Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, October 21, 2016

New poll finds majority of Arizonans support state's marijuana legalization initiative

With just over two weeks until Election Day, Arizonans are poised to approve the state's ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for anyone 21 years old or older. According to the most recent poll by The Arizona Republic et al., 50 percent of registered voters continue to support the legalization measure. The Republic reports:

Despite a barrage of TV ads warning Arizona voters of the potential consequences of legalizing marijuana, about half of those surveyed in a new poll support creation of a system to tax and regulate sales of the drug.


The Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll found 50 percent of the registered voters surveyed favor Proposition 205, which would legalize the drug for adults. Nearly 42 percent oppose it. And another 8 percent were undecided. The statewide telephone poll surveyed 779 registered voters between Oct. 10 and Oct. 15. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.


With early voting underway, public attitudes about the measure remain largely unchanged since the organizations' August poll. This despite millions of dollars in spending by both sides. The August survey found 50 percent of registered voters favored legalization, 40 percent opposed it, and 10 percent were undecided...


Public opinion pollster Mike O'Neil, who reviewed the poll, said the survey offers "substantial evidence" Prop 205 will pass.


"It seems that they've dug in on this one," O'Neil said of voters. "People have had time to think about it, they've had time to digest it, they've gotten the (campaign) messages they're going to get and the campaigns have made their best shots with advertising messages.


"This suggests to me a strong probability that people have tended to make up their minds on this," he added. "For the 8 percent who say they don’t know — a lot of those won’t vote and a lot of them that do may pass on this question."

October 21, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legal weed coming soon to the Garden State?

The question in the title of this post comes from this local article reporting that state lawmakers in New Jersey plan to push to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2018. Current Gov. Chris Chris Christie has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, but term limits prevent him from retaining the office. Preparing for a more marijuana-friendly environment in Trenton after Christie's gone, several state lawmakers to a trip to Colorado to see how legalization has been working out; and, according to the article, they were impressed: 

ImagesLegalized marijuana could be "a game-changer" for New Jersey's economy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Thursday, declaring his intent to help change the law as soon as the next governor takes office in 2018.


Fresh off their trip to Colorado to see how the legal marijuana industry works, Sweeney and a group of state lawmakers told reporters Thursday they were impressed with how regulated, safe and profitable this new cash crop has been for the Rocky Mountain state.


The law won't change while Gov. Chris Christie remains in office. The Republican governor has vowed to veto a legalization bill, and has said he suspects that medical marijuana, legal since the day before he took office in 2010, is a back-door path to recreational pot. Christie's term expires in January 2018.


Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who led the delegation to Denver and Boulder from Saturday to Wednesday, said recreational marijuana has created nearly 29,000 jobs, revitalized the economy of some struggling blue-collar towns and reduced the number of drug possession arrests by about 80 percent. 


Colorado state officials have reported that $135 million in tax revenue was generated by the medical and recreational marijuana programs combined in 2015...


"And, the sky hasn't fallen," added Scutari, the sponsor of a bill legalizing cannabis sales and possession. "These are neighborhoods you would be proud to say you represented or lived in."


Sweeney, (D-Gloucester) may have been even more enthused about the trip, which included meetings with public health officials and lawmakers business owners, and visits to dispensaries and manufacturers.


"I was on board before we went, but I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It's safe, it's well managed. Colorado has done an amazing job," Sweeney said.


"This is a game changer for the state," he continued. "I'm committed to it. We are going to have a new governor in January 2018. As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it."


Phil Murphy, the only Democrat who has announced he is running for governor next year, has publicly said he support marijuana legalization.


Scutari said when he introduces the marijuana legalization bill, he will look to merge the regulation of the recreation and existing medicinal program, which serves about 9,500 people, according to the state Health Department.


He would eliminate the sales tax on medicinal sales, noting that no other medicine is taxed. Scutari predicted once recreational marijuana is available, the exorbitant cost of an ounce of cannabis – about $500 – would drop. An ounce in Denver cost about $250, the lawmakers said.

Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have legalization initiatives on the ballot this November, and polls show each of those initiatives is likely to pass. If that happens, more than a quarter of the country will live where it is legal to use marijuana recreationally, which experts expect will increase the pressure on the federal government to end marijuana prohibition. Still, after California, New Jersey would be the second most populous state to legalize recreational marijuana use, which would be a nice feather in the cap for legalization advocates at a time when interest in marijuana policy and politics is peaking nationally.

October 21, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Why marijuana opposition is so effective in liberal Mass."

On November 8, five states will consider legalizing recreational marijuana use--Arizona, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. While polls show majorities favor legalization in each state, the opposition has perhaps had the most success in a surprising place--Massachusetts. Joel Warner examines the battle over legalization there in this lengthy piece in The Boston Globe, writing in part: 

DownloadMassachusetts may have seemed like a legalization shoo-in, but that’s not how things have been working out. After several early 2016 polls showed the pro side with a considerable lead, polls in May and July suggested a majority of voters opposed legalization and, until recently, online betting markets gave Question 4 less chance of winning than nearly all marijuana measures being tracked nationwide. While surveys over the past two months have given Question 4 a better shot at victory, don’t count out the opposition just yet. Massachusetts-born casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch marijuana opponent, recently donated $1 million to fight passage of Question 4...


Around the United States, dozens of efforts to pass pro-marijuana initiatives have faced opposition from elected officials. But only in Massachusetts has a group of a state’s top brass joined together, across party lines, to formally oppose a legalization campaign.


The broadside began in March, when Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey co-authored a joint Boston Globe op-ed opposing legalization. A month later, Baker and Walsh launched their anti-Question 4 Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. Eventually, Healey and more than 120 elected officials and 15 statewide organizations joined with the group.


The legalization campaign, which had until then enjoyed a year of favorable polling, took a big hit almost immediately. In April, one poll had voters supporting legalization by a 57 to 35 percent margin. But a month later, a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll reported respondents opposing it 46 to 43 percent. Two months later, the opposition’s lead grew even wider: 51 to 41 percent.


Question 4’s sizable and unprecedented opposition could be in part happenstance, says Kris Krane, president of the Boston cannabis consulting and operations firm 4Front Ventures. “You have a governor who has very strong ties to the treatment community from his ties to health care,” he says. “And you have the mayor of Boston who is a recovering alcoholic and very anti-drug.” (4Front Ventures donates office space to the Yes on 4 campaign and has given it more than $35,000.)


Then there’s the state’s opioid crisis, which claimed more than 1,500 lives in 2015. Baker pledged to make combating addiction a top priority, working closely with Walsh and Healey last year to craft an opioid-control law — with a coalition in place to stop one kind of drug, the three then also opposed the legalization of another. “As we are addressing the opiate crisis, now is not the time to introduce an entirely new drug market,” says Corey Welford, spokesman for the campaign...


The Yes on 4 campaign argues that marijuana reform could actually help address the opioid epidemic. They point to studies that suggest that physicians prescribe fewer pain pills in states with legalized medical marijuana and that opioid overdose deaths are 25 percent lower in those locales. But when the state’s top officials and health experts link marijuana and opiate deaths, folks are bound to listen.


The legalization movement’s first response to its formidable opposition didn’t help. In Colorado, marijuana advocates made hay from the fact that Governor John Hickenlooper had once cofounded a brewery. The day after Walsh and Baker launched their campaign, the MPP-backed Yes on 4 team tried a similar approach, unveiling a sign depicting the two officials — who had supported additional Boston liquor licenses and longer bar operating hours — saying, “Our health policy: Drink more alcohol!” In the face of widespread criticism, particularly in light of  Walsh’s status as a recovering alcoholic, Luzier and Borghesani quickly apologized and scrapped the sign.


It was a hint that the MPP’s top-down approach to legalization campaigns might not work amid the deeply personal politics of Massachusetts...


Along the way, Massachusetts legalizers might have lost their ability to fully leverage one of their big arguments: that cannabis should be treated like booze. Originally, their initiative was titled the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, as similar MPP-backed efforts are called in Maine, Nevada, and Arizona. But by August, the Massachusetts campaign was known simply as Yes on 4.


Daunting adversaries aren’t the legalization campaign’s only problem. There’s also the lack of unified support from those who are supposedly on its side...


Even medical-marijuana advocates are struggling with Question 4. The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which supports the 36,000-plus medical-marijuana patients statewide, is remaining neutral. That’s partly because the organization doesn’t want to jeopardize its relationships with public health officials, says the Alliance’s executive director Nichole Snow. But it’s also because in other states recreational marijuana has had a way of eclipsing patient needs. “The marijuana industry has great potential for crowding out advocacy groups,” Snow says. “Business interests are going to outnumber the patients. I have already seen it happen.”


Earlier this year, Washington state shut down nearly all its roughly 1,500 medical dispensaries, forcing most medical marijuana patients to buy their cannabis, at a slightly discounted price, from recreational shops. Even if Massachusetts didn’t go the same route after legalization, market forces could have the same effect. Legalization “slows the growth of medical markets,” a recent analysis by a cannabis investor network concluded. But though that’s bad for medical marijuana investors, it can be good for consumers, who benefit from falling prices and broader selection amid the competition.

Despite these obstacles to legalization, the likelihood that Bay Staters will be free to legally light up in the near future is good. Recent polls show a majority of likely voters support legalization in the state; according to one poll, support for legalization has grown from 50 percent in September to 55 percent this month, increasing the polling advantage for the question's supporters from 5 to 15 percent.  

October 21, 2016 in Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Disappointingly, New York Times editorial board tepidly notes how "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots"

Detail_of_a_new_york_times_advertisement_1895More than two years ago, as first reported here, this seemingly historic new New York Times editorial called for the legalization of marijuana under the bold headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again." At the time, I had thought this action by the Gray Lady's editorial board would mean that the marijuana reform movement would have a high-profile and powerful media champion and advocate.

Disappointingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), while the NY Times editorial board has been a a high-profile and powerful media voice on a number of other modern criminal justice reform issues, the Times editorial pages has been anything but bold (and has often just been silent) in the last two years on a wide range of notable state and federal marijuana reform issues. In 2016, for example, which has arguably been the most significant year (and after this election will be surely the most consequential year) in the modern history of the reform of state and federal marijuana laws (and which the New York Times has covered extensively as news), the NY Times editorial board until this week had put forward only one single editorial advocating for marijuana reforms.  (In telling contrast, the NY Times editorial board has had at least a dozen editorials advocating against forcefully capital punishment in 2016. )

 I would think that if the editorial board was still truly committed to its advocacy in 2014 that the US should "Repeal Prohibition, Again," that it would be saying a whole lot more on this topic during this critical year.  Against that backdrop, I am disappointed (but I suppose not too surprised) that this new New York Times editorial headlined "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots" is marked more by reporting than by advocacy. Here are excerpts:

People in nine states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts, will vote Nov. 8 on ballot proposals permitting recreational or medical use of marijuana. These initiatives could give a big push to legalization, prompting the next president and Congress to overhaul the country’s failed drug laws. This is a big moment for what was a fringe movement a few years ago. A Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000 and 12 percent in 1969.

The drive to end prohibition comes after decades in which marijuana laws led to millions of people being arrested and tens of thousands sent to prison, a vast majority of whom never committed any violent crimes. These policies have had a particularly devastating effect on minority communities. Federal and state governments have spent untold billions of dollars on enforcement, money that could have been much better spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

So far, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 25 states permit medical use. A recent Cato Institute study found that the states that have legalized recreational use have so far had no meaningful uptick in the use of marijuana by teenagers, or other negative consequences predicted by opponents. For example, in Colorado, drug-related expulsions and suspensions from schools have gone down in recent years. There has been no spike in drug-related traffic accidents and fatalities in Colorado or Washington.

On Election Day, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will consider proposals to allow recreational use. In California, which approved medical use in 1996, polls show that the measure is likely to win. In Massachusetts, a recent poll showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting legalization. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, residents will vote on medical marijuana. If Florida voters say yes, other Southern states that have been resistant to liberalizing drug laws could reconsider their prohibitions, too.

Passage of these proposals should increase pressure on the federal government to change how it treats marijuana. The Obama administration has chosen not to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states like Colorado and Washington. But this bizarre situation can’t last — even as more states legalize the drug, state-licensed marijuana businesses remain criminal operations under federal law. Even if they are not prosecuted by the federal government, this conflict in their legal status creates immense problems....

States are driving the change in marijuana policy because they see the damage created by draconian drug laws on communities, families and state budgets. It’s time the federal government acknowledged these costs and got out of the way of states adopting more rational laws.

When I saw the headline for this editorial --- which, as I suggested before, seems to be mostly a report of reality and fails to do much editorializing --- I at least expected it to mention and link to the New York Times' prior 2014 editorial calling for the US to "Repeal Prohibition, Again." I do not believe that the New York Times has changed its editorial stance on this front, but they seem now almost intent to make sure nobody remembers their bold advocacy two years ago.

Moreover, this "editorial," while seemingly eager to note that "negative consequences predicted by opponents" of reform have not materialized, entirely fails to note or highlights that all of the positive consequences predicted by supporters of marijuana reform have come to pass: huge new tax revenues are being collected, economic development has been considerable, arrest rates have gone down dramatically, and adults have safe and legal access to their preferred medicine or recreational drug. Simply saying at the end here that the federal government should get "out of the way of states adopting more rational laws" (which the Obama Administration has largely done, though Congress could and should do it more formally) is about the weakest tea support for reform I could imagine.

I suppose that when a paper's nickname is the "Gray Lady," I was foolish to expect or hope it would act or advocate like even a young smart conservative advocate (whom polls show support medical marijuana reform 10 to 1 and full marijuana reform 3 to 1). Still, I feel now as though the 2014 editorial headline really should have been "Repeal Prohibition, Again.... but do not expect the Gray Lady to really try to help make that happen anytime soon."

October 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Gallup poll finds record high support for marijuana legalization

Uu5e1ycj_kqf1dim_mvmewThis new Gallup item, headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S," details the results of its latest annual poll on marijuana opinion.  Here are the highlights:

With voters in several states deciding this fall whether to legalize the use of marijuana, public support for making it legal has reached 60% -- its highest level in Gallup's 47-year trend....

When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana use.  In the late 1970s, support rose to 28% but began to retreat in the 1980s during the era of the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign.  Support stayed in the 25% range through 1995, but increased to 31% in 2000 and has continued climbing since then.

In 2013, support for legalization reached a majority for the first time after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  Since then, a majority of Americans have continued to say they think the use of marijuana should be made legal.  Today's 60% is statistically similar to the previous high of 58% reached in 2013 and 2015, so it is unclear whether support has stabilized or is continuing to inch higher.

Support for legalizing marijuana use has increased among most subgroups in the past decade, but more so among certain groups than others.  For example, support is up 33 percentage points to 77% among adults aged 18 to 34, while it is up 16 points among adults aged 55 and older to 45%....

Additionally, support is up more among independents and Democrats than it is among Republicans, partly because of the older age skew of the last group.  Seventy percent of independents and 67% of Democrats support legal pot use, a major increase since the combined survey of 2003 and 2005 when 46% of independents and 38% of Democrats supported the idea.  While less than a majority of members in any political party backed legalizing marijuana in 2003 and 2005, Democrats and independents have fueled the recent nationwide surge in support. Republicans' support has doubled from more than a decade ago, yet only 42% of GOP members now support legal marijuana use.

If recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California this year, many other states will likely follow, because the "Golden State" often sets political trends for the rest of the U.S. As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal.  The transformation in public attitudes about marijuana over the past half-century has mirrored the liberalization of public attitudes about gay rights and the same-sex-marriage movement, the latter of which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed legal last year. It is possible that it might take a Supreme Court case to settle this matter, too.

October 19, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest polling in Massachusetts shows notable uptick in support for full marijuana legalization ballot initiative

Ballot-question-shift-1000x579In part because all prominent political leaders throughout Massachusetts, both Democrats and Republicans, have come out strongly opposed to the state's marijuana reform initiative, I had come to expect that the state's ballot initiative would end up going down to defeat this fall.  But this new article, headlined "WBUR Poll: Support Increases For Legalizing Marijuana In Mass," suggests that politicians opposition to the initiative might be driving the public to support it more. Here are the details (with links from the original):

A new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs) finds support for the legalization of marijuana is up among likely Massachusetts voters.  Fifty-five percent of likely voters now say they favor allowing adults to use recreational marijuana, which is the subject of Question 4 on the November ballot.

When WBUR last polled on legalizing marijuana, last month, the gap was narrower, with 50 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. That 5-point gap has now grown to 15 points, with 55 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.  "This one follows a long string of polls which shows the marijuana question with the 'yes' side leading by somewhere between the mid-single digits and the mid-double digits," said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey for WBUR.

James Carroll, of Hopkinton, is among those who favor legalizing marijuana.  "People should have a choice in what they do and don't do," he said. "Liquor's legal. It didn't use to be legal."

Koczela says there's particularly broad support for letting people use marijuana at home.  "We found that almost everybody would be OK with the idea of people using marijuana in their homes — 84 percent said no, that that would not bother them," Koczela said. "When you ask, though, about using marijuana in public, only a third said that that would be OK with them."  And 64 percent say it would bother them.

"I do have a concern about people taking it and then driving," said Carol Yankauskas, of Falmouth.

Most oppose advertising for marijuana in their community. Fifty-one percent of likely voters say it would bother them if marijuana businesses advertised in public places in their community.  Susan Brownstein, of Westhampton, on the other hand, said it's fine.  "We advertise alcohol," she pointed out. "We don't want our children to drink. We advertise Cialis, for goodness's sake, during prime-time, when little kids are watching television. This is way more benign."

There is, however, support for stores selling marijuana.  Fifty-nine percent of respondents say it would not bother them if a store selling recreational marijuana opened in their community.

Nearly half the respondents (49 percent) say they have tried marijuana.  Of those who have tried it, an overwhelming majority, 72 percent, support legalization.

October 19, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highlighting why innovation can (and will?) be the face of the marijuana industry

This new C/Net article, headlined "​Innovation is the budding theme at marijuana summit: Everything from high-tech advancements in edible weed to big-data analysis can be seen at this year's New West Summit in San Francisco," highlights why so many interesting folks find the futue of the marijuana industry so interesting.  Here are excerpts: 

The New West Summit at the Hyatt hotel in downtown San Francisco looked similar to other business conferences held there throughout the year. Men and women in business suits hurried around, people huddled in corners talking shop, and unembellished booths showed off varied graphs and charts.

But every once in a while, conference goers got hit with a strong waft of marijuana. That's because this summit was all about weed. At their booths, companies displayed glass urns filled with buds, cannabis-laced chocolate bars and different kinds of vape pens and bongs. Yet among the firms touting this typical pot paraphernalia, there were other kinds of businesses dealing in marijuana: tech startups.

"This plant has been illegal and underground since the invention of technology," said Steve DeAngelo, founder and CEO of Harborside, one of the world's largest medical cannabis dispensaries. "This conference represents the intersection of Bay Area startup culture and cannabis."...

By 2020, New Frontier forecasts, the industry will be worth $20.5 billion (and some estimates put that figure a lot higher). That type of escalation makes the weed business one of the fasting-growing industries in the US. It's no wonder startups are getting into the game.

A meander around the New West Summit gives a sense of where the business side of the industry is heading. There's Grownetics, for instance, which uses a machine-learning algorithm to help farmers grow bigger buds more sustainably. There's Fleurish Farms, which has invented a contraption that it says captures 99.7 percent of the sun spectrum to let people grow pot plants indoors at a higher efficiency than they could in a greenhouse. "It captures the sunlight from all angles," said Fleurish Farms CEO Jonathan Cachat. "This reduces the environmental imprint of indoor cannabis production."

Even edible marijuana is seeing innovation. Besides gummies, lozenges and chocolates, some companies showed off marijuana-infused dissolvable breath strips, while others had topical sprays with exact dosing per pump. "We're coming to a point where we're starting to see edibles that are lower dosed," said Kristi Knoblich, co-founder of Kiva Confections. "It's that person that's looking for a glass of wine in the evening, that person that isn't looking to get blasted."

As the weed industry becomes more professionalized, it's caught the eye of more investors. In 2015, investors dropped $360 million into marijuana-focused startups, and so far this year they've invested $137 million, according to PitchBook, a research firm specializing in venture capital. That's a lot compared with just four years ago; in 2012 investors put only $7 million toward funding weed companies.

UPDATE:  This new Business Insider article also speaks to emerging realities in a growing legal marijuana industry, and it includes these interesting points:

The marijuana industry is growing up in front of our eyes. As drug transactions move from back alleys and clubs to legal dispensaries, the culture around pot changes. In an effort to be taken more seriously, industry insiders find more sophisticated language to describe their trade. Slang no longer has a place in the industry vernacular. Entrepreneurs tell me they much prefer the scientific name for the plant, cannabis.

In the exhibit hall, purveyors showed their wares: high-tech vaporizers from companies like Firefly and Pax Labs, a marijuana-infused health products line from Fleurish Farms, and reports from business intelligence platform Headset. I spotted few companies with names that reveal the industry they operate in, and plenty advertising health and wellbeing.

A recent investigation by the Marijuana Business Daily underlines this trend. In an analysis of over 3,000 state-licensed marijuana companies, the publication found that companies use wellness-oriented words, such as "organic" and "herbal," in their names far more often than slang. The Marijuana Business Daily did not include businesses in California and Michigan, which do not issue licenses at the state level. "Farm," "green," "leaf," "bud," "garden," and "organic" are among the most popular words used in company names.

As Marijuana Business Daily writer Eli McVey points out, this hasn't always been the case. In the mid-2000s, before Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational weed in 2012, words like "ganja" and "dank" popped up more frequently. But as the national conversation around marijuana turned to issues around public health, rather than criminalization, the industry adopted a new vernacular around wellness and healing people.

October 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Hazy Rollout of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program"

LogoThe title of this post is the title of this astute and useful review of early medicial marijuana regulatory developments in the great state of Ohio authored by two attorneys in the Benesch law firm’s Health Care & Life Sciences Practice Group.  Here is how this "client bulletin" gets started:

When Ohio House Bill 523 (HB 523) became effective on September 8, 2016, Ohio joined the company of 25 other states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. Modeled after highly restrictive regimes adopted by state legislatures in Illinois, Maryland, and New York, the Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) envisioned by HB 523 has the potential to be one of the most complex and heavily regulated medical cannabis programs in the country. HB 523 relies on a tightly controlled ‘Schedule II’ pharmaceuticalstyle regulatory framework, but the Ohio legislature left some room for flexibility in the MMCP by punting to the rulemaking process several of the toughest issues it faced, such as determining the number of licenses available under the MMCP, the cost of licenses, the geographical distribution of medical cannabis businesses, and the hurdles doctors will face in order to recommend medical cannabis to patients with qualifying medical conditions.

The ultimate functionality of the MMCP – both in terms of the opportunity for seriously ill patients to access medicine, and the opportunity for market participants to create a sustainable program to serve those patients – will be determined by the extensive rulemaking and licensure process to be carried out by the Department of Commerce, the state Pharmacy Board, and the state Medical Board over the next two years. Several early indicators, however, have begun to cast doubt on the program’s viability as written. This article recaps several recent developments in the MMCP and addresses specifically the Medical Board’s recent guidance on the “affirmative defense” provision of HB 523, the only part of the law that is currently operational.

October 16, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Exploring that as goes Massachusetts so goes New England on marijuana reform

NewEnglandThis Hartford Courant article, headlined "Massachusetts Marijuana Vote Could Mean Legalization Across New England," highlights reasons why I expect the recreational marijuana legalization initiative vote in the Bay State to have important ripple effects well beyond the state's borders. Here are excerpts from the piece:

As a multimillion dollar fight over recreational marijuana in Massachusetts races toward the finish line, both sides of the debate in Connecticut are keeping a close eye on a vote that could open the door to legalization across New England.

Massachusetts is one of five states where measures to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana will be on the ballot. Voters in Arizona, California, Maine and Nevada will also vote on the issue. An affirmative vote in Maine or Massachusetts would bring legal recreational marijuana to the region for the first time, putting new pressure on those in the state that oppose expanded marijuana use.

Jill Spineti, president and CEO of the Governor's Prevention Partnership, said her group wasn't yet willing to shift the dialogue from opposing recreational marijuana use to figuring out the best way to regulate it. At the same time she acknowledged how legal cannabis across the border would complicate that fight. "We're staying focused on opposition," Spineti said. "But I do believe that if Massachusetts approves it, it will be much harder to oppose it here."

There's also the question of people crossing the border to buy marijuana. Something Spineti said some Connecticut employers have raised concerns about.

It's been almost two years since a public opinion poll asked Connecticut voters about marijuana legalization. In that March 2015 Quinnipiac Poll, 63 percent of voters said they supported allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.... A legalization and taxation bill was introduced last year [in Connecticut] and had about a dozen Democratic co-sponsors. An informal informational hearing was held with experts on both sides offering testimony before interested legislators.

Proponents of the bill said Connecticut would be losing out on valuable tax dollars if it wasn't the first state in New England to move forward with recreational marijuana legalization. State Rep. Vin Candelora, a Republican from North Branford who opposed the bill, said lawmakers shouldn't see tax revenue from the legalization of marijuana as a solution to the state's budget problems. He called it "blood money."...

Rep. Edwin Vargas, a Hartford Democrat who supported the marijuana legalization bill, said money that is funding criminal enterprises would instead be directed toward state government. Drug dealers would see their business undercut, he said, and fewer youths would be arrested for dealing.

"I knew all along this was going to sweep the states after the success in Colorado," Vargas said. Colorado, the first state to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use, brought in $130 million in tax revenue in the last fiscal year. "The only thing I feel bad about is we could have been first in the area and established the industry here. The one that establishes the industry first has a huge advantage."

At the University of Massachusetts last week, Rick Steves, an author and travel host who helped with the marijuana legalization effort in his home state of Washington, talked about the tax benefit. But he also made a civil liberties and criminal justice argument. "I'm a hardworking, kid-raising, church-going, taxpaying American citizen," he told the crowd of about 100 students and residents. "If I work hard all day long, want to go home, smoke a joint and just stare at the fireplace for three hours, that's my civil liberty."

Steves said marijuana could be regulated like alcohol. He didn't buy arguments by opponents who say it's a gateway drug, or that legalizing marijuana will lead to increased use by youths. "The opponents of these initiatives and moves to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, they cherry-pick their problems and they don't recognize that the major problem is with us right now — its called the status quo. We're arresting hundreds of thousands of people every year for nonviolent marijuana crimes. They're not rich white people, they're poor people and people of color. That's a real problem."

Steves acknowledged the difficulty getting marijuana legalized through a legislative effort rather than by ballot. Lawmakers in Vermont and Rhode Island had bills that progressed further than Connecticut's but neither were adopted. But public opinion is shifting. A national Pew poll released last week showed 57 percent of adults were in favor of legalizing marijuana use, up from 32 percent 10 years ago. "Politicians are realizing that the days when somebody could condemn you as being soft on drugs are slipping away," Steves said. "I don't think the issue is are you soft on drugs or are you hard on drugs. Now the issue is are you smart about drug policy reform?"

But even in Massachusetts most of the political establishment has shied away from supporting the ballot initiative. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healy and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both Democrats, are against it. As is U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy. The "yes" campaign has fought back with television advertising and a substantial campaign war chest, including more than $3 million in contributions from a Washington, D.C.-based cannabis reform advocacy group.

October 15, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Drug Policy Alliance reports on "what we know" about marijuana legalization "so far"

The folks at the Drug Policy Alliance have released this notable new report titled "So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C." The website provides this summary of the short report's contents:

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).

The report’s key findings include:

  • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.

  • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.

  • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.

  • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

October 14, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New report highlights that 2105 had more US marijuana possession arrests than for all violent crimes combined

6a00d83451574769e201bb09428021970d-320wiAs noted in this new Mic piece, a "Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday revealed [that] in 2015, there were more arrests in the United States for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together." Here is more:

The report found that, in 2015, there were more than 574,000 arrests for marijuana possession — at least 68,319 more than there were for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined.

Presently, at least 137,000 men and women are incarcerated for drug possession — a number that ebbs and flows as thousands more people are arrested daily, literally at a rate of one drug arrest every 25 seconds. "It's been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared and it hasn't been a success," Tess Borden, lead study author, told the Washington Post. "Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds we're arresting someone for drug use."...

What's more troubling is the disparity between drug arrests of black versus white Americans. Data in the past year suggests that both groups "use illicit drugs other than marijuana at the same rates and that they use marijuana at similar rates," the report said. "Yet around the country, black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession."

In 2014, though black adults only accounted for 14% of actual drug users, they made up roughly a third of those arrested. "We can't talk about race and policing in this country without talking about the No. 1 arrest offense," Borden told the Post. The study found that in some states like Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors working on drug possession cases often sought the highest charges possible against the defendant. Last year, more than 78% of people thrown in jail for felony drug possession had less than a gram of a controlled substance....

In Louisiana, Corey Ladd was given a 17-year sentence for possessing a half ounce of marijuana, a sentence exacerbated by his two previous drug charges. "Corey's story is about the real waste of human lives, let alone taxpayer money, of arrest and incarceration for personal drug use," Borden told the Post. "He could be making money and providing for his family."

Currently, there are 116 people in Texas prisons serving life sentences for drug possession — and at least seven of those sentences are for possession of less than four grams.

During a series of interviews HRW conducted with incarcerated men and women around the country, the group spoke with Jerry Bennett of New Orleans, who took a plea deal of two and a half years in jail, down from what could have been a couple decades. His crime: possession of half a gram of marijuana. "They spooked me out by saying, 'You gotta take this or you'll get that'," he HRW team. "I'm just worried about the time. Imagine me in here for 20 years. They got people that kill people. And they put you up here for half a gram of weed."

The full title of this lengthy new report from Human Rights Watch, which serves as the foundation for this Mic article, is "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States."  The full HRW report is about a lot more than marijuana criminalization, but it is still a must-read for those working in any way in the marijuana reform space.

October 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Recreational Cannabis Reduces Rapes and Thefts: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment"

The title of this post is the title of this fascinating new study available via SSRN from a group of economists.  Here is the abstract:

An argument against the legalization of the cannabis market is that such a policy would increase crime.  Exploiting the recent staggered legalization enacted by the states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014) we show, combining difference-in-differences and spatial regression discontinuity designs, that recreational cannabis caused a significant reduction of rapes and thefts on the Washington side of the border in 2013-2014 relative to the Oregon side and relative to the pre-legalization years 2010-2012.

October 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Pew polling shows record high public support for recreational marijuana legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThe Pew Research Center has this new posting headlined "Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise," reporting on the results of its latest polling. Here are the particulars:

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has occurred during a time when many U.S. states are relaxing their restrictions on the drug or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) to legalize marijuana in some form after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. This November, Americans in nine states will vote on measures to establish or expand legal marijuana use.

Young adults have disproportionately driven the shift toward public support of the drug, though support is rising among other generations as well. Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 in 2016 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71% today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations.

Support for marijuana legalization has also increased among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively). More than half of Gen Xers (57%) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21% in 1990. A majority of Boomers (56%) also support legalization, up from just 17% in 1990.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 U.S. adults, also finds persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on marijuana legalization. By more than two-to-one, Democrats favor legalizing marijuana over having it be illegal (66% vs. 30%). Most Republicans (55%) oppose marijuana legalization, while 41% favor it.

Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it. The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%).

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, Hispanics are less supportive of legalizing marijuana than are whites or blacks. Hispanics are divided – 49% say the use of marijuana should be illegal, while 46% say it should be legal. Identical majorities of whites and blacks (59% each) favor marijuana legalization.

I do not find the age-based and party-based polling particulars to be at all surprising, but I do find it quite notable and interesting that this poll suggests Latinos are slightly more likely to oppose than support marijuana legalization. I suspect that this finding could and would be even more interesting and telling if the Latino responses were broken down further by age, as I suspect older Latinos might continue to recall and fear the anti-Mexican/Latino biases that were integral to a whole lot of anti-marijuana policies and rhetoric until very recently.

The interesting Pew Center finding about Latino views on marijuana legalization also provides still further reasons to pay particular attention this election cycle to the marijuana reform ballot initiatives in states like Arizona and California and Florida. In addition to wondering whether exit polling in those states might confirm the likelihood of large blocks of Latino voters ending up on the "no" side of reforms, the traditionally different Latino origins that distinguish Latino population in different states might reveal still further deep insights into whether there are actually an array of distinct policy views on these issues among distinct groups of Latinos.

October 13, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Effective snapshot of marijuana reform debate and polling four weeks before (game-changing?) 2016 election

The Atlantic has this effective new piece that provide an astute "at this moment" perspective on marijuana reform developments and the coming election sure to impact them.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana's Moment: As many as five states could approve its recreational use this November, potentially signaling a point of no return for legalized pot," and it merits a full read.  Here are excerpts:

Recreational marijuana users can now legally light up a joint in states representing about 5 percent of the U.S. population. By the time Americans wake up on November 9, that percentage could be swelling to more than one-quarter.  Measures to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis are on the ballot in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada, and recent polls show the “yes” vote is winning in all five states. Approval would mark the biggest advance yet for advocates in the decades-long fight over legalizing marijuana—one that they believe could ultimately force the federal government to end its prohibition of the drug.

“On November 8, you can safely say we’ve reached the tipping point if these go our way,” said Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority.  The most important battleground is California, where advocates expect voters to approve personal use of pot six years after they defeated a similar measure.  Support for Proposition 64 is polling at nearly 60 percent, and the measure has drawn support from leading politicians and newspapers that opposed it in 2010, including Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.  The leading candidate for California’s open Senate seat, Kamala Harris, predicted Wednesday that voters would approve the law, although as the state’s attorney general she can’t formally take a position....

Beyond California, slimmer majorities of voters are backing full legalization in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maine.  In Nevada, polls have been mixed, with one in September showing strong support for passage and a more recent survey suggesting voters are split.....

Legalization advocates are trying to replicate their successes from 2012 and 2014, when voters sanctioned recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington D.C.  But they are facing a better-organized opposition this year led by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has argued that the proposed laws are creating another “Big Tobacco,” but for marijuana.  They say these laws are industry-backed initiatives that allow companies to market pot to children just like cigarette companies did for decades.  “This is not about marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, the president of SAM.  He travels around the country warning that ballot measures legalizing marijuana are dangerously lax and written by an industry that wants to hook kids on pot lollipops and other “cannabis candy.”

“This is about a small amount of people making a lot of money,” he said.  “This is not about personal liberty.”  That’s especially true, Sabet argued, in California, where medical marijuana is famously easy to obtain and where recreational use hasn’t been considered a felony for 40 years.  The drive to legalize, then, is all about business.

Sabet also disputes the idea that November will be a tipping point for marijuana legalization if the ballot measures in California and elsewhere prevail.  “This is a very long game,” he said.  “This is not going to be determined once and for all either this November or in November of 2018.”  Sabet said there is already a backlash building in local communities in states that have legalized pot, spurred by rising rates of marijuana use and a spike in traffic fatalities linked to stoned drivers.

Sabet was speaking to me from an airport after leading seven rallies over two days against the California ballot measure. “California is much closer than we’re hearing about,” he argued.  “It’s a coin flip in all of the states right now.”  As Sabet sees it, the burden is lower for opponents of a ballot initiative like marijuana legalization to convince voters to go their way.  “With ‘no,’ you just have to put a little bit of doubt in people’s minds, and they are movable,” he told me.  “The more we get our message across, the more people change their minds from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’”

That’s a dynamic that worries Angell, a 15-year veteran of the legalization fight.  He launched the Marijuana Majority in 2012 as a way of broadcasting the breadth of public support for the movement....   Though Marijuana Majority touts polls showing that 88 percent of voters nationwide support medical marijuana and 58 percent back full legalization, Angell is not as confident as [others] about a broad victory in November.   Support for ballot measures typically drops in the run-up to an election, he notes.  And while supporters of legal pot are outspending opponents, he worries about the movement’s version of an “October surprise” — a rumored move by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson to pour millions into last-minute ads against ballot measures in Nevada and Florida.  “I am very concerned about where we are in a number of these states right now,” Angell said. “It’s a little too close for comfort.”

In addition to the full legalization measures, voters in four other states — Florida, Montana, North Dakota, and Arkansas — are considering laws approving medical marijuana.  Supporters are confident about their chances in Florida but are less certain in Montana and North Dakota, where there has been little polling on the issue. They are most concerned about Arkansas because there are two medical-marijuana measures on the ballot — one supported by the legalization movement and another that is considerably narrower and more restrictive. “There’s a concern that voters will simply vote their favorite medical-marijuana measure and split the vote,” Angell said....

Another worry, Angell said, is complacency and overconfidence among marijuana advocates.  Contrary to Sabet’s claims, he complained that the marijuana industry was not contributing enough to the legalization drive — and indeed, the medical-marijuana community in California is reportedly divided over the ballot measure in part because small growers view it as a boon to big business, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The California Growers Association, for example, decided to stay neutral on the proposal. “There’s almost this sense that marijuana will legalize itself, that we’ve already won,” Angell said. If victories this year could put legalization on a nationwide path, losses would be a momentum killer. “A lot,” he admitted, “is riding on this.”

October 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Best Marijuana Taxes Yet: California's Proposition 64"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely essay by Pat Oglesby now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Two devastating traps threaten taxes on newly legalized marijuana. One is the quicksand of inflexibility, leading to impotence during a whirlwind of market change. Static laws and price-based taxes lead into that trap.

The trap other is playing favorites by favoring medical users, opening an abyss of tax evasion by recreational users pretending to be sick.

California’s Proposition 64, on the ballot in November, avoids those traps better than the marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.

It takes lessons from failed initiatives in California, Ohio, and Oregon, and laws on the books in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

October 9, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Questions For The Candidates On Marijuana Reform"

10062016 promoThe title of this post is the headline of this timely new Huffington Post piece authored by Chris Weigant. Here is how it starts and ends:

There is a major political debate currently happening in many parts of this country, but the astonishing thing is that most politicians — especially those on the national stage — seem to want to pretend the debate doesn’t even exist.  We saw this previously on the issue of gay marriage, when even the Democratic candidates for president in 2008 wouldn’t support the idea for fear of losing votes — even though it was obviously the right thing to do.  Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would only support half-measures whose time had already passed, saying they were in favor of “civil unions,” but that “marriage” was too sacred a word to use for these unions.  That was only eight years ago, and the political shift since then has been monumental.  These days, it would be hard for any Democrat to get elected who didn’t wholeheartedly support marriage equality for all.  The people led, and the leaders eventually followed.

The next issue where this is already happening is marijuana legal reform.  The arc of history is clear, and it is bending in one obvious direction. But politicians from Hillary Clinton on down refuse to show more than lukewarm support for half-measures which are already outdated.  This is nothing short of political cowardice.  Hillary Clinton is a special case, because her husband was the first United States president to admit smoking marijuana, although even this admission was hedged in lawyerly fudging (“I didn’t inhale”).  But that was almost 25 years ago, and in the meantime public opinion has shifted dramatically.

On Hillary Clinton’s campaign website there are only a few desultory mentions of marijuana legal reform. Clinton, to her credit, says she is for letting the states be laboratories of democracy (without specifying what exactly this means), and for rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.  The only time she’s been asked about marijuana, at a primary debate, she responded that she was willing to let further studies of medical marijuana happen.  This is simply not enough, though.  Further studies? Half of the United States have already legalized medical marijuana. Half. It’s not an issue that’s even really up for debate anymore — politically akin to civil unions in 2008, in fact.  And yet Clinton can’t even come out in full support of medicinal marijuana — she’s content to just “further study” the issue for now.  This is not leadership, folks.

This November, citizens of at least five states will be voting on legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults, and the polls now indicate that all five ballot measures may win. Four states and Washington D.C. have already legalized recreational use, meaning we could have a total of nine states next year where marijuana is fully legal for anyone of age to consume without fear of being arrested or having their lives ruined by the Draconian drug laws which have outlawed marijuana for the past century. These states are in open rebellion against federal law on the matter, it bears pointing out....

For almost the entire election season, all the presidential candidates have (for the most part) not even been asked by journalists where they stand on one of the fastest-moving political issues this year.  That is a failure by both the media and by the cowardly politicians afraid of losing some votes by taking a clear stand.  The transition from the War On Weed to a sane approach towards regulating marijuana is going to happen eventually, but the next president will have an enormous influence on how smooth (or bumpy) this transition will be — and how fast it will happen.  This is precisely why they need to be specifically asked about it now.

This Sunday night will be the only presidential debate where normal people will get the chance to pose questions to the two remaining candidates . I am hoping at least one voter will ask for clear details on what the candidates would do as president on federal marijuana legal reform.  And I don’t mean just a generic, gauzy question on medicinal marijuana, either.  If I were sitting in that audience, here are the questions I would ask:

“Given that, after November’s election, nine states may have legalized recreational adult usage of marijuana, would you recognize this new reality by not just rescheduling marijuana — which would still leave recreational use federally illegal — but by descheduling it altogether and handing off all federal marijuana regulation to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, where it really belongs? Furthermore, would you support changing the tax code and federal banking regulations so that state-legal marijuana businesses can freely operate without fear of being federally prosecuted as major drug traffickers?”

October 7, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A month out from the election, recreational marijuana reform ballot initiatives are ahead in the polls in all five states

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b7c888d83f970bFor a variety of reasons, I have been thinking that a majority but not all of the five state ballot initiatives coming to voters this November to legalize recreational marijuana were likely to pass.   However, this Washington Post article has a headline suggesting my forecast for recreational marijuana reform efforts might be unduly pessimistic: "Marijuana legalization is leading in every state where it’s on the ballot this November." Here are the interesting details:

Marijuana advocates are heading into the final weeks of the 2016 campaign with the wind at their backs as the latest polling shows legalization measures currently favored by voters in all five states where they're on the ballot. This is something of a reversal from just a month ago, when the most recent polling had shown voters wary of legalization measures in Massachusetts and Arizona. But the margins of support aren't huge in any state, meaning that the contests could still swing either way.

Polling ballot issues is a tricky business, all the more so with marijuana-related issues, where responses can be heavily influenced by particular question wording. So in the same state, different polls with different question wording can yield radically different results even if fielded at similar times. Those caveats aside, here's what the latest numbers show.

In Arizona, a late-August Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll of 784 registered voters found that 50 percent supported marijuana legalization, 40 percent opposed it, and 10 percent remain undecided. That result is sharply at odds with a July poll of likely voters showing that only 39 percent said they favored the measure.

In California, a post-debate SurveyUSA poll of 751 likely voters found that Proposition 64, which would legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana, is supported by 52 percent of the electorate and opposed by 41 percent, with 6 percent undecided. This is a lower margin than some other recent polls there, which have pegged support at 60 percent or more.

Across the country in Massachusetts, the marijuana legalization measure there enjoys 53 percent support among likely voters, according to a recent WBZ-UMASS Amherst poll of 700 likely voters. Forty percent oppose it, while another 7 percent are unsure. That's also a turnaround from an earlier poll of 900 registered voters, which found only 41 percent supported the measure.

Up the coast in Maine, a late September poll of 505 likely voters found 53 percent support for the legalization measure, 38 percent opposed to it and 10 percent undecided. This number has been fairly stable since the spring.

A poll fielded last week of 500 likely voters in Nevada found the legalization measure there leading with 57 percent support, compared to 33 percent opposing it. That number is sharply at odds with a Review-Journal survey of 800 likely voters, fielded at the exact same time, which found the legalization measure leading by just 1 percentage point, well within the margin of error....

Marijuana opponents, for their part, are optimistic about their chances. "If anything, the polls should give the opposition some comfort," said Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "If you are not at 60 percent at this stage in the game, it usually spells trouble for ballot initiatives." Sabet says his group is planning for a busy final month of the campaign season: "We plan to do much more in the next 30 days."

For a variety of reasons, I am disinclined to alter my thinking that a majority but not all of the five state ballot initiatives coming to voters this November to legalize recreational marijuana were likely to pass. (For those who want specifics, I am expecting California, Maine and Nevada voters to approve recreational, while I am expecting the Arizona and Massachusetts initiatives to not quite make it to 50%.) And especially because I expect to votes to be reasonable close on these issues in every state, the only thing I will predict with certainty is that I will be up into the wee hours of Election Night awaiting returns from all these states.

October 6, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Highlighting effective media coverage of California's marijuana legalization initiative

In just five weeks, Californians will vote on Proposition 64, the state ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for persons 21-years-old and older. With Election Day looming, media coverage of the measure has picked up. Most of the state's major newspapers weighed in on legalization a couple weeks ago; and, last week, the local Sacramento CBS station ran a five part series discussing the perceived risks and benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana use in California--coverage that ranged from the lessons to be learned from legalization in Colorado to the effect legalization might have on the image of the state. 

Two other useful resources for commentary on Proposition 64 are The San Francisco Chronicle's blog Smell the Truth and The Sacramento Bee's regular coverage here. The Los Angeles Times's Robin Abcarian also regularly reports on the subject.

October 3, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is recreational marijuana reform initiative likely to fail (badly) in Arizona?

AZThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting new local article headlined "Foes of legalized recreational marijuana in Arizona have cash edge." Here are excerpts from the article: 

Foes of legalized recreational marijuana are building up a war chest in a bid to kill Proposition 205, apparently with a last-minute barrage of media. New reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office show that the anti-205 Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has so far collected slightly more than $2 million.

That still leaves the group short of the nearly $3.2 million reported by the pro-205 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. But the pro-205 forces already have burned through more than $3 million of that, much of it to get the measure on the ballot in the first place. The latest report shows that organization has less than $170,000 on hand.

By contrast, the campaign to kill the measure reported it has close to $1.4 million in the bank. That cash differential could prove crucial.

Various polls have come up with conflicting results. One from July had the measure failing with 52 percent of those questioned opposed. Another one released last month suggested the initiative had 50 percent support.

But the tide could be on the side of initiative foes, and not just because of the financial edge. Pollster Earl de Berge said that, generally speaking, when people are undecided or confused, they tend to vote “no” on ballot measures. And pollster Michael O’Neil, who did not conduct either survey, said that even if proponents really do have a 10-point lead, that’s not good news at this point in the election cycle. He said that’s probably a high point and it’s unlikely that number will improve between now and the election.

“I disagree with that,” responded Barrett Marson, spokesman for the legalization campaign. He said proponents are conducting a “vigorous” campaign and continuing to raise money. He conceded the anti-205 campaign has more cash on hand. But he said much of that is due to a $500,000 donation from Chandler-based Insys Corp., “a company that wants to sell synthetic marijuana and opposes legalization for business reasons.”...

The 2010 ballot measure that squeaked by allows individuals with certain medical conditions, a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2½ ounces every two weeks from a state-licensed dispensary. Proposition 205 would allow any adult to have up to an ounce at a time, purchased through an expanded retail dispensary system but with a 15 percent tax added on. The measure also would spell out certain rights of marijuana users as to employment and child-custody cases.

Driving while impaired on marijuana would remain illegal. But unlike alcohol, where a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 is presumption of impairment, there is no such standard in Proposition 205. That would require prosecutors to prove in each case that the motorist was impaired.

Proponents have spent much of their resources to date on their claims that revenues from the tax would benefit education. Foes counter that similar promises were made to Colorado voters before they legalized recreational marijuana, but the funds have not materialized. But the prime message of the anti-205 forces has been that making marijuana more available to adults will lead to greater accessibility and use by minors. They also point out that the Arizona law specifically allows the sale of marijuana-laced candy bars, lollipops and other edibles that might be attractive to children.

Especially given that a medical marijuana initiative barely passed in Arizona in 2010, I have long assumed that the recreational reform initiative would be facing an uphill climb in the Grand Canyon state.  But, given the typical pattern of marijuana reform supporters having a (much) larger campaign war chest than opponents, I thought maybe folks in Arizona could move the election needle by extensively showcasing to undecided voters some of the positive consequences of full legalization in other states.  Yet this article suggests that the opponents of reform are going to have a lot more resources to tell voters about what they perceive to be the negative consequences of full legalization in other states. 

October 3, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Marijuana really can be deadly – when encountering police officers"

The title of this post comes from this Denver Post article by Christopher Ingraham noting new information from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg P.D. that the September 20th shooting that left Keith Lamont Scott dead was precipitated by simple marijuana possession. 

According to police, plainclothes officers first noticed Scott when he pulled into the parking lot in which they were sitting in an unmarked car waiting to serve a warrant on a wanted suspect, after he began rolling what appeared to be a "blunt." Police say they were not initially interested in Scott but later became concerned when they saw him with a gun. Notably, as The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery reported last week:

Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott for being in possession of a gun.

After changing into clothes that clearly marked them as police officers, they confronted Scott. They claim they later shot and killed him after he aimed his gun at them, though this newly released video appears to contradict that claim. Whether Scott brandished his weapon in a manner that would legally warrant the use of deadly force hopefully will be clarified when police release all available video of the incident next week (although we perhaps may never have a definitive answer to that question).

Importantly, however, as Ingraham writes: 

It’s not the first time low-level marijuana possession has escalated to a fatal police encounter. Last August, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was fatally shot by police in Seneca, South Carolina, as he tried to flee from an attempted marijuana bust. In 2012, officers killed unarmed Bronx teenager Ramarley Graham as he tried to flush pot down the toilet. Trevon Cole was doing the same thing when police killed him in Las Vegas in 2010 during a drug raid at which no weapons were found.


As the Drug Enforcement Administration notes, nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. But aggressive enforcement of drug laws has led to some deaths. Growing efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in part seek to reduce these kinds of police encounters that can turn fatal.


Places that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana treat offenses essentially like parking tickets. Data shows that decriminalization typically leads to drastic reductions in the number of marijuana-related arrests. For instance, the month after the New York City Police Department announced it would treat low-level drug possession as a noncriminal violation instead of a misdemeanor, arrests plummeted 75 percent year over year, according to the Associated Press.


But as the cases above vividly illustrate, decriminalization doesn’t eliminate violent encounters. Marijuana was decriminalized in Nevada when Cole was killed. It was decriminalized in New York state when Graham was killed. And it’s decriminalized in North Carolina, where Scott was killed.


This is one reason many drug policy reformers say decriminalization isn’t enough...

Indeed, after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, the overall arrest rate for marijuana-related crimes fell significantly, although not indiscriminately. As The San Francisco Chronicle recent reported:

In the first two years of legalization, marijuana arrests fell 46 percent as many people complied with the new regulations, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety. However, while the number of arrests decreased 51 percent for whites, they dropped only 33 percent for Latinos and 25 percent for African Americans. The pot-related arrest rate for African Americans remained nearly triple that of whites.


Juvenile marijuana arrests increased by 5 percent overall, but went up 29 percent for Latino youths and 58 percent for black youths. The number of white juveniles arrested fell 8 percent.

Put simply, marijuana won't kill you, but getting caught with it by police might; and, the chance of an encounter with police because of marijuana possession is higher if you're a person of color. If Chelsea Clinton had made this argument during her Ohio campaign stop earlier this week, perhaps she would have saved herself from the mockery of suggesting that marijuana can kill you, a claim she of course took back shortly thereafter.

October 1, 2016 in Current Affairs, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)