Monday, March 10, 2014
Over the weekend, I had an exchange on twitter about the impact of marijuana legalization on "cartels" (a term that often seems to be used as shorthand for the black market though of course "drug cartels" are only one part of the black market.) Twitter doesn't lend itself to explanation, so I thought I would extend my comments into blog form.
Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project tweeted (in response to a comment by Kevin Sabet about big marijuana) "Pete Coors sucks, but he beats Al Capone." This led Kevin (who I had had the pleasure of hosting at TJSL in the fall and liked very much) to reply with the following:
I jumped in, saying that eliminating cartels is a straw man in the marijuana legalization debate. No one suggests (except maybe in hyperbole) that marijuana legalization will "eliminate" the cartels. But marijuana legalization will certainly cut into their profits and reduce black market violence. To say "we can't eliminate cartels completely so there's no reason to legalize marijuana" is a bit like saying "I'll never have six-pack abs so there's no reason to exercise!"
Tony Dokoupil (of NBC News) responded to this with another line of argument I hear fairly often but have always found--to be frank--totally baffling.
When I was doing debates during the Proposition 19 campaign, I ran into this argument all the time: "marijuana legalization won't actually result in any black market reduction because black market actors can always just diversify and/or expand existing revenue streams!"
With all respect, anyone who believes this needs to think it through a bit more.
Let's imagine Apple's CEO found out that Samsung was cutting into their smart phone market share. Do you think he would say: "No worries, if people stop buying iPhones we can just sell more computers! Or maybe we can release a watch!"? No, of course not. Every dollar of lost iPhone sales is one less dollar in Apple's pocket. That's true even if the company is still selling plenty of computers and iPads. Or if it invents a fancy new watch to sell.
And this is also true when it comes to the black market and marijuana. Every dollar of marijuana sales that is moved from the black market to the legitimate market is one less dollar going to--for lack of a better word--"criminals."
To be sure, reasonable people can disagree about how much marijuana legalization will reduce black market profits/violence in general or the power of "drug cartels" in particular. We don't know how exactly much of the "drug cartel" revenue comes from marijuana relative to other sources. We don't know exactly how much of the marijuana market would remain underground in any given legalization system, due to tax avoidance, etc. (We can guess at all of these things--and some guesses are sophisticated enough that we could call them estimates--but we don't know.)
So there is room for debate about how much of a benefit, in terms of reduction in black market violence, marijuana legalization would bring. There is also, of course, room for debate about whether that benefit of legalization (and other benefits, like tax revenue) outweigh any negatives of legalization.
But there can be no debate that legalization would take a significant amount of the marijuana market away from "criminals." As a result, the black market violence that comes with illegal marijuana sales (see here and here for just two recent awful examples) will likewise diminish. And all of this is a very clear and certain "win" of marijuana legalization.
We can only estimate how big a "win" this would be. But anyone who does not acknowledge this as a win is either in serious denial or is uninformed about how business works or the history of organized crime after alcohol prohibition or both.
Over the weekend, the California Democratic Party had its annual convention as did the national Conservative Political Action Conference. As a sign of the times, both groups voiced support for marijuana law reform.
At CPAC, a straw poll "found that 41% of the attendees believe it's time to fully legalize marijuana and tax it, while another 21% said it should be legalized only for medicinal purposes. Just 31% said it should remain illegal in all cases."
And at the California Democratic Convention, delegates added a call for marijuana legalization to the Party's platform by a voice vote. This is a big move from the Party's position in 2010, when it declined to endorse marijuana legalization initiative Proposition 19.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Drug Policy Alliance hosted a call with Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow earlier this week. With respect to marijuana enforcement and legalization, Alexander noted an interesting and unsettling dynamic: though the criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately impacted people of color, it seems the emerging marijuana industry is largely white.
“When I see images of people using marijuana and images of people who are now trying to run legitimate marijuana businesses, they’re almost all white," she said, noting she supports legalizing pot.
“After 40 years of impoverished black men getting prison time for selling weed, white men are planning to get rich doing the same things," she added. "So that’s why I think we have to start talking about reparations for the war on drugs. How do we repair the harms caused?"
You can listen to the call in its entirety here.
I'm not aware of any data on ethnicity and marijuana businesses. But I think this is an issue well worth tracking. I will be especially curious to see if data emerges on race and marijuana license applications and outcomes.
To the extent that marijuana legalization laws limit people with criminal records from obtaining a license, it may unintentionally cement racial disparity in the legal market. Though there are clear political and policy reasons for criminal history license exclusions, we know that people of color are far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for drug crimes than whites. As a result, a white illegal marijuana grower or dealer may be less likely to have a record and more likely to be eligible to get a license (so he or she can move into the legitimate market) than a similarly situated person of color.
Of course, the impact depends on what sort of criminal history results in an exclusion. For example, Washington State's point system--which excludes anyone with a felony conviction within the past 10 years--seems likely apply to most drug sale convicts, since trafficking crimes like sale and possession for sale are usually classified as felonies. However, the regulation does state that if a person has a single prior conviction involving marijuana that may be considered "for mitigation on an individual basis" .
In any event, I think this dynamic is something drafters of reform laws and the regulators that implement them should be attuned to. If formerly illegal white dealers and growers are able to get licenses in legalization states (because they have avoided criminal convictions) while people of color are shut out, it is certainly a cause for concern.
Friday, March 7, 2014
A few weeks back, I asked whether medical and recreational marijuana can co-exist in Washington. It looks like the tensions are only growing. The New York Times has this interesting piece on the concerns of some medical marijuana advocates about the implementation of Washington's marijuana legalization law. The whole piece is worth a read, here is how it starts:
There should be, one might think, a note of triumph or at least quiet satisfaction in Muraco Kyashna-tocha’s voice. Her patient-based cooperative in north Seattle dispenses medical marijuana to treat seizures, sleeplessness and other maladies. And with the state gearing up to open its first stores selling legal marijuana for recreational use, the drug she has cultivated, provided to patients and used herself for years seems to be barreling toward the mainstream.
But her one-word summary of the outlook for medical marijuana is anything but sunny: “Disastrous,” she said, standing in her shop, Green Buddha, which she fears she will soon have to close.
The legalization of recreational marijuana for adults in Washington, approved by voters in 2012 and now being phased in, is proving an unexpectedly anxious time for the users, growers and dispensers of medical marijuana, who came before and in many ways paved the way for marijuana’s broader acceptance.
Colorado's Department of Transportation has released three new public service announcement ads on marijuana and driving. The ads aim to remind people that while using marijuana is now legal in the state, driving while high is still a crime. I think they're pretty effective, using humor to grab people's attention. (Of course, driving while impaired is no laughing matter, but the use of humor here seems like a good way of breaking through the clutter with these ads.)
Here's my favorite of the three:
Thursday, March 6, 2014
As reported in this lengthy local article, headlined "Conservative committee opens door to medical marijuana for Florida," a notable swing/southern state now has a number of notable legislators talking in notable ways about marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:
One conservative Republican who has suffered from brain cancer talked about the deceit of the federal government in hiding the health benefits of marijuana for his cancer. Another legislator reluctantly met with a South Florida family, only to be persuaded to support legalizing the drug.
Then there was Rep. Charles Van Zant, the surly Republican from Palatka who is considered the most conservative in the House. He not only voted with his colleagues Wednesday to pass out the bill to legalize a strain of marijuana for medical purposes, he filed the amendment to raise the amount of psychoactive ingredients allowed by law — to make it more likely the drug will be effective.
The 11-1 vote by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, was a historic moment for the conservatives in the GOP-dominated House. It was the first time in modern history that the Florida Legislature voted to approve any marijuana-related product. “That’s because people here in Tallahassee have realized that we can’t just have a bumper-sticker approach to marijuana where you’re either for it or against it,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, the committee chairman and sponsor of the bill after the emotional hearing. “Not all marijuana is created equally.”
The committee embraced the proposal, HB 843, by Gaetz and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, after hearing heart-wrenching testimony from families whose children suffer from chronic epilepsy. A similar bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate, where Senate president Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and Matt’s father, has said he has heard the testimony from the families and he wants the bill to pass as a first step. “Here I am, a conservative Republican but I have to try to be humble about my dogma,” Senate President Don Gaetz told the Herald/Times....
For a committee known for its dense, often tedious scrutiny of legal text, the debate was remarkable. Rep. Dave Hood, a Republican trial lawyer from Daytona Beach who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, talked about how the federal government knew in 1975 of the health benefits of cannabis in stopping the growth of “brain cancer, of lung cancer, glaucoma and 17 diseases including Lou Gehrig’s disease” but continued to ban the substance. “Frankly, we need to be a state where guys like me, who are cancer victims, aren’t criminals in seeking treatment I’m entitled too,” Hood said.
Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said he had his mind made up in opposition to the bill, then changed his mind after meeting the Hyman family of Weston. Their daughter, Rebecca, suffers from Dravet’s Syndrome. “We’ve got a plant here on God’s green earth that’s got a stigma to it — but it’s got a medical value,” Eagle said, “I don’t want to look into their eyes and say I’m sorry we can’t help you,” he said. “We need to put the politics aside today and help these families in need.”
The Florida Sheriff’s Association, which adamantly opposes a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use in Florida, surprised many when it chose not to speak up. Its lobbyist simply announced the group was “in support.” The bi-partisan support for the bill was summed up by Rep. Dave Kerner, a Democrat and lawyer from Lake Worth. “We sit here, we put words on a piece of paper and they become law,” he said. “It’s very rare as a legislator that we have an opportunity with our words to save a life.”
The only opposing vote came from Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, an advocate for the Florida Medical Association. Her husband is a doctor. She looked at the families in the audience and, as tears welled in her eyes, she told them: “I can’t imagine how desperate you must be and I want to solve this problem for you.” But, she said the bill had “serious problems.” It allowed for a drug to be dispensed without clinical trials and absent the kind of research that is needed to protect patients from harm. “I really think we need to address this using science,” Harrell said, suggesting legislators should launch a pilot program to study and test the effectiveness of the marijuana strain. “This bill takes a step in the right direction … but it’s not quite there.”
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
ProFootballTalk continues its coverage of medical marijuana use and the NFL. The latest: Harvard Professor (emeritus) and longtime medical marijuana advocate, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, has penned an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the NFL to fund studies on whether marijuana might help treat brain injuries (CTE).
“The extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment,” Dr. Lester Grinspoon wrote in an open letter to Goodell, via LeafScience.com. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company will get involved in studying cannabis as a treatment for CTE, because the plant [and its natural components] can’t be patented.”
Grinspoon’s letter speaks to the fundamental question of whether the NFL will sit and wait for someone else to figure out whether medical marijuana can help treat or prevent CTE, or whether the NFL is sufficiently committed to the health of players to fully explore this and any other possibility.
Here’s hoping the league adopts the spirit of Dr. Grinspoon’s letter, objectively assessing any possible treatment for CTE and spending money as warranted to explore potential vehicles for helping players reverse or prevent its development.
I think Mike Florio's (of ProFootballTalk) comments at the end of the post (and his continued interest in this story) may be as noteworthy as Grinspoon's letter, at least as far as the future of medical marijuana and the NFL. Florio is among the most prominent NFL reporters right now. His blog is part of the NBC network and he appears on NBC's flagship Sunday Night Football program. If Florio continues covering the story of medical marijuana and the NFL the way he has, I think it will go a long way in terms of keeping it in the mind of football fans (and the league.)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
"I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana."
The title of this post is the central and essential thesis of this notable new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Here are more excerpts from the lengthy piece:
This scientific journey is about a growing number of patients who want the cannabis plant as a genuine medicine, not to get high.
It is about emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, helping us better understand a plant whose benefits have been documented for thousands of years. This journey is also about a Draconian system where politics override science and patients are caught in the middle.
Since our documentary "Weed" aired in August, I have continued to travel the world, investigating and asking tough questions about marijuana. I have met with hundreds of patients, dozens of scientists and the curious majority who simply want a deeper understanding of this ancient plant. I have sat in labs and personally analyzed the molecules in marijuana that have such potential but are also a source of intense controversy. I have seen those molecules turned into medicine that has quelled epilepsy in a child and pain in a grown adult. I've seen it help a woman at the peak of her life to overcome the ravages of multiple sclerosis.
I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana.
I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.
I should add that, although I've taken some heat for my reporting on marijuana, it hasn't been as lonely a position as I expected. Legislators from several states have reached out to me, eager to inform their own positions and asking to show the documentary to their fellow lawmakers.
I've avoided any lobbying, but of course it is gratifying to know that people with influence are paying attention to the film. One place where lawmakers saw a long clip was Georgia, where the state House just passed a medical marijuana bill by a vote of 171-4. Before the legislative session started, most people didn't think this bill had a chance.
More remarkable, many doctors and scientists, worried about being ostracized for even discussing the potential of marijuana, called me confidentially to share their own stories of the drug and the benefit it has provided to their patients. I will honor my promise not to name them, but I hope this next documentary will enable a more open discussion and advance science in the process.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, defined as "the most dangerous" drugs "with no currently accepted medical use." Neither of those statements has ever been factual. Even many of the most ardent critics of medical marijuana don't agree with the Schedule I classification, knowing how it's impeded the ability to conduct needed research on the plant.
Even the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, seems to have softened her stance; she told me she believes we need to loosen restrictions for researchers....
I've tried to pull together these latest developments in our new documentary, "Cannabis Madness." Although the 1936 film "Reefer Madness" was propaganda made to advance an agenda with dramatic falsehoods and hyperbole, I hope you will find "Cannabis Madness" an accurate reflection of what is happening today, injected with the best current science.
You will meet families all across the country -- a stay-at-home mom from Ohio, a nurse practitioner from Florida, an insurance salesman from Alabama -- more than 100 families who have all left jobs, homes, friends and family behind and moved to Colorado to get the medicine that relieves their suffering.
As things stand now, many of these good people don't ever get to return home. Why? Because transporting their medicine, even if it is a non-psychoactive cannabis oil, could get them arrested for drug trafficking. And so they are stuck, cannabis refugees. You will meet them, and if you're like me, you'll be heartbroken to hear their stories, but you'll also have a lump in your throat when you see the raw, true love these parents have for their sick children....
I know the discussion around this topic will no doubt get heated. I have felt that heat. But I feel a greater responsibility than ever to make sure those heated discussions are also well-informed by science. And, with that: I hope you get a chance to watch on March 11 at 10 p.m. Eastern.
From the Washington State Liquor Control Board comes news that it has issued its first marijuana producer and processor licenses:
Kouchlock Productions is licensed to produce and process recreational marijuana. It holds a restricted tier-three license to produce marijuana initially up to a maximum of 21,000 square feet. Kouchlock Productions is one of over 2,800 producer license applications that the WSLCB is currently processing. Licenses will be continuously issued as they are ready.
The WSLCB will update weekly its list of pending and active marijuana licenses on the frequently requested lists page of the public records section of its website.
I had a great time in San Francisco this weekend at Students for Sensible Drug Policy's western regional conference. Though the conference was Saturday, I stayed in the bay area for a few days longer to meet my newly born niece (I'm an Oakland native and most of my family is still in the area.) The conference was great and featured a fantastic keynote address from San Francisco's Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Most relevant to this blog was a panel on the future of marijuana reform in California, featuring Amanda Reiman (Drug Policy Alliance), Paul Armentano (NORML), Dale Sky Jones (Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform), and Perry Rosenstein (Marijuana Majority).
Among the interesting thoughts from the panelists:
• Amanda Reiman talked about the decision to wait until 2016 to run a legalization ballot measure in California. She said that given the loss in 2010, winning the next campaign in California is especially important. Two losses would make it tough to run another campaign in the near term. Because of the cost of running a ballot measure in California, and the fact that demographics make 2014 less certain than 2016, they decided not to go forward with a California ballot measure in 2014.
• Paul Armentano said he thought legalization through legislation may not be too far off, noting that New Hampshire House recently became the first legislative body to vote to legalize marijuana. He argued, however, that anything passed by legislatures is likely to be much more restrictive than Colorado and Washington's laws. He believes that this is because law-makers have a tendancy to over-regulate.
• Paul also talked about the differences between Colorado and Washington's laws, noting that Washington's was more restrictive (it does not permit home cultivation and included a marijuana DUI provision). He said that going into the election, the conventional wisdom was that Washington's additional restrictions would make the ballot measure more likely to pass but that the two laws ended up passing with about the same margin. He said that exit polling indicated this would not have been true in an off-year election. With an off-year election demographic, Washington's law would have still passed with about 55% of the vote. Colorado's would have been a toss-up.
• Dale Sky Jones argued that it is critical for California's legislature to enact medical marijuana regulations by 2015. She said that if California doesn't get regulations in place by 2015, the legislature will almost surely wait for the legalization measure in 2016. This would be problematic because, as the experiences in Colorado and Washington reveal, implementing a legalization law is much more difficult when there is a poorly regulated medical marijuana system (as was the case in Washington) than when there is a very robust medical marijuana regulatory system (as was the case in Colorado.) (Paul discussed the differences between Washington and Colorado in this regard as well.)
• Perry Rosenstein talked about messaging strategies when it comes to marijuana. He argued that visual design is incredibly important on this issue because anything that looks sloppy can reinforce the perception that advocates for legalization are pot-heads.
• Perry also raised an interesitng question: what happens if legal marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado become established and start running legalization ballot measures in other states. To date, drug policy reform ballot measures have come from advocacy organizations. If the marijuana "industry" starts to run ballot measures, it could mean change comes more quickly. But, it could also result in initiatives that are drafted more in the interest of businesses behind the ballot measures than with public policy goals in mind. In response to this, Amanda mentioned that a vaporizer company has, apparently, been lobbying New York legislators to consider a medical marijuana law that would require patients to use vaporizor pens.
It was a very interesting discussion all around. I think the possibility of "industry" players running ballot measures is especially something to watch for. My own take is that this is unlikely in the near term (meaning 2014 or 2016), mainly because any ballot measure crafted by industry players would be more vulnerable to attacks from political opponents than one that is run by an advocacy organization (e.g., attacks like Project SAM's "big marijuana" argument.) I suspect that this dynamic may not deter industry-created ballot measures for all that long. And we may see one or more in 2016.
But if I had to guess, I would think 2018 is a more likely year for a wave of industry-created measures. If the current trend continues (and I will grant that this is not gauranteed), we will probably have at least 5 states with marijuana legalization laws after the 2016 election. By 2018, support for legalization would likely be more like 60% in favor than 50/50 (again if trends continue.) And, the marijuana industry should be pretty well established by then, at least in Colorado and Washington (and in any states that pass legalization in 2014.) In any event, if'and when this does happen, it could significantly change the landscape when it comes to marijuana law reform.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
One of many reasons I find state marijuana reform so interesting relates to how developments in this novel legal realm can and will interact with other more traditional bodies of law. A conversation today with a colleague got me to thinking especially about the potential intersection of state marijuana reform and traditional family law.
I wonder, for example, if one parent in a heated custody dispute in Colorado or Washington might now argue that even small state-legal personal marijuana use, because such use remains a federal offense, should be consider against the other parent seeking custody. Similarly, I wonder how judges in states like California with a robust medical marijuana industry might consider and equitably divide a couple's assets in a divorce if and whenever those assets involve what federal law would still consider contraband and/or evidence of a federal crime.
Perhaps some of these issues have been hashed out in some family law setting, and I would be eager to hear (via e-mail or comments) about any leading or noteworthy cases in this general area.
The title of this post is the title of this new post by Jordan Cunnings at the blog crImmigration.com. The full post is worth a read, and here is how it starts:
In a recent New Yorker interview, President Obama described marijuana use as a “bad habit and a vice, not very different from. . . cigarettes,” and not more dangerous than drinking. The President expressed concern with the disproportionate rates of criminal punishment for marijuana use in poor and minority communities, and spoke favorably of recent efforts to legalize small amounts of the drug in the states of Colorado and Washington.
While Obama’s comments may be a good sign for marijuana legalization advocates, his personal viewpoint is glaringly inconsistent with his administration’s consistently harsh enforcement efforts in the area of marijuana use and immigration. While marijuana use is legal in one form or another in twenty states and the District of Columbia, and banks now have the green light from the Treasury Department to finance legally operating marijuana dispensaries, noncitizens remain at risk for incredibly harsh and disproportionate immigration consequences when using small amounts of marijuana. Low-level marijuana charges often funnel noncitizens into the immigration law system, prevent otherwise-eligible noncitizens from obtaining lawful immigration status, and subject lawfully present noncitizens to deportation. Worse yet, marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in poor and minority communities—as Obama himself noted, “[m]iddle class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do”—meaning that marijuana citations and arrests may disproportionately impact the people of color who make up the bulk of today’s immigrant groups.
Though recent prosecutorial discretion memos by the former head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency John Morton purport to refocus enforcement priorities away from individuals who have only minor criminal histories, immigration law enforcement statistics from the past two years show that this policy is not being followed. Marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in poor and minority communities – as Obama himself noted, “[m]iddle class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do” — meaning that marijuana citations and arrests often serve as entry point into the criminal justice system and then the deportation system. A Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) review of ICE documents from fiscal years 2012 and 2013 found that marijuana possession was one of the top five most common offenses for which ICE issued immigration detainers against individuals. This means that thousands of noncitizens are funneled into ICE custody after being charged with low-level marijuana possession offenses.
March 4, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The title of this post is the reported title of a bill that, according to this Fox News report, is going to be introduced in Congress next week. Here are the details:
Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation next week aimed at preventing the misuse of the food stamp funds amid reports that welfare debit cards have been used to withdraw cash at ATMs at marijuana dispensaries in Colorado....
The bill would add pot dispensaries to the current list of locations where states must block welfare electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards from being used for purchases or ATM withdrawals, Reichert’s office told the station.
KDVR.com reported last week that at least 19 different dispensaries allowed electronic benefits transfer withdrawals inside their pot shops in January. Public records obtained by the station showed 56 transactions, totaling nearly $4,000.
A separate report by National Review Online said the amounts withdrawn ranged from $20 to $400, averaging $85.55. The maximum monthly benefit for the average household receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits is $462.
Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting access to welfare benefits at casinos, gun shops, bars, and liquor stores. State lawmakers recently failed to pass legislation that would have prohibited such transactions at pot shops, NRO reported.
“It’s time to close this ‘pot shop loophole’ before it gets any bigger,” the lawmakers said in a letter circulated among House lawmakers and obtained by The Colorado Observer. “This bill does not comment on whether it makes sense for states to legalize the sale of pot, as Colorado and Washington have done,” the lawmakers wrote. “It simply says that, wherever pot is legally sold, welfare recipients shouldn’t be able to readily access welfare funds to pay for it.”
This recent article in USA Today reporting on some recent comments by a notable government scientist confirms yet again that the marijuana reform movement is going to help facilitate research on the drug. Here are excerpts from this article to that end:
One of the nation's top scientists raised concerns about the nationwide move to legalize marijuana, saying regular use of the drug by adolescents had been tied to a drop in IQ and that a possible link to lung cancer hasn't been seriously studied.
"I'm afraid I'm sounding like this is an evil drug that's going to ruin our civilization and I don't really think that," Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday. "But there are aspects of this that probably should be looked at more closely than some of the legalization experts are willing to admit."
He said the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which he oversees, was interested in pursuing such studies now that legalization has made them more feasible to do. But the process will take time, he cautioned. "We don't know a lot about the things we wish we did," he said at a small dinner with journalists hosted by USA TODAY and National Geographic. "I've been asked repeatedly, does regular marijuana smoking, because you inhale deeply, increase your risk of lung cancer? We don't know. Nobody's done that study."
Collins, 63, is a geneticist who led the project to map the human genome. Since 2009, he has headed the NIH, the nation's leading agency for biomedical research....
"There's a lot we don't know because it's been an illegal drug ...," he said. "I think one of the things we'll need to do is take advantage of legalization now to try to mount studies that were impossible before, if people are willing to participate."
Friday, February 28, 2014
The title of this post is drawn from the title of this recent published scholarly article that, on the surface and even in substance, seems be about a lot of topics other than marijuana law, policy and reform. But the title caught my eye, and I think all would-be marijuana reform advocates ought to check out the article, because I strongly believe the marijuana tax stories and regulations that that emerge in state and federal law and policies in the months and years ahead will be the most important predictor of whether pot prohibition eventually gets fully repealed or lives on and on in the United States.
The article is authored by Susannah Camic Tahk, it is published at 50 Harvard Journal of Legislation 67 (2013), and it is available here via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
In contrast to major legislative reform packages in the 20th century, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 took the form of a tax bill. Although this legislation is the first massive social and regulatory overhaul completed through the tax code, in the past twenty-five years the U.S. Congress and Presidential administrations have substantially increased their use of tax law for non-revenue-raising purposes. Growing reliance on the tax code represents a structural transformation of how Congress and Presidential administrations have come to approach lawmaking goals. This transformation defies the near-consensus of previous tax scholarship, which, following Stanley Surrey, disapproves of embedding programs in the tax code. However, that dominant view rests on assumptions that have become outdated. This Article analyzes the ongoing structural transformation by observing and explaining the advantages that accrue from pursuing social and regulatory objectives through the tax code. In particular, this Article identifies a number of legislative and normative advantages that tax-embedded policies offer.
I'll be giving the welcome remarks at Students for Sensible Drug Policy's 2014 western regional conference tomorrow, being held at Hastings in San Francisco. There's a great lineup (other than myself, of course), including panels on current research into the medical value of marijuana and the status of marijuana legalization efforts in California.
Any readers in the area should consider checking it out. Registration and conference information is here. And here's the conference schedule:
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Today's New York Times has this notable new front-page article headlined "Pivotal Point Is Seen as More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana." Here are some excerpts:
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.
Demonstrating how marijuana is no longer a strictly partisan issue, the two states considered likeliest this year to follow Colorado and Washington in outright legalization of the drug are Oregon, dominated by liberal Democrats, and Alaska, where libertarian Republicans hold sway.
Advocates of more lenient marijuana laws say they intend to maintain the momentum from their successes, heartened by national and statewide polls showing greater public acceptance of legalizing marijuana, President Obama’s recent musings on the discriminatory effect of marijuana prosecutions and the release of guidelines by his Treasury Department intended to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana businesses.
Their opponents, though, who also see this as a crucial year, are just as keen to slow the legalization drives. They are aided by a wait-and-see attitude among many governors and legislators, who seem wary of pushing ahead too quickly without seeing how the rollout of legal marijuana works in Colorado and Washington. “We feel that if Oregon or Alaska could be stopped, it would disrupt the whole narrative these groups have that legalization is inevitable,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which is spearheading much of the effort to stop these initiatives. “We could stop that momentum.”...
At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.
The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012....
Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there. “Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”...
While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws....
Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote....
A narrow majority of Americans — 51 percent — believe marijuana should be legal, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, matching the result in a CBS News poll the previous month. In 1979, when The Times and CBS first asked the question, only 27 percent wanted cannabis legalized. There were stark differences in the new poll, though. While 72 percent of people under 30 favored legalization, only 29 percent of those over 65 agreed. And while about a third of Republicans now favored legalization, this was far below the 60 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents who did so....
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading advocate for legalizing marijuana, said campaigns were already underway to stage aggressive legalization drives in several states over the next couple of years, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and possibly Montana. “It is certainly important to maintain the momentum,” Mr. Tvert said, “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”
I do not disagree with the general view that 2014 is a "watershed year" concerning discussion and debate over marijuana reform (and this was one big reason I developed a taught a seminar on the topic at my law school last Fall). But, as the title of this post highlights, I have come to believe that a much broader set of social and political forces help account for modern marijuana reform movement. The forces include, inter alia, a growing distrust of all government among both left-leaning and right-leaning opinion leaders over the last 15 years, growing evidence that the many aspects of the drug war may do more harm than some drugs, the failure of Big Pharma to provide effective pain relief (without too many side effects) to many who suffer from a range of serious medial problems, and changing labor and economic realities that change to cost/benefit realities of pot prohibition versus pot regulation.
I am happy to see the front-page of the NY Times discuss the various 2014 short-term realities that may impact marijuana reform over the next few years. But I would be especially eager to hear from readers concerning what they think are broader social and political forces that will shape these stories over the next few decades.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The past few days have seen changes in marijuana tax estimates in Washington and Colorado. Pat Oglesby has some insightful thoughts on these developments, and the difficulty of estimating marijuana tax revenue generally, in this post for the Huffington Post today:
While marijuana revenue could be a promising new source of income for states, a wide range of expectations underscores how little we know so far about what mature markets will look like one day. Last week, early projections for marijuana revenue in the first two legalizing states gave way to new ones. In Colorado, expectations rose; in Washington, they collapsed. As projections zig-zag, other states considering legalization don't know what to expect.
In Colorado, the number jumped by 60 percent, from $67 million to $107 million. That's for the first fiscal full year of marijuana excise taxes. The old, lower number came from the Legislature last August; the new, higher one came from the Governor on February 18.
In Washington, the number collapsed from $1.6 billion to $129 million -- a drop of over 90 percent. Oops. Those numbers are for marijuana excises by the end of Fiscal 2017. The old, higher number came from a criticized 2012 legislative estimate; the new, lower, more plausible one came from the state's official Forecast Council on February 19.
That's confusing. But even comparing the official forecasts is confusing. The numbers above are just for excise taxes.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Policymakers want to ensure that the marijuana industry doesn’t engage in socially irresponsible behaviors, such as selling marijuana to minors. And many policymakers agree that the structure of the marijuana industry plays a key role in shaping its behavior. Interestingly, however, policymakers seem to disagree about whether society would be better off if the marijuana industry were concentrated (i.e., controlled by a few Big firms) or fragmented (i.e., controlled by many Small firms).
On one side, anti-legalization groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana has raised the specter of Big Marijuana. The group doesn’t really explain why Big is necessarily bad; instead, it just conjures images of Big Tobacco to make its case. But there are reasons to be concerned about concentrated industries. All industries, of course, are driven by a profit motive and seek to expand their markets as much as possible. For this reason, industries generally oppose regulations that reduce the size of those markets, such as laws banning sales to minors, regardless of whether those laws make good sense for society as a whole. To be sure, this anti-regulation impulse can be found in both concentrated industries and fragmented ones. But all else being equal, concentrated industries are generally more successful at blocking passage of sensible regulations. In large part, this is because of the transaction costs and free-rider problems besetting fragmented industries. It is just a lot easier to coordinate the lobbying efforts of a few Big firms than it is to coordinate the lobbying efforts of many Small ones. Hence, if the marijuana industry were ever to be dominated by a few, very Big players, it might prevent governments from passing sensible restrictions on its activities, much the way Big Tobacco fought off government regulations for decades.
On the other side, government officials have raised the specter of Little Marijuana. Little Marijuana depicts the current structure of the industry. It is populated with hundreds – and in states that allow home cultivation, thousands -- of relatively small growers and distributors. While a fragmented industry wields less political clout, it is also far, far more difficult to police. It is a lot easier for government agents to monitor an industry comprised of a few Big firms than it is for them to monitor an industry comprised of many Small ones. Hence, as long as the marijuana industry remains highly fragmented, governments will likely have a difficult time enforcing sensible restrictions on its activities. Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, for example, has struggled to monitor the hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, and state officials have complained that home cultivation exacerbates the problem.
For all of its vices, Big Tobacco helps demonstrate the upside of a highly concentrated industry structure. For example, as I discuss in more detail in this paper, there is relatively little evasion of cigarette taxes in this country, even though the taxes imposed on cigarettes can be quite high (e.g., 45% in federal and state excise taxes alone in California). For example, several studies estimated that only about 7-12% of cigarette taxes go unpaid on average. (Not surprisingly, the number is higher in high-tax jurisdictions.) In large part, the successful enforcement of cigarette taxes can be traced to the highly concentrated structure of the tobacco industry: three firms now manufacture roughly 85% of all cigarettes consumed in this country (and they do so at just 15 factories). I think it safe to say that monitoring this industry to ensure that taxes are paid (and other regulations followed) is far easier than it would be if thousands of firms were now manufacturing cigarettes.
Ultimately, perhaps the lesson is that Big Marijuana and Small Marijuana both pose challenges for policymakers, albeit challenges of a different nature. In the short term, Small Marijuana is clearly a bigger concern. But in the long term, policymakers long for the day when the industry wielded little political clout.
Following on Doug's post about the recent Ohio poll, Denver is one of the finalists for the 2016 Republican National Convention. One of the politicians leading the bid thinks Colorado's legalization law may help attract the gathering, since leaders from other states may want to learn more about how the policy is playing out.
"There's an easy political case to be made," former Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican and the chair of the bid committee, said.
Beauprez argued that even the state's recent legalization of recreational marijuana could be a plus because it shows how Colorado is on the political cutting edge. "Other governors and mayors will want to come here and see how it's working out," he said, noting that ballot measures to legalize the drug are anticipated in several other states.
Whether or not the RNC comes to Denver in 2016, Colorado's swing state status will make the presidential politics of marijuana legalization especially interesting to watch. If Denver does manage to get the convention, it will only add to the dyamic.