Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, May 28, 2015

SAM releases new report "Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan"

Download (2)The leading public policy group actively opposing modern marijuana reform movements, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has today released this new report titled ""Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan."  This SAM webpage provides this helpful summary of what the report says:

Given the increasing interest and demand for research into marijuana’s therapeutic potential, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization, today released a new report, Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan, and called for a series of recommendations. Specifically, the six-point plan recommends that the federal government:

(1) Allow multiple licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes, beyond the sole contractor that works with NIDA;

(2) Waive DEA registration requirements for handling CBD;

(3) Eliminate the Public Health Service (PHS) review for marijuana research applications;

(4) Establish compassionate research programs for the seriously ill;

(5) Begin federal-state partnerships to allow a pure CBD product to be dispensed/explored by board-certified neurologists and/or epileptologists to appropriate patients under a research program;

(6) Shut down rogue “medical marijuana” companies that do not play by the rules

“These recommendations can be enacted relatively easily by HHS and DOJ. Congress could also help prod them along,” remarked Dr. Stuart Gitlow, the Immediate Past President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Vice-Chair of SAM. “It’s time we do the research and, importantly, separate the medical issue from the legalization issue.”

In recent years, numerous companies have profited off of “compassion” without having to play by the rules, the report says. These recommendations would allow real research to move forward while halting rogue companies.

“For too long, simplistic and dangerous recommendations such as marijuana legalization or even rescheduling have been presented as the only ways to do legitimate research on marijuana’s therapeutic potential,” remarked SAM President Kevin A. Sabet, a former White House drug policy advisor. “But there are so many things the government could do to offer the seriously ill experimental medications while not endangering public health through legalization. This report shows them how.”

Intriguingly, the report does not call for the rescheduling of marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act though it does call for waivers and others actions to facilitate medical research.

May 28, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"As States Become More Pot-Friendly, Feds Warn Employees Not To Light Up"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable International Business Times article, which gets started this way:

Marijuana might be legal in the country’s capital, but not for employees of the U.S. government.  The sobering reminder came in the form of a new guidance issued Wednesday by the Office of Personnel Management.  It stated that federal workers, even those living in states where marijuana is legal, are subject to federal, not local, law – and all the penalties that come with it.

“Heads of agencies are expected to advise their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana,” Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.  The guidance doesn’t change existing laws barring federal employees from participating in activities the government considers illegal.  It simply underscores a point that may have gotten lost in the shuffle, or that some government employees might rather forget.

 Twenty-three states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – along with D.C. allow pot to be consumed for medical and recreational purposes.  The drug remains illegal at the federal level, despite the Department of Justice having promised not to challenge states that decide to legalize it.

The U.S. government employs roughly 4.1 million Americans.  About half a million of them live in the District of Columbia, which legalized recreational pot in February. 

May 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Achtung dude: notable talk in Germany about marijuana reform

Images (1)Interesting international marijuana reform developments are reported in this new article headlined "Germany marijuana legalization push revives debate over drug policy: Conservative politician Joachim Pfeiffer joins Germany Green Party campaign." Here are excerpts:

A conservative politician who crossed the aisle and has joined the German Green Party’s campaign to legalize marijuana has revived a long-running debate about the drug in Europe’s largest economy.

Lawmaker Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, recently co-sponsored legislation that would lift Germany’s ban on marijuana and regulate the drug like alcohol and tobacco — and, supporters say, bring in billions more marks in tax revenue.

“The current restrictive drug policy failed because, despite the ban, the number of consumers hasn’t dropped,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, who filed his bill with opposition Green Party lawmakers last week. “More than two million Germans use weed regularly, making it the most commonly used illicit drug.” Mr. Pfeiffer’s move sent ripples of joy through the budding marijuana industry in Germany, offering a rare crack in the conservative unity that has resisted all past efforts at legalization.

“The Christian Democratic Union has been a cement wall in the way of legislation,” said Georg Wurth, head of the German Hemp Association, a pro-legalization group in Berlin. “But for the first time we have a CDU politician publicly speaking out for legalization, which is a big step forward. You can assume there are others with similar opinions in the CDU.”

Currently, Germany has partial decriminalization of marijuana that varies from state to state, with some states maintaining strict prohibitions and others, including liberal Berlin, allowing people to carry as much as 15 grams of pot without prosecution.

Opinions remain polarized. Organizers in Berlin are gearing up for the 19th Hanfparade — Hemp Parade — to be held August 8. The parade, expected to draw some 6,500 participants from all over the country, is Europe’s largest annual demonstration in favor of legalizing marijuana. But a poll last year by Stern magazine uncovered a deep reservoir of popular suspicion about easing the country’s pot laws, with 65 percent of Germans polls saying the opposed easing laws restricting the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. Fewer than a third — 29 percent — favored legalization, while even in the Green Party only 51 percent said they favored full legalization....

Even so, opposition to marijuana legalization is thawing fast among other German parties. The pro-business German Free Democratic Party, which was part of Ms. Merkel’s coalition government until 2013, added the regulated distribution of cannabis to the party’s platform this month.

For Steffen Geyer of Berlin’s Hemp Museum, it is high time that weed becomes legal in Germany. “Marijuana should be governed by the same rules as tobacco and wine,” Mr. Geyer said. “The prohibition of cannabis is wrong. It hurts people, it hurts the economy and it empowers organized crime.”

The growing support for legalization has sparked a backlash, however. Germany’s federal Drug Commissioner Marlene Mortler recently told the daily newspaper Passauer Neue Presse that the country didn’t need more legal drugs on offer because Germans had enough problems with alcohol and tobacco. Her comments came a few days after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Germans to cut down on alcohol consumption, citing heavy costs on the health of individuals and society....

According to cannabis legalization expert Tom Blickman of the Transnational Institute, a Dutch think tank, Germany isn’t the only European country considering a more relaxed stance on marijuana. As in the U.S., a patchwork of different — often conflicting — laws on marijuana now blanket the continent. “What you see generally in Europe is a move towards decriminalization of personal possession in certain qualities,” Mr. Blickman said....

While Mr. Blickman is unsure Mr. Pfeiffer’s bill will pass in Germany, he thinks that it is the first step toward full-fledged legalization. “I think that will happen within the next 10 years, depending on the political dynamics,” Mr. Blickman said. “But with the example of the United States and Uruguay, where they have basically legalized the cannabis market, not only Germany but more countries in Europe, will move toward a regulated cannabis market.”

May 27, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrific NBC coverage of African Americans and the modern marijuana industry

Black_and_green_slate2_2d6258b7ff6757fd04ca12d1dd45030a.nbcnews-ux-840-480Regular readers likely already know that I find extra interesting and important the intersection of marijuana reform and civil rights and social justice issues.  Consequently, I have been especially pleased to see that that NBC has been running a number of article under the banner "Black & Green, A Series About African Americans & the Marijuana Industry."  This piece, headlined "Post-Legalization Many African Americans 'Just Say No' To Marijuana Industry," is the latest in the series, and it gets started this way:

It's not surprising that many African Americans are leery about cashing in on the legal cannabis industry. Numerous reports show that the black community continues to pay a high price for it in the criminal justice system even where marijuana is legal.

A 2013 ACLU report noted that on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person," even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates." Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations, concluded the report, touted as the first to examine marijuana possession arrest rates by race for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) and their respective counties from 2001 to 2010.

"There's more of a negative stigma surrounding this industry — the [cannabis] culture and religion [in the black community] plays a heavy factor," says Lakisha Jenkins, president of the California Cannabis Industry Association, which has been a part of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) since 2013. The Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization billed as the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S., has formed a committee focused on figuring out ways to draw more people of color to the industry. "Since we're the ones who've been incarcerated [the most for marijuana possession and use] it makes it rather difficult [for some people of color] to see it as a positive and viable industry," says Jenkins, a committee member.

Here are the other notable piece in the series so far: 

Part I: Six Reasons African Americans Aren't Breaking Into Cannabis Industry

Part II: Capitalizing On Cannabis: Meet Colorado's Black 'Potrepreneurs'

Part III: Green Chips: African American Investment in Marijuana Marketplace

May 26, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Oregon's big marijuana harvests: How do you bring all that pot into the legal market?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article noting that Oregon already had a robust marijuana production market before it legalized the product via voter initiative last year.  Here is how it gets started:

More than any state that has legalized marijuana, Oregon is a champion when it comes to producing the drug. Seth Crawford, a marijuana policy researcher at Oregon State University, estimates the state grows three to five times the 150,000 pounds or so consumed by Oregon pot users -- a crop potentially worth more than any other single agricultural commodity in the state.

A report from a Seattle venture capital firm specializing in pot says the state's legally allowed producers – those who grow for medical marijuana patients – harvest enough to meet the needs not only of patients in Oregon but in Washington, Colorado and Arizona as well.

"We've got plenty of supply," says Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and a member of the committee overseeing implementation of the pot legalization initiative. He wholeheartedly endorsed the common quip that Oregon is the "Saudi Arabia of marijuana."

As a result, the legislative debate over how to implement the November initiative that legalized recreational marijuana has revolved around how to turn this thriving – if often illegal -- industry into an economic and societal success story. The abundance of the state's marijuana crop is driving some of the biggest decisions that legislators face, from how strictly to regulate medical marijuana growers to whether to put a sales tax on pot despite the state's historic hostility to such taxes.

A growing number of legislators on the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 say they want to start retail sales as early as possible to entice growers into the legal market. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which Measure 91 charged with regulating the recreational marijuana market, says it probably won't be ready to allow retail outlets to open until fall of 2016.

But key lawmakers on the marijuana committee say they are seriously looking at allowing the sale of at least smokable pot starting Oct. 1 at existing medical marijuana dispensaries. "There are already well-established black-market channels," says Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland and the co-chair of the Measure 91 committee, "and we need to make this (legal) market as appealing to people as possible."

Burdick has been a particularly strong champion of legislation putting stricter limits on the size of medical marijuana growing operations, saying she wants to channel larger and more commercially minded producers into the recreational market.

Oregon has nearly 35,000 registered grow sites, according to the latest Oregon Health Authority records, but three-quarters serve just one or two patients, each of whom can have up to six plants grown for them. Nearly 400 sites grow for at least 10 patients and account for much of Oregon's marijuana crop.

The heart of the industry is in southern Oregon, where growers have plenty of sun and rural isolation. "You can't compete with the quantity and quality produced in southern Oregon," says Crawford, the OSU expert who has extensively researched the area's marijuana culture. He says many growers have been producing pot for decades, perfecting their strains and earning a supplemental income for their family.

May 24, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ohio's GOP Attorney General now talking up medical marijuana reform

Ht_mike_dewine_ll_120217_mnAs reported in this notable local article, headlined "Mike DeWine looks at drafting his own medical marijuana proposal," the various on-going efforts to bring marijuana reform to the ballot in the Buckeye State has finally convinced the chief law enforcement representative in Ohio to start seriously considering marijuana reform. Here are the basics:

Attorney General Mike DeWine has directed staff to look at potentially drawing up a new proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, a spokesman said Friday.

DeWine staffers have been reviewing medical marijuana schemes in other states to see whether it's possible to set up "very tightly regulated" rules that can't be exploited by recreational pot users, said AG spokesman Dan Tierney.

Specifically, Tierney said, the attorney general is interesting in other states' plans that allow medical marijuana to be used in ways other than smoking, such as ointments or pills. If one of those plans is found to be "worthy of support," Tierney said, the AG's office may present those findings to the legislature or seek a ballot issue.

However, Tierney cautioned that it's still "far too early" to say when DeWine would take such a step – or even if he will end up taking any action at all.

Marijuana proponents are working on at least three different ballot initiatives in Ohio that would fully legalize the drug. A fourth group is gathering signatures to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

DeWine still has "grave concerns" about full marijuana legalization, Tierney said.

I have noted in some prior posts how interesting my own home state of Ohio has become in the marijuana reform arena thanks almost entirely to the significant direct democracy legalization initiative making its way to the ballot for voters to consider in 2015 (and then perhaps again in 2016). This news coming from the notable GOP Attorney General is yet another sign og how the people can, with the help of direct democracy, push the representative to actually do more of what the people say they want.

Some prior related posts on recent Ohio developments:

May 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Senate panel votes to end VA ban on medical marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece reporting on a notable recent vote in the US Senate.  Here are the basics from the start of the article:

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a $77.6 billion funding bill for military construction and veterans benefits that includes an amendment allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend the use of medical marijuana.

The amendment from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) won approval in an 18-12 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the funding bill and a veteran of the Navy Reserve, urged his colleagues to vote against the amendment.

A 2011 directive by the Veterans Health Administration prohibits agency doctors from consulting patients about medical marijuana use. “It’s an enormous inconvenience to our veterans,” said Merkley, who explained that current law forces veterans to seek a medical appointment outside of the VA.

House Democrats attempted to add a similar amendment to the lower chamber’s version of the bill, but failed to win enough votes. Overall, the bill is $5.5 billion above the current funding level, but $1.2 billion less than President Obama’s request. The House passed its version of the bill late last month, about $1 billion less than the Senate’s.

May 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Latest polling data in Colorado and Washington continue to show strong support for legalization

As reported in this new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Pioneer Pot States Did The Right Thing, Polls Show," recent polling in the two states to lead the modern marijuana legalization movement indicates that three years of experience with legalization has not diminished support for these reforms.  Here are the basic details:

Support for legalized marijuana seems to be growing in Colorado and Washington state, which became the first U.S. states to regulate the weed for recreational use two years ago.

A survey released Wednesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that 56 percent of voters in Washington state approve of their state's recreational marijuana laws, while 37 percent are opposed. The opposition is lower than that in the 2012 vote to approve legalization, in which 56 percent supported the measure, and 44 percent disapproved. Moreover, a majority of Washington voters -- 77 percent -- say the marijuana laws have either had a positive effect or no effect on their lives, according to the poll.

A Qunnipiac poll last month tells a similar story in Colorado. Sixty-two percent of Colorado voters support reformed marijuana laws, the poll shows. That's an increase of 7 percentage points over the margin of support when voters approved Colorado's legalization in 2012....

Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, quickly followed by Washington. The first retail shops opened in 2014. By the end of last year, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved recreational marijuana legalization measures. By 2016, as many as 10 additional states are likely to consider reforming marijuana laws.

May 21, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Racial disparities persist in Phila. marijuana arrests"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent article via Philly.com.  Here are excerpts:

There is a robust, national conversation about police and justice reform. And by decriminalizing marijuana, Philadelphia is getting a glimpse of what that entails.

Last October, Philly became America's largest city to make marijuana possession a civil, rather than a criminal, violation. The result has been a dramatic reduction in arrests....  They are down more than 70 percent.

For decades, Philly police put anyone caught with anything from a roach up to 30 grams into handcuffs and a holding cell. The city’s new decrim policy gives officers the option of issuing a Code Violation Notice: $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public.  The result has meant fewer interactions between cannabis consumers and police.

It’s also saving tens of thousands of hours of police time -- and a big chunk of tax dollars. The RAND Corporation this year released a that calculated a single custodial arrest costs $1,266. Using the RAND numbers, Philly may have already saved more than $1 million under the new policy from January to March this year compared to 2013.  RAND estimated that the cost of issuing citations is a mere $20....

The shift in policy has allowed police to spend more time on other crimes. Cocaine and heroin possession arrests are combined in the same code in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System [and] while marijuana arrests have decreased there has been an uptick in arrests for harder drugs....

One of the most compelling reasons that City Council took on pot decriminalization was the disturbing racial disparity specifically in marijuana arrests.  Unfortunately, that has not changed ... [as] Black residents are still 7 times more likely to be arrested for weed than white residents. 

Some are quick to say that this disparity exists because police are heavily patrolling in neighborhoods of color. But that would mean other arrests, especially for other drugs, would have the same disparity. But that is not the case [as data shows] more white people got arrested for cocaine and heroin in Philly so far this year.  

[T]there is no statistical or procedural reason that can explain the continued brunt of marijuana enforcement on black residents. It highlights part of a bigger problem with urban policing, one that will take more than legalizing marijuana to solve.

May 20, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Congrats to Prof. Sam Kamin for becoming the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy

I was pleased on Monday to receive an e-mail press release titled "Denver-Based Vicente Sederberg LLC, One of the Nation’s Leading Marijuana Law Firms, Establishes Professorship for Marijuana Law and Policy at University of Denver Sturm College of Law." I was even more pleased to see from the first paragraph of this release that on of the occasional co-bloggers in this space was to be the first to fill this first- (but not last?) of-its-kind Professorship: 

Today, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law proudly announced that it has received a $45,000 commitment from Denver-based law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC to enable one faculty member to serve as the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy. The purpose of this three-year professorship is to allow a Sturm College of Law faculty member to dedicate time and resources toward the development of intelligent marijuana law and policy and engage students in this important work. To be held initially by Professor Sam Kamin, it is believe to be the first professorship of its kind in the world.

Sturm College of Law Dean Martin J. Katz celebrated the groundbreaking nature of this professorship, while praising the work of the firm supporting it. “Our state and our school are poised to take a leadership position in this important new area of law and policy,” said Dean Katz. “The rest of the country is watching. We need to do this right.”

“We are extremely proud of the pioneering work done by our graduates at Vicente Sederberg,” Dean Katz continued, “And we are honored to name a professorship for them, which will be held by Professor Sam Kamin, the nation’s foremost authority in this field.”

Brian Vicente, a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg and Sturm College of Law graduate, lauded the institution for its commitment to advancing this new area of the law. “As the marijuana industry expands in Colorado and around the nation and the world, there is a growing need for attorneys qualified to represent business owners,” said Vicente. “With the launch of this professorship, Sturm College of Law will be taking the lead in providing law students the training they need to enter this new field. We are proud to be able to support their efforts in this area.”

I have also been pleased to see from this post at TaxProf Blog that this news is getting a lot of (justified and sometimes jokey) attention.

May 20, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"How D.C. pot legalization has become ‘the dealer-protection act of 2015’"

The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating recent Washington Post article.  Here are excerpts:

Not long ago, a man who had covertly dealt pot in the nation’s capital for three decades approached a young political operative at a birthday party in a downtown Washington steakhouse. He was about to test a fresh marketing strategy to take advantage of the District’s peculiar new marijuana law, which allows people to possess and privately consume the drug but provides them no way to legally buy it for recreational use. Those contradictions have created a surge in demand and new opportunities for illicit pot purveyors.

“Do you like cannabis?” asked the dealer. “Yes,” answered the man, who had recently left his job as a Republican Senate staffer.

So, the dealer recalled, he handed his new acquaintance a tiny plastic bag that contained half a gram of “Blue Dream,” a sweet and fruity strain of marijuana. With the bag he also presented a business card and an offer: If you like what you try, call me. Within days, the man — now a lobbyist — picked up the phone.

The dealer — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because what they do remains illegal — said he has used that same in-plain-sight sales pitch at similarly upscale D.C. settings, collecting three new buyers and a pair of new suppliers. The new business is all thanks to the quirks of the District’s legalization, which has boosted the appetite for marijuana as more people become comfortable acquiring it through the black market. “It’s the dealer-protection act of 2015,” he said. “This was a license for me to print money.”

Who is responsible for this unintended consequence depends on whom you ask. In November, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that made it legal to possess and grow marijuana, but the following month, Congress enacted a spending prohibition that barred the city from creating a system through which pot could be lawfully bought, sold and taxed.

That means there are only three ways for people in the District to legally obtain marijuana. Someone can give it to them, though the donors, of course, must find their own original source. Residents can each grow as many as three plants to maturity at one time, though that process is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. And with a doctor’s approval, people can get medical-marijuana cards, though supply remains dismal.

“The black market is the obvious choice,” said a 24-year-old government contractor who deals part time. “It’s awesome.”

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who has led Congress’s charge to thwart the legalization, blamed city leaders, insisting that they should have forbidden possession when he and other lawmakers prevented Washington from creating a controlled marketplace. “There’s no question that demand will go up, and there’s no legal source of supply,” he said. “Clearly, this was not thought out rationally by the city government, which chose to go forward with legalization without regulation.”

John Falcicchio, chief of staff for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), sharply countered that assertion. “In D.C., it shouldn’t be called the black market. It should be called the Harris market,” he said. “If there’s any uptick in the black market, it’s thanks to Harris.”...

That boost in demand, supporters of legalization say, helps explain why lawful use in the District must be paired with lawful sales.   “If you’re going to legalize marijuana, you also have to legalize the supply because you want to get rid of the black market or at least limit the black market,” said Keith Stroup, founder of NORML.  “Right now, they’ve done the exact opposite.”

Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, said a regulated market would have “pulled the teeth out of the illegal drug trade” and eventually wiped out the violence associated with it.

Jeffrey Miron, an economics teacher at Harvard University, compared marijuana’s potential evolution to that of alcohol after prohibition ended in 1933.   “People seem to prefer going to a legal supplier rather than making beer in their basement,” said Miron, director of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, which supports the legalization of all drugs.

He and others who have studied the topic don’t suggest that illicit sales would disappear overnight, but after several years — even a decade — they argue that the black market could not compete with a controlled market.

Rep. Andy Harris rejected those arguments.  “I think there’s value in keeping the supply chain illegal at this point,” he said, maintaining that it provides “a check on the system.”

The longtime District dealer who now markets his product at chic D.C. gatherings has already considered what he would do if the city regulated pot sales.  He and his friends, he said, would open their own dispensary.  They’d go legit.

May 19, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why the GOP needs to embrace marijuana reform ASAP: "The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally."

The title of this post come from my reaction to the headline of this Politico article, which carries the headline appearing in quotes above.  Here is an excerpt that helps highlight why I think the GOP risks becoming a marginal party if it does not get on the marijuana reform bandwagon:

There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all. The party’s core is dying off by the day.

Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this?

Since it appears that no political data geek keeps track of voters who die between elections, I took it upon myself to do some basic math. And that quick back-of-the-napkin math shows that the trend could have a real effect in certain states, and make a battleground states like Florida and Ohio even harder for the Republican Party to capture.

As regular readers know, Florida had a big marijuana reform initiative on its ballot in 2014 and Ohio is headed toward an even bigger reform voter initiative in 2015.  In Florida in 2014, as has been the usual pattern, Democrats were far more inclined to endorse marijuana reform and they garnered more younger voters.   The same pattern is already playing out in Ohio in the run up to the 2015 vote.  Consider also another swing state, Virginia, in which this recent marijuana legalization poll highlights these age/opinion demographics in the state:  "Voters 18 to 34 years old support recreational marijuana 75-21 percent, while voters 35 to 54 percent support it 59-36 percent.  Voters over 55 years old are opposed 52-43 percent."   

I consider of particular importance in this political/practical setting  not only what issues are likely to attract young voters to particular parties and candidates, but also what issues are likely to motivate younger Americans to register and actually turn out to vote on election day.  Especially in Ohio, where the marijuana reform backers have a significant war chest, there is likely to be a special effort in 2015 in getting younger folks (especially college students) registered to vote AND actually voting in an off-off year election.  If new, younger voters in Ohio and elsewhere, who start getting focused on state and national politics because of marijuana reform, see GOP candidates only as vocal reform opponents (despite some having been notable marijuana users themselves like Jeb Bush), I think the bad demographic trends stressed in this Politico article are likely only to get worse for the GOP.

May 18, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Time magazine devotes cover story to "The Great Pot Experiment"

Final-pot-coverI am very pleased to see that the new issue of Time magazine has a cover with an amusing picture and this text: "The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science."  I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with federal marijuana prohibition has been its significant anti-science impact, and the subheading of this Time cover story highlights this theme: "Legalization keeps rolling ahead.  But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana — or the benefits."  Here are excerpts from a must-read article:

Welcome to the encouraging, troubling and strangely divided frontier of marijuana science.  The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains – surprisingly – something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government.  Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis.  But there are also new discoveries about the drug’s impact on recreational users.

The effects are generally less severe than those of tobacco and alcohol, which together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually.  Unlike booze, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer.  Unlike heroin, pot brings almost no risk of sudden death without a secondary factor like a car crash.  But science has also found clear indications that in addition to short-term effects on cognition, pot can change developing brains, possibly affecting mental abilities and dispositions, especially for certain populations.  The same drug that seems relatively harmless in moderation for adults appears to be risky for people under age 21, whose brains are still developing.  “It has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” says Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users.  “It looks like the earlier you start, the bigger the effects.”

That relatively measured tone is a far cry from the shrill warnings of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in the 1930s set the standard for America’s fraught debate over marijuana with wild exaggerations. “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote as part of a campaign to terrify the country.  As recently as the 1970s, President Richard Nixon talked about the drug as a weapon of the nation’s enemies. “That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff,” he was recorded saying in private. “They’re trying to destroy us.”

The official line today is better grounded in data and research.  And the new focus is squarely on brain development. “I am most concerned about possibly harming the potential of our young people,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).... “That could be disastrous for our country.”  But decades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views.... 

As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success.  The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential.   In the coming months, Uncle Sam will begin a 10-year, $300 million study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do to the developing brain.  High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.

But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go.  The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs.  “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University... who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot.  “But marijuana is Schedule I.”

May 18, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

More on the "ag-tech revolution" being spurred by legalized cannabis crops

In this post from a few weeks ago, I was promped by an article about the Tesla battery and marijuana cultivation to ask this question is a post title: "Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?".  Continuing with the theme of innovations for ganja growing is this fascinating new article via the International Business Times headlined "Legal Marijuana Cultivation Is Driving A Technology 'Revolution' In Industrial Agriculture." Here are excerpts:

[A] growing number of companies in North America [are] designing new products and systems specifically for the cultivation of cannabis, a finicky crop that needs a precise balance of light, moisture and water to thrive. Although these cannabis ventures aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel -- greenhouse technologies have existed for decades -- they are injecting the kinds of capital and brainpower into the field of industrial agriculture that simply wasn’t there a decade ago.

They’re also adding a new level of urgency. As more countries and U.S. states soften their policies on both medical and recreational marijuana, companies are racing to become the industry leaders in data-mining software, ultraefficient lamps and water-sipping irrigation systems. These tools will benefit more than marijuana growers alone: Industrial food producers and tree growers could adapt the same technologies to cut energy costs and boost their crops. Operators of large buildings could use the systems to lower their electricity use.

“Cannabis is spurring on an ag-tech revolution,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of ArcView Group, a cannabis-industry research firm in Oakland, California. “This is a boom born entirely out of ending repressive laws. The market is already there, it’s just moving from the shadows into the light. That’s why you’re seeing this incredible growth and why so many people see it as a once-in-a-lifetime [business] opportunity.”

That market is rapidly expanding in the U.S., where 23 states have already legalized medical marijuana, and three states -- Alaska, Colorado and Washington -- allow recreational-marijuana sales. Voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure last fall that allows for personal pot use and limited cultivation. The policy takes effect July 1. In Texas, Ohio, Nebraska and a number of other states, voters and policymakers are considering similar initiatives. (In Canada, medical-marijuana use was legalized in 2001, and recent policy changes are enabling a rise in industrial growing operations.)....

Companies such as Heliostat are moving into the cannabis space for three key reasons -- first and foremost, cash. Unlike tomato and pepper producers, cannabis growers boast wide profit margins, giving them a bigger budget for top-of-the-line technologies and a greater appetite for research and experimentation....

Second, young technology whizzes and expert plant biologists are both bringing their skills to the burgeoning sector. “For the newer generation that’s just getting out of college or new to the workplace, cannabis is a more interesting project than say a real-estate project, or a lettuce project,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 Inc., a Chicago consulting firm for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. “The cool factor can drive innovation.”

Third, there is plenty of demand among growers. As they build new greenhouses and indoor facilities, they’re interested in shaving off as much electricity and water consumption as possible to reduce operating expenses and protect profit margins as more players enter the market.

Dayton of ArcView Group said the cannabis industry is still in the earliest stages of its technology “renaissance,” and that the only thing holding it back are prohibitive marijuana policies in certain states.

Even so, the gradual easing of cannabis laws is already drawing interest from mainstream businesses, including a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. The company’s Hawthorne Gardening Co. in April purchased General Hydroponics Inc. and Bio-Organic Solutions Inc., which make liquid nutrients for indoor marijuana cultivation. Terms were not disclosed, but the acquisition should make Scotts, with its $2.97 billion in annual revenue, a formidable player in the marijuana market.

Prior related post:

Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?

May 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

"New Challenge for Police: Finding Pot in Lollipops and Marshmallows"

Images (5)The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times article, which includes these excerpts:

After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures — dry green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often double­bagged to smother the distinctive scent. But these days, Chief Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: lollipops and marshmallows.

Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds of marijuanalaced cookies and small hard candies shaped like gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for making more. The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, Chief Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused with the marijuana butter and heat­sealed into their bags....

Across the country, law enforcement agencies long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now wrestling with a surge in marijuana­-infused snacks and confections transported illegally across state lines for resale.

Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home­baked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neon­colored drinks as potential dope.

Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many consumers, particularly adolescents, who are ill prepared for the deceptively slow high. Impatient novices can easily eat too much too fast, suffering anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. Already, young children have eaten laced sweets left within reach. Many live in states where there has been no public education about responsible consumption of marijuana.

“Citizens in nonlegalization states are far less likely to be receiving those messages, so their risks are probably greater,” said Robert J. MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently co­wrote an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine urging stronger regulation of pot edibles.

There are no hard numbers for the amount of pot edibles being trafficked interstate, but police departments in a variety of jurisdictions without legal sales report seizing increasing amounts in the past year. The quantities suggest the products are intended to supply a growing demand, law enforcement officials say....

The popularity of confections laced with marijuana has caught many health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first year of recreational sales in Colorado, when nearly five million individual items were sold to patients and adult users. Demand in Colorado and Washington State has spawned a stunning assortment of snacks and sweets, from Mondo’s sugar­free vegan bars to Dixie Edibles’ white chocolate peppermint squares.

Today consumers 21 and older can legally buy pot edibles in those two states; soon adults in Oregon and Alaska will join them. Pot edibles are available to medical users in at least a half dozen of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs.

Edibles make sense for marijuana entrepreneurs. In the past, marijuana buds were sold, and the rest of the plant was usually discarded. But with an extraction machine, makers of edible products can use the entire plant. “In a world where THC becomes inexpensive, you would like to differentiate your product from other people’s products in ways that allow you to maintain a higher profit margin,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a co­author of “Marijuana Legalization,” who has studied black markets for cocaine and marijuana. “Edibles offer some opportunities for that.”...

The manufacturers themselves say they receive constant requests for outof­state shipments. James Howler, the chief executive of Cheeba Chews, based in Denver, said his team fields emails from people nationwide — from epilepsy patients in Iowa to a retired mechanic in Florida, all of whom would rather snack on marijuana than smoke it.

“The needs and curiosity from around the country can be overwhelming,” he said. Still, Mr. Howler said, he declines them all. “It is highly illegal, and stupid to think we would risk everything,” he said.

May 17, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pot politics stirring Ohio's political pot as 2015 ballot proposal marches forward

Ohio_marijuana_leaf_20130517213951_640_480One of many reasons I am a huge fan of ballot initiatives proposing marijuana reform (and really of all direct democracy movements) is because these kind of single-issue initiatives enable and often require political figures to take a concrete stand on specific issues that matter to voters.  That reality is on full display this morning in my own Columbus Dispatch, which has two notable new articles about marijuana reform reporting notable new comments and efforts by notable Ohio political figures:

Headline: "P.G. Sittenfeld supports marijuana legalization proposal"

Excerpt:  

Sittenfeld [a 30-year-old Cincinnati City Council member in the race for US Senator]  made ... news by announcing his support for the ResponsibleOhio’s for-profit plan to legalize marijuana and amend Ohio’s constitution to allow 10 investor-owned marijuana-growing sites across the state. The group is well on its way to gathering enough petition signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

Sittenfeld said he has long advocated “getting rid of old and broken laws” that allow billions of dollars to flow to “brutal drug dealers and cartels” when it could be used for building roads and bridges. He favors “decriminalization, legalization and tight regulation” of marijuana.

His stance places him at odds with both Strickland — the former governor who backs legalizing only medicinal marijuana — and Portman, who opposes full legalization.

“What I support is a whole different approach with regard to drug use, and that is spending less money on the prosecution and incarceration side and more money on prevention and education, which I know works,” Portman said on Thursday on his weekly media call.

Headline: "Dave Yost wants to make it harder for special interests to amend constitution"

Excerpt:

As state officials realize that marijuana legalization is likely to appear on the fall ballot, state Auditor Dave Yost is urging lawmakers to make it harder for “special interest” issues to make it into the Ohio Constitution.  Yost unveiled his idea Thursday at a meeting of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission.

May 15, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Marijuana Prohibition Is Unscientific, Unconstitutional, And Unjust"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Jacob Sullum commentary at Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

[N]o one should pretend that marijuana prohibition was carefully considered or that it was driven by science, as opposed to ignorance and blind prejudice.  It is hard to rationally explain why Congress, less than four years after Americans had emphatically rejected alcohol prohibition, thought it was a good idea to ban a recreational intoxicant that is considerably less dangerous.

It is relatively easy, for example, to die from acute alcohol poisoning, since the ratio of the lethal dose to the dose that gives you a nice buzz is about 10 to 1.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,200 Americans die from alcohol overdoses each year.  By contrast, there has never been a documented human death from a marijuana overdose.  Based on extrapolations from animal studies, the ratio of the drug’s lethal dose to its effective dose is something like 40,000 to 1.

There is also a big difference between marijuana and alcohol when it comes to the long-term effects of excessive consumption.  Alcoholics suffer gross organ damage of a kind that is not seen even in the heaviest pot smokers, affecting the liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach.  The CDC attributes more than 38,000 deaths a year to three dozen chronic conditions caused or aggravated by alcohol abuse.

Another 12,500 alcohol-related deaths in the CDC’s tally occur in traffic accidents, and marijuana also has an advantage on that score.  Although laboratory studies indicate that marijuana can impair driving ability, its effects are not nearly as dramatic as alcohol’s.  In fact, marijuana’s impact on traffic safety is so subtle that it is difficult to measure in the real world....

Even if marijuana prohibition were consistent with science and the Constitution, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of morality.  It is patently unfair to treat marijuana merchants like criminals while treating liquor dealers like legitimate businessmen, especially in light of the two drugs’ relative hazards.  It is equally perverse to arrest cannabis consumers while leaving drinkers unmolested.

Peaceful activities such as growing a plant or selling its produce cannot justify the violence that is required to enforce prohibition.  In the name of stopping people from getting high, police officers routinely commit acts that would be universally recognized as assault, burglary, theft, kidnapping, and even murder were it not for laws that draw arbitrary lines between psychoactive substances.

May 14, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Notable Ohio county prosecutor calls pot prohibition a "disastrous waste of public funds"

Images (9)As reported in this Cincinnati Enquirer article, headlined "Prosecutor Deters OK with legalizing pot," a high-profile prosecutor in Ohio is now publicly getting involved with efforts to reform the state's marijuana laws. Here are the details:

The campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio found an unlikely friend Monday in Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Deters, a life-long Republican and law-and-order prosecutor, said he agreed to lead a task force on the potential impact of legalization in part because he's been unhappy for years with the state's marijuana laws. He said they waste taxpayer dollars and target people who typically are not much of a threat to society.

"I think they're outdated and ludicrous," Deters said of marijuana laws. "I don't use marijuana, but I know people who do use marijuana, and I'd rather deal with someone who smoked a joint than someone who drank a bottle of vodka any day of the week."

When asked if he favors legalization, Deters told The Enquirer: "I don't have any problem with it at all."

ResponsibleOhio, the group of wealthy investors campaigning for legalization, asked Deters to lead the task force. Deters said he's not being paid for his work on the task force and agreed to do it because he's interested in the issue and the potential impact on law enforcement.

He said finding an affordable and efficient way to test drivers who are suspected of being impaired by marijuana use is one of his concerns. "There is a public safety element to this," Deters said. His goal is to produce a report on the impact of legalization within a few months....

Deters said he doesn't buy the argument that prisons are filled with low-level drug offenders, but he does think the time and money devoted to marijuana enforcement could be better spent elsewhere. "It's been a disastrous waste of public funds," Deters said....

Deters said he's not taking a position on ResponsibleOhio's proposed business model, but he said it makes sense for the state to regulate and tax marijuana. "You can walk outside your building and buy marijuana in 10 minutes," Deters said. "The question is, do we want schools and local governments getting the money or the bad guys?"

He said it's also wise for the state to prepare for legalization, whether or not ResponsibleOhio succeeds, because voters seem more willing to support it and other states are adopting similar measures. "The days of 'reefer madness' are gone, because that's not the reality," Deters said, referring to the 1950s-era movies that vilified marijuana and those who used it.

He said he's reaching out now to academics, elected officials and law enforcement to participate in the task force.

I have long known and respected the work of Joe Deters, even though we have sometimes disagreed on various professional matters through our work on the Ohio Death Penalty Task Force and in other settings.  I had heard from various folks involved with the ResponsibleOhio campaign that they were seeking to have a prominent, knowledgeable person running a task force to examine these important marijuana reform topics, and I am especially pleased to see that Joe Deters is now officially and publicly at the helm.

May 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disconcerting data show problems and persistence of "racial grass gap" in Chicago

Download (1)This important Chicago Reader article by Mick Dumke spotlights issues at the intersection of marijuana reform and racial/social justice that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The piece is headlined "Will marijuana decriminalization end the racial grass gap?: As the politics of pot shift, questions of justice remain," and merits a full read for anyone interested in these issues. Here are excerpts:

Many cannabis enthusiasts saw it as another reason to light up: in a span of three days, the Cook County state's attorney and the Illinois house both took steps to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.

But in some parts of Chicago, people were still getting busted for pot. Police made at least 212 arrests for misdemeanor possession that week, a rate of 30 per day, according to Chicago police data. More than 90 percent were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Amid a national debate on race and the criminal justice system, the politics of pot are clearly blowing in a new direction. Simply put, it's no longer wise for an elected official to call for cracking down on low-level drug offenses. But the shift has also created a jumble of laws and policies that continue to send some people to jail for the same behavior that's overlooked, laughed off, or even celebrated for others.

It's the latest incarnation of what the Reader calls the grass gap: while people smoke marijuana all over Chicago — and Illinois, and beyond — almost everyone busted for it is black.

Ending this racial imbalance has become a top goal of elected officials and policymakers who see it as emblematic of the failed war on drugs. "Anything that takes a meaningful step toward not trapping black and brown men like myself in a cycle of poverty and prison, I'm behind," says state representative Christian Mitchell, a chief sponsor of the house bill to loosen pot penalties.

So far, though, the gap has remained stubbornly in place. In 2011 my colleague Ben Joravsky and I reported that African-Americans accounted for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Chicago, leaving thousands with criminal records for doing something that routinely went unpunished in other parts of the city.

Citing those findings, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 to go easier on some pot possessors. Under the new rules, police officers were allowed to issue tickets to those caught with up to 15 grams (about half an ounce) instead of hauling them to the station to be booked and locked up.

The measure succeeded in reducing busts. In 2010, police made more than 22,000 arrests for misdemeanor possession. Last year the total fell to about 12,800, the lowest in two decades, according to police data. Yet the grass gap hardly budged. In 2014, 76 percent of those arrested for low-level pot possession were black, 19 percent were Hispanic, and 5 percent were white — almost exactly the same breakdown as before the new rules were enacted.

Disparities existed almost everywhere in the city, even in areas with relatively small black populations. African-Americans accounted for a majority of pot possession arrests in all but 97 of the city's 268 police beats. In contrast, though more whites live in Chicago, they made up the majority of arrests in only 13 beats — and in ten of those, fewer than ten people were arrested.

Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, points to the drop in total arrests as a sign of the department's commitment to making enforcement "even more effective and fair." "The City's cannabis ticketing initiative has already kept thousands out of jail," he wrote in an e-mail. Unfortunately, thousands are still going there.

After being arrested, offenders are held in police lockup for hours. Many are then transferred to the county jail before they're given a court date and released. Most misdemeanor marijuana cases are eventually thrown out of court at the discretion of prosecutors and judges. Those that move forward usually involve repeat offenders, but not always. People who've spent a day or two behind bars often plead guilty in return for a sentence of the time they've already served.

All told, 1,263 misdemeanor marijuana cases resulted in jail time last year in Cook County, according to data from the circuit court clerk's office. In almost all of these cases — 84 percent — the defendants were African-American.

In short, while pot has essentially been decriminalized for some people, it still lands others behind bars. And in addition to being unfair, the system is expensive. These misdemeanor pot cases cost county taxpayers approximately $38 million in court and jail expenses in 2014....

Cops say the grass gap is the result of aggressive patrols in high-crime neighborhoods. Officers charged with reducing violence pull people aside for interviews — Chicago's version of stop and frisk. While arrests consume two to four hours of an officer's time, police say they can also be useful in leveraging drug sellers and gang members for information, or simply getting them off the street for awhile.

When low-level possession is decriminalized, police will probably issue more tickets — but even then African-Americans will bear the brunt of enforcement. That's what's happened in Chicago. As marijuana arrests fell, the number of cannabis citations shot up from 1,074 in 2013 to 4,032 in 2014, police data show. And the vast majority — 78 percent — were issued to African-Americans. Just 16 percent went to Hispanics and 5 percent to whites.

When possible, cops will arrest offenders on different charges — such as possessing more than 15 grams, or possessing with the intent to deliver, the formal charge for dealing. Police, prosecutors, and politicians acknowledge that decriminalization won't address the economic roots of the grass gap either. Many of those prosecuted in the last couple years are repeat offenders who appear to have been selling to make money, according to police reports and court records.

A few prior posts on racial justice and marijuana reform:

May 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Highlighting the high taxes facing those in the legal business of marijuana highs

DownloadThis New York Times article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Faces Another Federal Hurdle: Taxes," highlights the headaches that tax realities pose for state-legal marijuana regimes. Here are excerpts:

The country’s rapidly growing marijuana industry has a tax problem.  Even as more states embrace legal marijuana, shops say they are being forced to pay crippling federal income taxes because of a decades­-old law aimed at preventing drug dealers from claiming their smuggling costs and couriers as business expenses on their tax returns.

Congress passed that law in 1982 after a cocaine and methamphetamine dealer in Minneapolis who had been jailed on drug charges went to tax court to argue that the money he spent on travel, phone calls, packaging and even a small scale should be considered tax write-­offs.  The provision, still enforced by the I.R.S., bans all tax credits and deductions from “the illegal trafficking in drugs.”

Marijuana business owners say it prevents them from deducting their rent, employee salaries or utility bills, forcing them to pay taxes on a far larger amount of income than non-­marijuana businesses with the same earnings and costs.  They also say the taxes, which apply to medical and recreational sellers alike, are stunting their hiring, or even threatening to drive them out of business.

The issue reveals a growing chasm between the 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow medical or recreational marijuana and the federal bureaucracy, which includes national forests in Colorado where possession is a federal crime, federally regulated banks that turn away marijuana businesses and the halls of the I.R.S.

While President Obama and top federal officials have allowed states to pursue legalization, marijuana advocates say the dissonance between increasingly permissive state laws and federal prohibitions is creating a morass of complications and uncertainty.  The tax rule, an obscure provision referred to as 280E, catches many marijuana entrepreneurs by surprise, often in the form of an audit notice from the I.R.S. Some marijuana businesses in Colorado, California and other marijuana-­friendly states have challenged the I.R.S. in tax court....

A normal business, for example, might pay a 30 percent federal rate on its taxable income, which would represent its gross income minus deductible business expenses.  A marijuana business, on the other hand, might pay the same federal rate on all of its gross income because it cannot take these deductions.  The difference can raise the rate on a marijuana business to 70 percent or more of its profits....

Colorado and a handful of other states have changed their tax laws to let legal marijuana businesses take deductions on their state returns.  And this month, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats of Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana last year, introduced legislation that would allow marijuana businesses that are following their states’ legalization laws to take regular deductions on their federal returns.  “It’s affecting thousands of businesses, and it’s doubling, tripling, quadrupling their taxes,” Mr. Blumenauer said. “It just cripples them.”  The current system, he said, encourages marijuana sellers to file tax returns that do not follow the law and simply hope the I.R.S. does not spot them....

Accountants and tax lawyers, who are inundated with calls from marijuana shops these days, say the rules are murky and make little sense.  If marijuana retailers dedicate parts of their stores to yoga, drug education or selling non-­drug merchandise, can they deduct part of their rent? If employees split their time between cleaning the store and selling marijuana, are their salaries partly deductible?

“There’s no clear direction,” said Scott Levy, an accountant in Arizona who said that marijuana sellers made up about one-­fifth of his business.  “You find all these weird little strategies that people use to try to parse the definitions.”

Oddly, accountants said, one expense that marijuana retailers can easily take off their taxes is the marijuana itself.  The wording of the tax laws and their interpretation since states began to legalize medical marijuana has allowed businesses to deduct the expenses of wholesale marijuana or growing the plant, from the price of the seeds or baby plants to the water and growing lights needed to produce it.  Only when retailers go to sell those buds, brownies or marijuana-­infused drinks do the tax restrictions kick in.

May 10, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)