consumer product and all of us enjoy using one or more of these products,” he continued. “What do we want? We can get it down to four words, almost a Wal-Mart bumper sticker: ‘Best product, lowest cost.’”
He said that one of his warmest receptions came from the Distilled Spirits Council, or Discus, which represents the leading producers and marketers of liquor in the United States. One day last July a senior member of Discus called St. Pierre, according to an account of the conversation that St. Pierre emailed to a colleague.
That account along with a follow-up interview with St. Pierre illustrates how marijuana has sent a twinned-bolt of fear and excitement through the spines of alcohol executives. The Discus executive congratulated the industry on its wins at the ballot box, St. Pierre recalled. The executive also assured the marijuana lobby that the nation’s largest liquor makers would not fight legalization as long as the public supported it.
He estimated that a third of Discus board want to get into the marijuana business, a third oppose legalization, and a third believe that the industry should take a neutral position, according to St. Pierre’s recollections. But Discus conveyed a threat as well, a complaint against the way marijuana advocates were demonizing alcohol in their campaigns. “Marijuana is safer than alcohol,” is perhaps MPP’s most used slogan in fact, and the group relentlessly argues that America would be a healthier place if we put down our tumblers and decided to toke.
If such talk continued, the Discus rep said, according to St. Pierre’s recollection, the liquor industry would have no choice but to launch a counter-attack. That, St. Pierre agreed, wouldn’t be good for anyone....
The Beer Institute, which represents the nation’s 2,800 breweries, and the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America also confirmed meetings and calls with the marijuana lobby but denied wanting to get into the business.
All three show signs of the same double vision of marijuana as both opportunity and threat. Earlier this year, Brown-Forman Corp., which owns Jack Daniel's, told investors that the spread of legalization could hurt its sales. The Beer Institute is officially neutral on the question of marijuana legalization. But Chris Thorne, the vice president of communications, seemed to take a shot at the new industry and its claim as a safe alternative to booze.
“We believe that it’s misleading to compare marijuana to beer,” he said in a phone interview. “We are committed to responsible advertising, working with public officials and law enforcement, and supporting communities in the countries where we operate. I don’t think any of that is true for marijuana. There are a lot of unanswered questions about marijuana — questions about its effect on the brain, and on young people — and we think legislators would be wise to look at these questions as they consider the legalization of marijuana.”
But at the same time, the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America may be ready to make marijuana work for it. Earlier this year, in a letter sent to all fifty U.S. attorneys general and governors, the president of the WSWA argued that if a state decides to legalize marijuana, it should regulate it with the same three-tiered distribution system set up for alcohol after prohibition — a move some analysts interpreted as a sign that alcohol companies would be open to moving pot as well....
Tobacco executives, meanwhile, have been studying the marijuana industry for years, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His research has drawn an 80-million page archive of tobacco industry documents, spanning the 1960s to the late 1990s. Many of the documents reference softening pot laws, rising use, and the dual threat/opportunity of a third major vice industry.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Looking for something to listen to while taking care of your weekend chores around the house? Episode 20 of the Marijuana Today podcast is up.
On this epsidode, Dan Goldman, Andrew Livingston and Adam Smith join host Kris Lotlikar and producer Shea Gunther to discuss the "vaping" trend and regulating marijuana edibles, among other subjects.
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Huffington Post article headlined "Veterans May Gain Easier Access To Medical Marijuana." Here are excerpts:
A bill introduced in Congress would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana for their patients. The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced Thursday by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) with 10 bipartisan cosponsors, would lift a ban on VA doctors giving opinions or recommendations about medical marijuana to veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is permitted.
“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” Blumenauer said. “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”
Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and depression, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some scientists have suggested that marijuana may help PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression. In a recent study, patients who smoked cannabis saw an average 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms. "A clinical trial needs to be done to see what proportion and what kind of PTSD patients benefit, with either cannabis or the main active ingredients of cannabis," said Dr. George Greer, who was involved in the study.
This year, federal health officials signed off on a study that would have examined the effects of five potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD. The study's future still remains unclear because the federal government's sole provider of medical-grade cannabis didn't have the proper strains for the research to begin. Then the study's lead scientist was fired from the University of Arizona, where the research would have taken place.
I have long thought that anyone who claims to support our troops and veterans ought to be active and vocally supporting more serious exploration of the potential benefits of allowing veterans to use marijuana as one way to deal with the difficult problems of PTSD and brain injuries. And because everyone in Congress claims to be a supporter of our troops and veterans, one might believe that the Veterans Equal Access Act should be the rare proposal that garners bipartisan support in Congress. But because the politics of drug policy rarely is free of divisiveness, I fear passage of this bill in either the current or new Congress may be an uphill battle given that the House of Representatives earlier this year rejected a similar measure.
A few prior related posts:
- Congress rejects proposal to let VA doctors recommend medical marijuana
- Supporting the troops with cannabis in Colorado
- "More and More US Veterans are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD"
- Vets making a push for VA to consider allowing marijuana use for PTSD
Thursday, November 20, 2014
A helpful reader helpfully alerted me to this notable new Congressional Research Service report titled "Federal Proposals to Tax Marijuana: An Economic Analysis." Here is the detailed report's summary:
The combination of state policy and general public opinion favoring the legalizing of marijuana has led some in Congress to advocate for legalization and taxation of marijuana at the federal level. The Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013 (H.R. 501) would impose a federal excise tax of 50% on the producer and importer price of marijuana. The National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act of 2013 (H.R. 1635) proposes establishing a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy that would review the potential revenue generated by taxing marijuana, among other things.
This report focuses solely on issues surrounding a potential federal marijuana tax. First, it provides a brief overview of marijuana production. Second, it presents possible justifications for taxes and, in some cases, estimates the level of tax suggested by that rationale. Third, it analyzes possible marijuana tax designs. The report also discusses various tax administration and enforcement issues, such as labeling and tracking.
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.
Some could also view excise taxes as a means to curtail demand, particularly as the price of marijuana can be expected to drop from current retail prices of up $200-$300 per ounce to prices closer to the cost of production at $5-$18 per ounce, if broadly legalized. The demand for marijuana is estimated to be relatively price inelastic, meaning that consumer demand is relatively insensitive to price changes. Although previous studies of marijuana demand largely examine consumers willing to engage in illegal activities, it appears that higher tax rates would have a minor effect on reducing demand. With this said, tax policy, coupled with adequate law enforcement, could be an effective tool to limit marijuana consumption among youth, as empirical studies indicate that their demand is more sensitive to price than non-youth.
Excise taxes on marijuana could also be levied primarily to raise revenue, as has been historically the case with tobacco and alcohol. As an illustration, assuming a total market size of $40 billion, a federal tax of $50 per ounce is estimated to raise about $6.8 billion annually, after accounting for behavioral effects associated with price decreases following legalization.
The choices in administrative design could affect consumer behavior, production methods, evasion rates, or the tax base of a federal marijuana excise tax. Some of the more significant choices include whether to exempt medicinal uses or homegrown marijuana from tax.
November 20, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
CNN has this notable new commentary authored by Jeffrey Miron urging Congress to follow the lead of states on modern marijuana reform. (Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the economics department at Harvard University as well as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.) Here are excerpts:
Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.
Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.
Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana's legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized.
The strong claims made by legalization critics are not borne out in the data. Likewise, some strong claims by legalization advocates -- e.g., that marijuana tourism would be a major boom to the economy -- have also not materialized. The main impact of Colorado's legalization has been that marijuana users can now purchase and use with less worry about harsh legal ramifications.
Yet despite the compelling case for legalization, and progress toward legalization at the state level, ultimate success is not assured. Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.
Whether that will happen is hard to forecast. If more states legalize marijuana and public opinion continues its support, Washington may hesitate to push back. But federal prohibition creates problems even if enforcement is nominal: Marijuana business cannot easily use standard financial institutions and transactions technologies such as credit cards; physicians may still hesitate to prescribe marijuana; and medical researchers will still face difficulty in studying marijuana.
To realize the full potential of legalization, therefore, federal law must change. The best approach is to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the federal law that governs prohibition.
Standard regulatory and tax policies would still apply to legalized marijuana, and states would probably adopt marijuana-specific regulations similar to those for alcohol (e.g., minimum purchase ages). State and federal governments might also impose "sin taxes," as for alcohol. But otherwise marijuana would be just another commodity, as it was before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
A more cautious approach would have Congress reschedule marijuana under the CSA. Currently, marijuana is in Schedule I, which is reserved for drugs such as heroin and LSD that, according to the CSA, have "a high potential for abuse ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States ... [and] a lack of accepted safety for use." Hardly anyone believes these conditions apply to marijuana.
If marijuana were in Schedule II, which states it as "a high potential for abuse ... [but a] currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," doctors could legally prescribe it under federal law, as with other Schedule II drugs such as cocaine, methadone and morphine....
This "medicalization" approach, while perhaps politically more feasible than full legalization, has serious drawbacks. Federal authorities such as the Drug Enforcement Administration could interfere with marijuana prescribing -- as sometimes occurs with opiate prescribing. Taxing medical marijuana may be harder than taxing recreational marijuana. And the medical approach risks a charge of hypocrisy, since it is backdoor legalization. But medicalization is still better than full prohibition, since it eliminates the black market.
For 77 years, the United States has outlawed marijuana, with tragic repercussions and unintended consequences. The public and their state governments are on track to rectify this terrible policy. Here's hoping Congress catches up.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I am intrigued and pleased to see that the Room for Debate section of the New York Times has gathered some of the leading advocates in the marijuana reform debate to discuss whether and how marijuana reform ought to proceed. Here is the section's set up:
It looks like the use of recreational marijuana is heading down the path of legalization across the country. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved legalizing measures on Nov. 4, but with key differences. The District of Columbia, for instance, will repeal all criminal and civil penalties for personal possession and allow limited, private cultivation of the drug. Oregon on the other hand would give its Liquor Control Commission the power to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol.
Some say a profit-driven model for legalization runs the risk of increasing marijuana use, while others argue that a regulated market is the best way to keep use safe for consumers. What’s the right approach to legalizing recreational marijuana?
Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:
Legalization Doesn’t Have to Lead to Commercialization by Mark A. R. Kleiman
Racial Justice at the Core of the Movement by Malik Burnett
A Market Will Benefit Consumers and Society by Steve Fox
A Gateway to Profits by Kevin A. Sabet
The title of this post is the subheading of this notable commentary by Jacob Sullum at Reason.com. Here are a few excerpts:
At a press conference last week, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's congressional delegate, urged her colleagues to respect the will of the voters who overwhelmingly approved marijuana legalization in the nation's capital on November 4. She was joined by three congressmen, including Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who said trying to block legalization in D.C. or in Alaska and Oregon, where voters also said no to marijuana prohibition this month, would flout "fundamental principles" that "Republicans have always talked about," including "individual liberties," "limited government," and "states' rights and the 10th Amendment."...
Initiative 71, which passed by a margin of more than 2 to 1, allows adults 21 or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults "without remuneration." It does not authorize commercial production or distribution, although the District of Columbia Council is considering legislation that would. "I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol," incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference after the election.
In theory, there are a couple of ways that Congress could try to stop all this from happening. It could pass a joint resolution disapproving Initiative 71, or it could bar the District from spending money to implement the measure. But neither of these approaches looks very promising....
Strictly speaking, "states' rights" do not apply to the District of Columbia, which was created by Congress and is subject to much more extensive federal control than the states are. But as Obama suggests, the arguments for federalism — in particular, the idea that political decisions should be made at the lowest feasible level to facilitate citizen influence, policy experimentation, and competition among jurisdictions — apply to D.C. as well as the states. Given the president's views on the subject, it seems reasonable to assume that he would take a dim view of attempts to nullify Initiative 71.
November 18, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
As reported in this BuzzFeed piece, which is headlined "California’s Attorney General Thinks Legal Weed Is Inevitable," the top lawyer in California had a a lot of interesting and notable things to say recently about marijuana reform. Here are the details:
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, says she’s “not opposed” to her state legalizing marijuana. The state was one of the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but so far hasn’t legalized it for recreational use, like Colorado, Washington, and others.
“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”
“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”
Harris is one of the few state-level officials appearing at an event on Wednesday at the Center for American Progress, an influential left-wing think tank seen as a feeder institution for the Obama administration. Talked up as a contender to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, Harris, who is one of the Democratic Party’s likely prospects for higher office in California, said that even with legalization it’s important that states have systems in place for regulating use of the drug.
“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said. “The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that… There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.”
“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states, if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said....
“I don’t have any moral opposition to it or anything like that. Half my family’s from Jamaica,” Harris said with a laugh.
UPDATE: I just noticed that our Senior Superstar California Correspondent, Alex Kreit, also posted here about AG Harris's comments. His post, titled "Kamala Harris Coming Around on Marijuana Legalization," includes a lot of astute political observations about the importance of what AG Harris is now saying.
Yesterday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she was "not opposed to the legalization of marijuana."
Recall that just a few months ago, Harris laughed off the issue when asked about it. (Harris also refused to take a position on Prop. 47, a California ballot measure to recude a number of non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors--including drug possession--that passed comfortably earlier this month.)
Harris's tentative approach to marijuana legalization specifically (and criminal justice reform generally) stands in stark contrast to that of another rising-star politician in the state: Gavin Newsom. Newsom took a strong stance in favor of Prop. 47 and has emerged as a leader in the state on marijuana legalization.
Many speculate that Newsom and Harris are "on a collision course for running for governor in 2018," so it would not surprise me if Harris's move on this issue is in part the result of a realization that running as the anti-legalization candidate in a Democratic primary against Newsom may not be a good look for her. (On the other hand, more recent buzz has Harris lining up for a Senate run in 2016, leaving Newsom a clear path to the Governor's office in 2018.)
Whether related to Newsom or not, Harris's comments are surely a sign that she (and her political advisers) believe opposing legalization (or laughing at the idea without taking a position) is bad politics for her. As Attorney General she has been incredibly cautious. And her remarks yesterday are no exception. Though she says she thinks marijuana legalization is inevitable and that she has no moral objection to the idea, she does not go so far as to say she supports it.
Specifically, Harris says: “It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop.”
Yes, it would be easier. But, like too many Democratic politicians, Harris seems to be increasingly allergic to taking clear stands on political issues.
Her remarks seem like a very timid politician's way of saying: "I've come to realize that laughing at or opposing legalization is bad for me politically, so I need to find a way of implying that I probably support it. But, as Attorney General, I don't want to say that I actually support it and upset the stuck-in-the-1980s law enforcement union lobby in the state. After all, I'm not really in the habbit of standing up to them, as evidenced by my failures to take a stand on either Prop. 47 or 2012's death penalty repeal ballot measure (even though I'm on record as being opposed to the death penalty.) So, I'll just try out the line 'I'm not opposed' for now."
That said, the fact that she decided to go as far as she did in her comments (and to do so this far in advance of 2016) is very telling about where she thinks the conversation and political tone will be in 2016. It suggests she is setting herself up to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot measure (or to remain agnostic on a specific proposal as the "top cop" while perhaps implying support in principle.)
If California truly is the "make or break" state for legalization, Harris's comments give legalization supporters another reason to be optimistic.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
This new lengthy Washington Post article, headlined "More veterans press VA to recognize medical marijuana as treatment option," highlights a notable constituency eager to have more support for considering use of medical marijuana. Here are excerpts:
At a time when the legalized use of marijuana is gaining greater acceptance across the country, ... a growing number of veterans are coming out of the “cannabis closet” and pressing the government to recognize pot as a legitimate treatment for the wounds of war. They say it is effective for addressing various physical and psychological conditions related to military service — from chronic back pain and neuropathic issues to panic attacks and insomnia — and often preferable to widely prescribed opioid painkillers and other drugs.
Researchers in the United States and several other countries have found evidence that cannabis can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pain, although studies — for instance, looking into the best strains and proper dosages — remain in the early stages. Veterans are lobbying for more states to legalize cannabis for medical use — 23 states and the District allow this — but the primary target is the federal government and, in particular, the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD, deeming that it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. That means that VA, which runs the largest network of hospitals and health clinics in the country, cannot prescribe pot as a treatment, even for veterans who live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
VA says that its physicians and chronic-pain specialists “are prohibited from recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD or other pain-related issues.” Medical staff are also prohibited from completing paperwork required to enroll in state marijuana programs because they are “federal employees who must comply with federal law,” said Gina Jackson, a VA spokeswoman.
The swelling chorus of veterans who want to take advantage of marijuana but can’t reflects the growing disconnect between more tolerant state policies and the federal government’s unwillingness to budge. Advocates ... say it is urgent that the federal government recognizes marijuana as a treatment because there are so many veterans of recent wars....
If veterans report their use of marijuana to VA, they could face criminal charges if they live in a state where it is illegal. And though few have indeed been charged, the mere possibility has spawned a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Michael Krawitz, a former Air Force staff sergeant and the director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.
VA medical staff have warned that this culture is making for a dangerous situation, especially as more states legalize medical marijuana, because doctors do not know about all of the medications their patients are using. Patients are not routinely given drug tests, but those who are prescribed large amounts of opiates and risk overdosing can be asked to undergo screenings, which can turn up marijuana use. In 2011, VA issued a directive that said patients who were participating in state marijuana programs for pain cannot lose their VA benefits. VA added that it is up to individual patients to craft their “treatment plans” in consultation with their doctors.
Some patients say their VA doctors are making them choose between their prescription drugs and marijuana. “Doctors and administrators wrongly assume that the use of marijuana along with opiates is unsafe,” Krawitz said.
A study published last month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported that “people already taking opioids for pain may supplement with medical marijuana and be able to lower their painkiller dose, thus lowering their risk of overdose.” The study, written by Marcus A. Bachhuber, a researcher at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and several colleagues, found that “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”
Scott Murphy, a retired Army specialist who is the head of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care, has been compiling a petition asking that marijuana no longer be classified as a Schedule I drug. “Veterans in states without medical marijuana laws feel they need to lie to their physicians for the justifiable fear of losing their earned benefits,” Murphy writes in the petition....
Several VA doctors who specialize in pain management and PTSD said in interviews that they are eager for more research on the medical benefits of marijuana. The doctors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they do not have permission from VA to discuss marijuana with the news media, said they feel frustrated because prescription drugs are not helping patients who are suffering. “Anecdotally we know it works, and more and more studies are saying this,” said one VA doctor, a PTSD expert who leads a large East Coast VA pain center. “But we aren’t allowed to study it.”
Researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center are developing the first generation of cannabis-related medications targeted for PTSD, according to Alexander Neumeister, a professor of psychology and radiology who is supervising three drug trials. He said research has found that people with PTSD have lower levels of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors, called CB1, are activated when a person uses marijuana. “We are throwing the wrong pills at the problem and keep doing it,” Neumeister said. “It’s upsetting. It’s heart-breaking and it’s just wrong.”
Saturday, November 15, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by the headline of this new Motley Fool posting, "This Could Be the Make-or-Break Marijuana State." Here are excerpts:
Although state elections are now in the books for another two years, it's not too early to start thinking about which states could be the next to introduce legal marijuana and medical marijuana legislation in the next election. Though we could theoretically see as many as a dozen states bringing some degree of marijuana vote in front of their citizens in 2016, no state has greater make-or-break potential for the marijuana movement than California.
The most populous state in the country, according to The Los Angeles Times, came incredibly close to putting legal marijuana on the ballot in this past election, however it lacked an adequate amount of funding that would have been required to make a run at legalization. The Drug Policy Alliance, the same group that helped get marijuana legalized for adults in Washington and Colorado, and medical marijuana legalized in Massachusetts, has been continuously drumming up support, but all efforts to draft the Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act have been put off until the 2016 elections.
As you may have figured, the implications for California and the rest of the nation are enormous. As the most populous state, California is poised to become the biggest consumer of marijuana, as well as the biggest generator of tax revenue. Based on data from NerdWallet, California has nearly 25 million people aged 25 and up, of which 6.74% admitting to smoking marijuana within the past month. Out of the 50 U.S. states, only eight had a higher percentage of admitted marijuana users, and in four of those (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska), recreational use is now legal.
In other words, California could be poised to reap more than $500 million in annual tax benefits based on a forecast that calls for a flat 25% tax on marijuana. That's no small chunk of change, and it can go to support the state's ailing education system, or even help pay for the maintenance of its state-run health exchange.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this local Fox News report about an event on Capitol Hill today. Here are details:
D.C. voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana but the fate of the city's pot law remains in the hands of Congress. On Thursday, the city is getting support for legalization from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The bi-partisan group vowed to block any attempt to overturn the city's pot law.
Initiative 71 legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use in D.C. -- joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. "The underlying issue legalization and decriminalization of marijuana has caught fire throughout the country," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
She was joined by allies during a press conference on Capitol Hill, including Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) who has led the charge for marijuana reform and Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) whose states have legalized marijuana. They urged Congress to butt out. “I think D.C. voters and their will ought to be respected just like the will of the voters of Colorado's been respected," said Polis.
Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris has yet to succeed, but has said he would do whatever he can to stop it. "The last thing you want to do is introduce a drug and encourage its use among youth when youth already have many issues in that jurisdiction," said Harris (R-MD) the day after the initiative passed.
D.C. voters approved the measure by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Antonio Bell voted for it. His even had marijuana leaves on his socks. "They are consenting adults,” said Bell. “I'm sure it will be regulated. It would be less back and forth to the courthouse for petty crimes and they can focus on real crime.”...
Lawmakers in support of D.C. said no one has died of a pot overdose, but they have of alcohol poisoning. "Wake up and see where the American people are," said Rohrbacher.
He says legalization goes hand in hand with GOP principals of individual liberty, states' rights and limited government. He hasn't seen any blowback in his district as a result of his support for marijuana reform and believes other Republicans won't either....
Opponents of legalization argue the drug will encourage more kids to use marijuana and that it is a gateway drug. But in Colorado Rep. Polis said the opposite has happened. "Underage marijuana use has decreased,” said Polis. “It's created additional jobs and helped driven drug dealers out of business." The regulated sale of the drug has also generated millions of dollars in state tax revenue.
Supporters of D.C.'s law believe they deserve a shot too. Holmes Norton isn't encouraging anyone to smoke pot and argues its widespread use has made it defacto legal. "We're talking about local affairs, we're talking about our local money, we're talking about nobody's business but the District's," she said.
If it comes down to a vote over D.C.'s pot law, Rep. Rohrbacher said they have the votes from Republicans and Democrats to defeat it. One prominent Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, has also gone on record saying he doesn't believe the federal government should interfere with the District's decision to legalize marijuana.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Concerns in Criminal Justice System as New York City Eases Marijuana Policy," the NYC's new mayor and old sherrif are bringing a new approach to marijuana enforcement to the Big Apple. Here are the basics:
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.
Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.
The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January. While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.
“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”
For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests.
But the change, detailed in a five-page Police Department “operations order” that is set to go into effect on Nov. 19, immediately raised questions and concerns in many corners of the criminal justice system. It directs officers who encounter people with 25 grams or less of marijuana, in public view, to issue a noncriminal violation in most instances, rather than arrest them for a misdemeanor....
As they headed into a meeting with departmental leaders to hear about the new policy, some police union leaders said the changes seemed to run counter to the “broken windows” strategy of policing, long championed by Mr. Bratton as a way to prevent serious crime by cracking down on low-level offenses. “I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” said Michael J. Palladino, the head of the city’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing police detectives. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”...
At the news conference, Mr. Bratton said officers would still have to use discretion. If marijuana was being burned or smoked, an arrest would be made, he said. If offenders had an “active warrant,” or were wanted, or could not produce proper identification, they would be taken to the station house, he said. Officials said violations would not constitute a criminal record. They said court appearances, within weeks of the violation, could lead to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense....
Critics have said the police and prosecutors have been improperly charging people with possession of marijuana in public view, often after officers ask them to empty their pockets during street stops.
In 2011, Raymond W. Kelly, then the police commissioner, issued an order reminding officers to refrain from such arrest practices. Mr. Bratton said such practices were not now in use and the problem had been fixed. By now, the number of marijuana arrests has decreased, roughly mirroring the drastic reduction in the frequency of police stop, question and frisk encounters.
Of the 394,539 arrests made last year, marijuana arrests totaled slightly more than 28,000, or a little less than 10 percent of all arrests made in the city. That is down from 50,000 a few years ago.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new local article headlined "Momentum to legalize marijuana in California is growing." here are excerpts:
After Tuesday’s election, just one piece of the West Coast remained unwelcoming to recreational pot: California. But with voters in Oregon and Alaska legalizing the use and sale of marijuana — joining Washington and Colorado in inviting retail spreads of cannabis-infused teas and brownies and joints — advocates see fresh momentum behind the slow shift in how the public regards the green stuff and those who enjoy it.
California residents rejected legalization in 2010, with a 54 percent vote against it, but supporters of recreational marijuana are growing more confident about reversing that result in the 2016 election.
“I see a parallel — not a perfect parallel, but a parallel — with marriage equality,” said Ben Tulchin, a San Francisco-based pollster who has watched sympathy for both same-sex unions and marijuana climb. “The first battle you may lose, like in California, but you start a conversation and get the dialogue going. … And you eventually see a very big shift.”
California, alongside Arizona and Nevada, have legalization measures in the works for the 2016 election, when the presidential race is expected to deliver younger voters to the polls who tend to be more supportive of pot. Proponents are considering other states as well. “I got to believe that the wins this week, coupled with the wins in 2012, will provide momentum,” Tulchin said....
Backers in California acknowledge that victory won’t come easy. Although polls show a majority now supports the idea, selling voters on a specific plan gets tricky. Concerns about how the drug will be taxed, and who can sell it, helped sink Proposition 19 four years ago. Even leaders in the medical marijuana community decided they didn’t like the details of the rollout and came out against the initiative. A lack of funding for the 2010 campaign was also an obstacle.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a supporter of the 2016 push for legalization, is chairing a task force to study the issue in a bid to head off problems. “A lot of things weren’t thought through with Proposition 19,” said Newsom, who will be termed out of his office in 2018 and doesn’t see support of pot as hindering his political future. “We want to make sure we have the answers to the tough questions.”
Many Californians are waiting for those answers, including Kevin Reed, the founder and president of The Green Cross, a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco’s Excelsior. He said he’s not sure if his customers and his business will benefit from legalization.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
I am pleased (and not surprised) to see that Professor Franklin Snyder continue to post lots and lots of great new content at Cannabis Law Prof Blog. Here are just some of the great posts worth checking out that provide various perspectives on perspectives after the big election this past week:
Thursday, November 6, 2014
The title of this post is drawn from the headline and substance of this new Washington Post piece. Here are excerpts:
“The stage is now set for 2016, when measures to regulate marijuana like alcohol are expected to appear on ballots in at least five states,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which was instrumental in passing legalization in Colorado and bankrolled the successful campaign in Alaska. The group contributed about 84 percent of the nearly $900,000 raised by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which successfully lobbied for passage of the ballot measure in Alaska.
The five states where MPP has established committees to push similar ballot measures in 2016 are Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. An independent Democratic activist in Mississippi is also pursuing a ballot measure there. The measures there will likely mimic the Colorado model, as the measures in Oregon and Alaska did. (The measure passed by voters in Washington in 2012 is typically viewed by advocates as more restrictive than Colorado’s.)
But the group also plans to work to help shepherd legalization through a state legislature for the first time, with a particular focus on Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Hawaii, and Maryland. New Hampshire’s state House in January became the first legislative body in the country to approve legalization, though the effort ultimately reached a dead end. That state, Rhode Island and Vermont may see action soonest among that group.
The upcoming push to legalize in those nearly dozen states will no doubt draw heavily on lessons learned during the successful campaigns so far, which fall roughly into two categories, Tvert said. Advocates in Alaska and Colorado felt they needed to focus on disarming fears about the harm of marijuana early by drawing the comparison to alcohol, while Oregon and Washington played it safer by arguing that legalization is safer than prohibition....
In Oregon, the campaign tended to focus on the ills of prohibition, offering legalization as a safer alternative. What worked? Peter Zuckerman, communications director of the successful Yes on 91 campaign, said legalization advocates were smart to avoid marijuana leaf imagery, wear suits when appearing on TV, and pursue endorsements from unusual or unexpected individuals and groups. His group aired ads featuring Washington’s King County Sheriff John Urquhart, local mothers, and a former top state official in charge of mental health and addiction services. Support from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the social media-savvy group of moms backing the measure helped, too, he said. The campaign might have seen more success by starting earlier and encouraging supporters to quote news sources in voter pamphlet statements, he added.
There are lessons to learn from failure, too. While all the legalization measures were approved on Election Day, a measure to allow medical marijuana in Florida failed to gain the 60 percent share of the vote necessary for passage, though it did earn majority support. The campaign there could have promoted the patients who would have benefitted more and been less reactive, said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“They spent a lot of time trying to undercut the opposition’s arguments about the so-called loopholes in Amendment 2 and from what I saw they really didn’t do enough of a job of telling the story of the patients who are going to be helped by this,” Angell said.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
As reported in this new Legal Times piece, headlined "After Referendums, Where There's Smoke There's Business," lawyers are continue to see the professional potential presented by the parting of pot prohibition in a few more jurisdictions:
After residents of two Western states and the District of Columbia voted Tuesday to allow wider legal use of marijuana, law firms are again sizing up potential business related to the drug.
Wiley Rein lawyers hedged on Wednesday that—at least in the District of Columbia—cannabis providers and other companies in the industry could soon seek the services of regulatory attorneys. "It’s something we’re keeping a close eye on," Jim Czaban, head of the firm's food and drug law practice, said....
"There’s a clear trend on a big level where this is going," Claire Frezza, a former pharmacist and Wiley associate working with Czaban, said Wednesday. "What’s unclear is how the federal government can respond."
Lawyers now may advise cannabis-related companies on how to keep labeling, product potency and forms of the drug in line with new state rules. At the same time, federal regulatory lawyers could advise companies in the states on how to still comply with the strict U.S. law that prohibits the drug, according to Czaban and Frezza.
Wiley Rein hasn't yet gone as far as other firms in the marijuana arena. This year, a handful of corporate firms with Florida or California presences announced medical marijuana practice groups or attempted to build ties with potential clients in the industry. The Florida firms anticipated a billion-dollar industry that state law would allow to bloom in their state.
Attorneys at Akerman, Berger Singerman and GrayRobinson zeroed in on Florida prior to the election and specialized in the cannabis industry. Berger Singerman associate David Black said Wednesday that cannabis-related businesses are still engaging his firm on other more-restricted legal opportunities in Florida. In the medical marijuana practice area, Black's expectations are still high. "In light of the strong support shown in yesterday’s vote, many believe that its passage has been merely delayed," he added in an email.
Business opportunities for corporate law also could grow with Oregon and Alaska's approvals of recreational sales. But the cannabis industry remains in economic infancy, with medical marijuana allowed in about half of U.S. states. "There’s a lot of interest out there, but on a business and monetary basis, it’s still fairly small," Czaban said. "We’d be wiling to take on clients in that space, but it depends on what the actual project involves."