Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why it Matters"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new report issued by National Families in Action. The report can be downloaded at this link, and this press release about the report provides a summary of its themes and core contents:

A new report by National Families in Action (NFIA) uncovers and documents how three billionaires, who favor legal recreational marijuana, manipulated the ballot initiative process in 16 U.S. states for more than a decade, convincing voters to legalize medical marijuana.  NFIA is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1977, that has been helping parents prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.  NFIA researched and issued the paper to mark its 40th anniversary.

The NFIA study, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, exposes, for the first time, the money trail behind the marijuana legalization effort during a 13-year period.  The report lays bare the strategy to use medical marijuana as a runway to legalized recreational pot, describing how financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and for-profit education baron John Sperling (and groups they and their families fund) systematically chipped away at resistance to marijuana while denying that full legalization was their goal.  The report documents state-by-state financial data, identifying the groups and the amount of money used either to fund or oppose ballot initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in 16 states.  The paper unearths how legalizers fleeced voters and outspent — sometimes by hundreds of times — the people who opposed marijuana.

Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters illustrates that legalizers lied about the health benefits of marijuana, preyed on the hopes of sick people, flouted scientific evidence and advice from the medical community and gutted consumer protections against unsafe, ineffective drugs.  And, it proves that once the billionaires achieved their goal of legalizing recreational marijuana (in Colorado and Washington in 2012), they virtually stopped financing medical pot ballot initiatives and switched to financing recreational pot.  In 2014 and 2016, they donated $44 million to legalize recreational pot in Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. Only Arizona defeated the onslaught (for recreational marijuana).

March 15, 2017 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, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reviewing ups-and-downs and defeat in 2015 of Ohio effort to legalize recreational marijuana via Issue 3

UntitledI am excited to remind readers (and also my students) that it is that time of year again:  students in my Ohio State University Moritz College of Law marijuana reform seminar are gearing up to begin in-class presentations.   This means, inter alia, that this blog space will be filled in coming weeks with links and materials provided by my students as a background/preview for their coming presentation.

The first of the scheduled presentations involves a review of this history (and epic fail) of Issue 3, the 2015 campaign in Ohio seeking passage of a state constitutional amendment that would have fully legalized marijuana in the Buckeye State and put the rights to grow marijuana in the hands of a small group of financial backers of the initiative campaign.  The student making this presentations has suggested the following reading for classmates (and any others interested in recalling this tale):

"Is Responsible Ohio's mascot Buddie 'the Joe Camel of marijuana'?"(Oct 21, 2015 press article)

"On Ballot, Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly" (Nov 1, 2015 press article)

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 2: "Anti-monopoly amendment; protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit"

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 3: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes"

"Ohioans reject legalizing marijuana" (Nov 4, 2015 press article)

UPDATE:  And here is one more: "Will Ohio's Marijuana Amendment Go up in Smoke" (Sept/Oct Ohio Lawyer article)

February 22, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General ... now what for federal marijuana policy?

Jeff_Sessions_official_portraitAs Fox News reports here, "Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States," and here's more of the basic backstory:

The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present.

In his farewell address Wednesday evening, Sessions urged his erstwhile colleagues to get along better following days of bruising debate. "We need latitude in our relationships," Sessions said. "Denigrating people who disagree with us is not a healthy trend for our body."...

Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor. Warren had read a letter authored in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, who was against Sessions’ nomination at the time to the federal bench, arguing he used the power of his office to “chill” black voting rights. Warren also quoted the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who originally had entered King’s letter into the record, describing Sessions as “disgraceful.”

GOP Senate leaders said Warren had violated Senate rules and should lose her speaking privileges. In a remarkable scene, the Senate then voted 49-43 to suspend Warren’s speaking privileges for the rest of the nomination process – the first time the Senate has imposed such a punishment in decades.

Democrats had repeatedly contended that Sessions is too close to Trump, too harsh on immigrants, and weak on civil rights for minorities, immigrants, gay people and women. Sessions was a prominent early backer of Trump, a supporter of his hard line on illegal immigration and joined Trump's advocacy of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border....

Republicans argued Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service, including two decades in the Senate, that he possesses integrity, honesty, and is committed to justice and the rule of law.

Everyone in the marijuana reform community as well as all those working in the marijuana industry must now continue to wonder what an Attorney General Sessions will mean for the policy and practice of blanket federal marijuana prohibition.

In part because I think AG Sessions will have other top priorities and because a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses will likely be costly and unpopular, I am not expecting to see a radical shift in the short term.  But I could be wrong, and I am fairly sure that over time AG Sessions (and others in the Trump Administration) will still feel some significant obligation (and perhaps have some significant desire) to ramp up enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition to some extent unless and until Congress moves forward with some kind of statutory reforms.

Uncertain and interesting times ahead, for sure, in this space.

February 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is the marijuana industry now "too big to jail"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Trump's Justice Department may crack down on thriving pot industry, but is it too big to jail?".  Here are excerpts:

The election of Trump has shocked the marijuana industry into a state of high alert at a time it had planned to be gliding into unbridled growth. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a longtime field lieutenant in the war on drugs with unabashed hostility toward pot. It was only 10 months ago that Sessions was scolding from the dais of a Senate hearing room that the drug is dangerous, not funny and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Now he is poised to set the direction on national drug enforcement policy at the same time that eight states, including California, have legalized recreational use of the drug. Some 60 million Americans are living in states where voters have opted to allow any adult to be able to purchase marijuana.

Business leaders ... are betting the rapid maturity of the cannabis industry has made it too big to jail. Even before new laws took effect permitting the recreational use of pot in the massive markets of California and Massachusetts, the legitimate pot business had dwarfed its 2011 size, when the Drug Enforcement Administration was still aggressively raiding medical marijuana vendors operating legally under state laws. Since then, President Obama’s Justice Department decreed that states should have freedom to pursue their own policies, and the legalization train seemed to have left the station.

But those who have been in the business since the early days of medical marijuana caution the legions of newcomers that federal busts and seizures could quickly make a comeback. Sessions very deliberately left that option open during his confirmation hearing. “There are people in this administration who will crush this industry if they see the opportunity,” said Steve DeAngelo, who is considered a guru among pot entrepreneurs. DeAngelo, owner of the bustling Harborside Health Center dispensary in Oakland, was among the first in the industry and he has experienced it all: surprise raids from armed federal agents, unending lawsuits, getting locked in a jail cell. “I don’t think people who don’t have firsthand experience with the irrationality of federal intervention understand what a threat we are facing.”

But it’s hard to see much anxiety watching the comings and goings inside DeAngelo’s dispensary, which these days looks more like a Whole Foods than the shady corner bodegas such operations long resembled. Well-mannered hipsters with encyclopedic knowledge of bud patiently serve customers as sommeliers might, explaining the intricacies of abundant varietals of reefer available to be consumed in ever-evolving ways. On one side of the room is an enticing display of pot-laced baked goods, opposite that is the kind of fancy kiosk where artisan granola bars or yogurt cups might be hawked in a high-end grocery; the millennials manning this one are pitching elegantly packaged microdoses of pot injected into dried blueberries and other goodies.

DeAngelo says Trump might just let it all be, pointing to mixed signals the president sent during the campaign. But DeAngelo sees an easy legal path for Sessions and other committed anti-drug warriors in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, to immediately throw the industry into chaos, should they chose to do so. A survey by Marijuana Business Daily suggests many pot entrepreneurs share his concern, with 20% saying they would curb expansion plans. Many more are putting planning off until they see where the White House is going.

“Most of us are holding our breath right now,” said Emily Paxhia, co-owner of a hedge fund that invests exclusively in the cannabis industry. Lately she has been making sure that each firm in her portfolio has a Plan B in case a federal crackdown comes. Can pot growing operations, for example, shift to micro-salad greens if the feds come knocking? Can vaporizers be sold to yoga enthusiasts consuming lavender? “We’re also starting to look at how some of the new technologies we are investing in could address needs in other countries if the U.S. becomes difficult,” Paxhia said, pointing to Canada, where she said federal embrace of recreational marijuana could open up a $22-billion market. Paxhia shared her outlook at the industrial San Francisco office space of one company in her portfolio, Meadow, which has built a digital platform through which marijuana dispensary offerings can be browsed, and products can be ordered and delivered with the ease of a service like GrubHub....

Across the bay in Oakland, a sober-looking team at a company called CW Analytical has just spent big on sophisticated new testing equipment that allows dispensaries to quickly measure the active ingredients and purity in all the pot products they sell. The company embodies how renewed federal busts would affect not just pot growers, but an entire class of lab technicians, scientists, digital engineers, marketers and other skilled professionals. “I would be lying if I told you it was not in the back of our minds,” said Emily Richardson, head of business development at CW. “We have been through a lot.” She said the firm lost a third of its business amid the last big round of federal raids in 2011. Back then, Jeff Linden wasn’t even in the trade. He was running a high-end kitchen cabinet firm. Now Linden has opened a dispensary in San Francisco’s Mission District that could be mistaken for an art gallery.....“Trump’s agenda is this long,” Linden said, stretching out his arms to make the point the new administration has bigger issues on its plate than him. “I think this industry is too big to roll back. Some people agree with me. Some are very nervous.”

My answer to the basic post question is that there are a whole lot of players who could be in line for a whole lot of trouble in the Trump Administration decides to go hard after the industry, but that the entire industry has too many elements and extensions to be completely destroyed even if that was the express desire of the Trump team. And, for a host of reasons, I think the Trump team (including future AG Sessions) is going to be eager to focus their resources elsewhere.

February 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

"If President Trump wants to help American businesses, he should start by legalizing marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Los Angeles Times commentary authored by Mark Stefanos.  Here are excerpts:

Trump himself has been all over the board on pot, expressing support for medical marijuana but also concerns about Colorado, where it’s recreationally legal. He generally seems to favor leaving it up to the states to decide.

Sure, it’s hard to picture Trump as marijuana’s champion. Unlike the last three presidents, Trump claims he’s never toked. He doesn’t drink, he orders his steak well-done and it’s unlikely anyone will ever pass a blunt to the self-described germaphobe.

But if legalizing marijuana federally isn’t on Trump’s legislative agenda, it should be. And a conservative Congress should back him. It’s politically expedient, fits neatly into Trump’s game plan and there are principled conservative arguments to be made on legalization’s behalf.

Outside of his core issues, our new president is no ideologue, and instead seems to be fixated on — and can be swayed by — public opinion. If his inauguration speech was any indication, Trump is doubling down on populism — and legalizing pot is incredibly popular.

The latest Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans favoring legalization, including 77% of 18- to 34-year-olds. With some of the weakest approval ratings for an incoming president, he should be looking to capitalize on low-hanging-fruit policies like these. Trump shouldn’t worry too much Trump shouldn’t worry too much about legalization alienating his base. The same Gallup poll shows that 42% of Republicans support legalization, up from 20% in 2005. And if anyone needs convincing, Trump can make the case.

He can appeal to the right by reminding us that the government isn’t our mommy. We’ve already learned the lesson that prohibition doesn’t work from alcohol, a far more dangerous drug. Enforcement of prohibition is a pointless and wasteful priority. After all, why should the government work so hard to keep people from smoking weed when China is manipulating its currency and Islamic State is burning people alive in cages?

Perhaps most importantly, however, legalization makes sense fiscally. If there’s one issue Trump has been consistent on since he launched his presidential bid, it’s economic protectionism. Today, the American marijuana industry employs 100,000 to 150,000 people nationally. Marijuana spending is estimated at $30 billion annually, according to market-research firm the Cowen Group, but only a fifth of that is spent on legal products. If legalized, the market is expected to grow to $50 billion annually by 2026.

For the same reasons Trump believes we should be buying cars and air-conditioners manufactured domestically, it follows that he should be making every effort to ensure America dominates the global marijuana industry. Americans should be smoking American weed. This requires the government’s ban be lifted so the market can flourish.

Legalization should be particularly attractive to Trump and his base, considering the main competitors to America’s pot industry are the very criminals and gangs he likes to target in his speeches. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of the pot consumed in the United States came from Mexico, according to the Rand Corp. Since then, Mexican drug cartels have had to compete with American pot farms operating in an increasingly legal landscape that produces a higher quality product and drives profits down.

Today, consumption of Mexican weed in America has been decreased to less than a third, according to an estimate by Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City based security and drug analyst. Full American legalization may put the nail in the coffin on cartel profits from weed. Trump knew this in 1990 when he said, “We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."

Finally, legalizing marijuana would allow Trump to make good on his campaign promise to help “inner-cities.” Instead of paying lip service to urban communities and insulting them with rhetoric describing them as crime-ridden, Trump could actually help those communities by legalizing pot, and making sure no one else has their life ruined because they got caught smoking a joint....

The policy benefits of legalization are many, and Trump shouldn’t wait to capitalize on the political opportunity. Legalization would be a deal that allows the government to save on the costs of enforcing prohibition and fighting a failing drug war. Pot would become safer as it becomes controlled and regulated, and the government could do a better job at youth drug prevention. Taxation from legal pot sales will provide state and local governments a healthy revenue stream, at the expense of our trade competitors. Most importantly, it would shore up support for his presidency from demographics he needs, while growing the economy and jobs.

That would be a lot of winning.

February 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Spotlighting the (inevitable?) mixture of marijuana, regulators, money and lobbying

The Hill has this notable lengthy article, headlined "Marijuana lobby goes mainstream," highlighting the . Here are excerpts:

In a sign that the budding marijuana industry is moving away from the fringes and into the political mainstream, into the political mainstream, a number of officials once tasked with managing the growing legal cannabis sector are leaving their government positions to take jobs in the sector.

Many are advising states and cities as voters loosen marijuana restrictions across the country. Others are becoming industry advocates, lobbying the former colleagues and coworkers they left behind to craft more favorable rules and regulations.

In Colorado, Andrew Freedman, once the state’s director of marijuana coordination, and Lewis Koski, who headed the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, teamed up to form a consulting firm that advises local and state governments on crafting new marijuana regulations. Laura Harris, Koski’s predecessor at the Marijuana Enforcement Division, took a post this month as director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Munson-Regala, who oversaw Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, now runs a consulting firm of his own. John O’Brien resigned his post overseeing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to take a job as chief compliance officer of a New York cannabis company. And several former top officials at Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board have left in recent years to form their own firms.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” said Ian Eisenberg, a leader in the legal marijuana industry who runs Uncle Ike’s, a dispensary in Seattle, Wash. “I don’t think it’s any different than the defense industry.”

Those who have made the jump from the government sector to the private sector say they offer a valuable service, both to governments that need to establish new rules and to the businesses that need to navigate complex regulatory schemes that have never been implemented before. “We’re the only ones to have stood this up before,” said Freedman, who now consults with governments looking to set up their regulatory structures. “There’s a real opportunity to come in and show lessons learned quickly.”...

But opponents of legalized pot, and some government transparency groups, say the relationship between the marijuana industry and its regulators should be treated like any other. “The revolving door from government to private sector isn’t anything new, but it represents the worst of our politics. This isn’t the paper clip or oven mitt lobby, this is the drug lobby,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. And we know that the pot lobby wants to make money, just like big tobacco executives do.”

Aaron Scherb, legislative affairs director at the government transparency group Common Cause, said states should implement a cooling-off period between the time when a regulator leaves government service and when he or she begins working on behalf of the industry. “These individuals are the most familiar with the rules and regulations of a particular industry, and their experience means they’re able to exploit loopholes,” Scherb said. “At least some minimal amount of time is appropriate so we can avoid this revolving door problem.”

At least one state, Minnesota, required its regulators to take a year off before returning to work in the field they oversaw. Munson-Regala, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said that reminded him of other industries he helped regulate, like the insurance business. “Embedded in that one-year cooling off period was an understanding that regulators are in a good position to help folks who are being regulated, in part because they understand what it takes to be compliant,” Munson-Regala said in an interview.

The revolving door is just one of the ways an industry that was once seen as the domain of hippies is trying to professionalize. Just a few years ago, proponents of legalizing marijuana brought 1970s-era stoner icon Tommy Chong to Capitol Hill to woo lawmakers. Today, Chong is gone, replaced by a booming industry of cultivators and retailers — and the trade shows, consultants and lobbyists who offer services to boost their business.

On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association kicked off a two-day Seed to Sale trade show in Denver, focusing on business practices for producers and retailers. The group’s first trade show several years ago attracted 800 participants; this year, they expect 2,000 vendors — and 4,000 to 5,000 at the annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, said Taylor West, the group’s deputy director. In November, 10,000 people showed up to another trade show in Las Vegas. “This industry is not slowing down,” West said.

Around the country, hundreds of lobbyists are already bending lawmakers’ ears on marijuana measures. In Colorado alone, 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the state legislature, according to data filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

February 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Trump’s marijuana options"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer, who is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.  Here is the heart of the discussion:

The Obama administration has largely taken a hands-off approach, releasing a 2013 Department of Justice memo indicating that federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents should not use scarce resources to shut down state-legal operations in places that have “implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.” To the Obama administration’s credit, the president did recently note marijuana legalization is “a debate that is now ripe” and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse called for more research to determine which “policy structures — beyond simply prohibition or free market — are most likely to keep harms to a minimum.”

No one knows what the Trump administration will do about marijuana, and Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general didn’t provide much insight. Will it follow Obama’s lead? Trudeau’s? Do something entirely different? The new administration will have at least six options.

Shut it down. The administration could crack down on marijuana businesses in states that have legalized for nonmedical purposes. It would be easy for DOJ to send out “cease and desist” letters to these companies and their landlords. However, there could be serious political costs with states arguing these federal actions would put people out of jobs, increase income for criminals and take tax dollars away from good causes.

Shape the markets. The DOJ could use its discretion to shape what the market looks like in the legalization states. Want to stop stores from selling and promoting high-potency products for nonmedical purposes? A letter could probably do the trick here, too. If not, seizing the products in a store or two could have a chilling effect.

Maintain the status quo. Doing nothing—and sticking with Obama’s approach—is always an option. This would likely lead more states to follow Colorado and Washington and grant licenses to marijuana companies incentivized to maximize profits instead of protecting public health.

Reclassify marijuana. The new administration could support rescheduling marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive category—because the Food and Drug Administration remains unconvinced that the whole plant material has an accepted medical use. Rescheduling would make it easier to research the health consequences—benefits and harms—and could have implications for marijuana businesses.

Address federal-state conflicts. The new administration could maintain federal prohibition while supporting legislation or other solutions to address problems caused by the federal-state conflict. For example, banks that accept money from state-legal marijuana businesses are committing federal offenses. The inability to bank like other entities creates challenges for thousands of companies. The administration could also support the creation of a policy waiver system that would make it easier and less risky for states to legally experiment with alternatives to the profit-maximization model, such as the state monopoly approach. (That said, the risk of federal interference hasn’t stopped tiny North Bonneville in southern Washington state from creating a government-owned and -operated store).

Legalize it. The administration could support legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. This would address the federal-state conflicts and allow the feds to impose a national tax or minimum price. It would also be a blatant violation of the international drug conventions that the United States has signed along with almost every other nation on earth (including Canada).

These six options are not all mutually exclusive and each comes with tradeoffs. Importantly, they are all compatible with a federal approach that encourages and supports discussions about marijuana prohibition and its alternatives. But if the feds don’t act, it is possible the United States could end up with a much looser and more commercial marijuana model than if the federal government legalized or created a waiver system.

January 19, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AG-nominee Jeff Sessions deftly avoids saying too much about aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws

170110105957-jeff-sessions-4-exlarge-169As expected, during today's confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was asked a few questions about whether and how he would enforce federal marijuana prohibitions.  These three press reports on the exchange provide slightly different spins on what Senators Sessions said and did not say:

From The Huffington Post here, "Jeff Sessions Offers No Straight Answers On How He’ll Handle Legal Marijuana"

From Reason here, "Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing"

From the Washington Post here, "Sessions on enforcing federal marijuana laws: ‘It won’t be an easy decision’"

Though I suspect some marijuana reform activists were hoping to hear Sessions say he would fully respect and order DOJ officials to always defer to state marijuana reforms, such a statement would be in some ways tantamount to saying he would not fully respect federal marijuana prohibition (which is still the law of the land). Consequently, I was not surprised and in many ways encouraged by how Senator Sessions handled these issues. These passages from the HuffPo piece spotlight what I consider the biggest highlight, along with one marijuana advocate's takeaway:

“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” said Sessions, responding to a question about whether he’d use federal resources to prosecute people using marijuana in accordance with their state laws. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”

Sessions went on to say that federal guidelines on marijuana enforcement crafted under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had been “truly valuable” in determining how to navigate inconsistencies between federal law ― under which marijuana is illegal ― and state laws that have loosened restrictions on the plant. Sessions also noted that if Congress wanted to clear up this confusion, it could pass a law adjusting the legal status of marijuana. Until then, however, he vowed to do his job “in a just and fair way” while judging how to approach marijuana going forward.

“It is not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”

Marijuana advocates met Sessions’ stance with guarded optimism, though they cautioned that he had not ruled out the possibility of more aggressive action against legal marijuana states and users. “It’s a good sign that Sen. Sessions seemed open to keeping the Obama guidelines, if maybe with a little stricter enforcement of their restrictions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a drug policy reform group. “The truth is, his answer was skillfully evasive, and I hope other senators continue to press for more clarity on how he would approach the growing numbers of states enacting new marijuana laws.”

January 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Free marijuana to be handed out Inauguration Day"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article that reports that the "DC Cannabis Coalition says it plans to hand out thousands of joints of marijuana on Inauguration Day — for free — to urge federal legalization of pot." Here is more:

The group plans to start handing out joints at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 on the west side of Dupont Circle in the nation's capital, where recreational marijuana is legal.  Then, marchers will walk to the National Mall where the real protest will begin.

"The main message is it’s time to legalize cannabis at the federal level," said Adam Eidinger, the founder of DCMJ, a group of D.C. residents who introduced and helped get Initiative 71 passed in the District.  Initiative 71 made it legal to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana, to grow it, and to give it away, but it is not legal to sell it.

Eidinger is worried, though, that all this progress will be lost with the incoming administration, specifically, with President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. "We are looking at a guy who as recently as April said that they are going to enforce federal law on marijuana all over the country. He said marijuana is dangerous," Eidinger said.

The great marijuana giveaway is legal, as long as it's done on D.C. land. "We don't want any money exchanged whatsoever.  This is really a gift for people who come to Washington, D.C.," he said.

There will 4,200 gifts, to be exact.  Then, at 4 minutes and 20 seconds into Trump's speech (420 is the internationally known code for weed), protesters are encouraged to light up.  That part, is most definitely illegal.  "We are going to tell them that if they smoke on federal property, they are risking arrest. But, that's a form of civil disobedience," said Eidinger. "I think it's a good protest. If someone wants to do it, they are risking arrest, but it's a protest and you know what, the National Mall is a place for protest."

Eidinger said this is not an anti-Trump event, or even an attempt at disrupting the ceremony. Everyone is welcome....  Eidinger said the DC Cannabis Coalition is hopeful the new administration will not be a problem, but they are preparing for the worst.

January 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New batch of states to watch for possible major marijuana reform developments in 2017

ImagesIt seems unlikely that any year will end up rivaling 2016 when it comes to state-level marijuana reform.  In addition to the eight marijuana reform ballot initiatives that passed in November (four involving recreational reform, four involving medical reform), two big rust-belt states enacted significant medical marijuana reforms as well (Ohio and Pennsylvania). How these new reforms get implemented throughout 2017 arguably is a more important story for marijuana reforms to follow than what might happen (or not happen) in a bunch of new states.

These 2016 realities not withstanding,  this new Weed News article does a very effective job spotlighting the states and issues within that seem likely to keep state-level marijuana stories quite dynamic in the year to come.  The article if headlined "7 States To Watch In 2017 For Marijuana Legalization," and here are excerpts meant to provide a mini-summary:

Delaware

The recreational legalization of cannabis is expected to be discussed by the state’s officials in early 2017. Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, during a Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting in October 2016, said: “It’s time to certainly look at it.” The state lawmaker has pledged to introduce a bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis, and a recent University of Delaware poll shows that 61 percent of residents surveyed support legalization, according to recent reports from the Delaware State News and The Wilmington News Journal....

Rhode Island

After neighboring state Massachusetts fully legalized cannabis for adults over 21, Rhode Island is expecting cannabis legalization in 2017. “We’re looking at it,” said Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo, Providence Journal reported on Oct. 29. “If I could get myself comfortable that we, the state, could legalize in a way that keeps people safe, keeps children safe, folks aren’t getting sick, then I would be in favor.”...

New Jersey

Despite Gov. Chris Christie being opposed to cannabis legalization, lawmakers are ready to explore the possibility. Bills to tax and regulate marijuana were introduced in the New Jersey Assembly by both Democrat (Reed Gusciora) and Republican (Michael Patrick Carroll) lawmakers in 2016. In addition, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have travelled to Colorado to learn more about legalization there and were excited by what they learned. Stephen Sweeney, the Senate President, said: “I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It’s safe, it’s well managed.” He also declared that lawmakers “intend to move quickly” to pass a bill as soon as Gov. Chris Christie leaves office; his promised veto seems to be the only remaining impediment to progress in New Jersey....

Texas

Texas is making decriminalization a priority on its 2017 lawmaking agenda. State officials will consider reducing charges for possession by adopting a model that fines people $250 without giving them a criminal record. Five cannabis related items are on the table for the 85th Session. State Senator José Rodríguez and state Representatives Moody, Dutton and White have all sponsored legislation this session making it easier to use cannabis and lessen penalties if a person is caught.

Last year, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which was intended to allow access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. This year for 2017, Senator Menéndez (D-San Antonio) pre-filed SB 269, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. Sen. Menéndez’s bill will make several improvements, including fixing a fatal flaw in the bill, allowing cannabis with any amount of THC, and expanding the law to include other qualifying conditions. As Senator Menéndez says, “Compassion should not be exclusive. Twenty-eight states have recognized the medical benefit of cannabis, including conservative states like Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota … It is time Texas steps up to the plate on behalf of our sickest patients.”

Kentucky

“The time of laughing and snickering about marijuana and marijuana cigarettes is over. We’ve got serious businessmen who have approached me on this now and say they are taking it to the governor,” Sen. Perry Clark told The Courier-Journal last year. Almost one year after filing the Cannabis Freedom Act, Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark has pre-filed a bill for the 2017 legislative season that pertains to legalizing cannabis in the state. Filed in December 2016 for the January, 2017, legislative season, the new bill is called the Cannabis Compassion Act and is filed as BR 409. Nevertheless, little has changed between the wording of the proposed laws of 2015, 2016, and the new 2017 Cannabis Freedom Act....

New Mexico

Rep. Bill McCamley has suggested the state could use cannabis legalization as a way to resolve New Mexico’s $600 million deficit and, according to a poll conducted by the Albuquerque Journal in October, 61 percent of New Mexico’s voters would support the recreational use of cannabis. With the newly-elected Democratic majority in both the New Mexico House and Senate, proponents of recreational cannabis predict several proposed bills will be discussed on the floor in the legislature at the next general session in early 2017....

Vermont

Bernie Sanders home state of Vermont almost passed adult-use legalization in 2016 and is expected to take up the issue again in 2017. In February 2016, the Vermont Senate voted 17-12 to pass S.B. 241, which would have allowed adults ages 21 and older to use cannabis and regulated a tax system for cannabis-based products. The measure failed in the House, but according to the Marijuana Policy Project, Vermont will reconsider legislation in 2017, encouraged by neighboring states that are just a short drive away, such as Massachusetts and Maine passing cannabis legalization measures in 2016. This could convince new Republican governor Phil Scott to support legalization this year, as researchers found the state could potentially rake in up to $75 million annually in taxes by regulating cannabis. Vermont’s next legislative session is scheduled to open in January 2017, there will be a new House speaker and a new Senate leader.

Missouri

Two lawmakers in Missouri have filed proposals for the upcoming 2017 legislation to legalize medical cannabis and create a comprehensive statewide medical cannabis program.The two bills, Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Jason Holsman (D), and Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Rob Schaaf (R), were pre-filed earlier in December 2016. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the state Senate, SB 153 could have the upper hand, however. Passage of either of these bills could finally bring a true medical cannabis program to Missouri. In 2014, Missouri lawmakers passed a limited medical cannabis bill to allow some patients with intractable epilepsy access to products containing marijuana extracts with THC amounts below 0.3%.

Voters in Missouri narrowly missed out on a chance to vote on a comprehensive medical cannabis bill in the November elections when thousands of signatures collected by proponents were invalidated in court, leaving the measure off the ballot. Polling results released in June found that 62% of Missouri voters supported the referendum, with only 27% opposed, making it highly likely that it would have been approved by voters had they gotten the chance to do so. Senate Bill 56 is very similar to the proposal that would have appeared on the November ballot.

January 3, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Veterans group gets attention when urging Trump team to seek to reschedule marijuana

Tom Angell has this interesting report, headlined "Powerful Veterans Group Pushes Trump On Marijuana Rescheduling," on an interesting discussion of marijuana reform among conservative-leaning folks. Here are the highlights:

The nation’s largest military veterans organization is pushing President-elect Donald Trump to reschedule marijuana after he takes office early next year. Top officials from the American Legion, which passed a resolution endorsing the reclassification of cannabis under federal law earlier this year, sat down with Trump’s transition team last week to discuss key priorities for the more than 2 million military veterans the organization represents, including marijuana policy reform.

The group “initiated a call-to-action on fairly new Legion priorities – support of research related to the impacts of medical marijuana and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III,” according to a summary of the meeting on the American Legion’s website. “Reclassification of the drug would allow easier access to pure strains of the substance to cultivate quantifiable research and statistics regarding marijuana’s medical benefits.”

Louis Celli, national director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, told Marijuana.com that the Trump officials at the meeting were somewhat guarded in giving feedback on specific issues during the listening session, but that when cannabis’s potential to help heal military veterans war wounds came up, “there was an immediate change in the room.”

“All shuffling stopped, people stopped looking down at their notes, and instantly all eyes were on [Legion Executive Director] Verna Jones and everyone was transfixed and intently hanging on her every word,” Celli said. “I can’t speak for how the transition team felt, but there seemed to be a small shock that snapped the room to attention. No read on how the information was received, but I think they were a little caught off guard and didn’t expect such a progressive statement from such a traditional and conservative organization.”

There were also representatives of more than 30 other veterans service organizations at the meeting....

Moving marijuana out of Schedule I — or, removing it from the CSA altogether, like alcohol and tobacco — would have a number of effects. Reclassification to Schedule III or lower, as the American Legion is pushing for, would protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.

Additionally, only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E,” which disallows state-legal businesses from deducting normal operational expenses from their federal taxes.

Because current laws and regulations prevent the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs, reclassification would allow the government to examine and communicate about marijuana in a way that prioritizes science instead of an outdated drug war mindset....

But rescheduling alone would not remove the criminal penalties that still put people abiding by state marijuana laws at risk of federal prosecution and prison sentences. Other statutes would have to be amended to accomplish that.

December 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"7 Reasons President Trump Is Unlikely to Fight Legal Marijuana"

America_We_DeserveThe title of this post is the headline of this effective new Time magazine article.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts and major headings:

With Donald Trump nominating Cabinet members who have spoken out against legal marijuana, some are arguing that the war on drugs may make a comeback. But while there’s reason for anxiety among those selling recreational marijuana legally in states like Colorado and Washington, an all-out war remains unlikely.

Experts say that trying to undo legalization at this point would come with serious economic and political hurdles. “It’s certainly come so far,” says Sam Kamin, a marijuana law expert at the University of Denver, “that it can’t be undone without a heavy cost.” Others are even more skeptical. Says Mike Vitiello, a marijuana law expert at the University of the Pacific, “It’s kind of like illegal immigration: You can’t build a wall high enough.”

Here are seven reasons that it would be hard to stop what the states have started.

Waging a war on pot would go against the will of many voters.

“It would be a very blatant finger to the voters,” says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Amanda Reiman. In November, voters in eight states cast their ballots for some form of marijuana legalization. That means that medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and recreational marijuana is legal in eight, including the nation’s most populous: California. With that powerhouse on board, a total of about one quarter of the population lives in a place where voters have decided that adults should be able to consume cannabis much the same way they consume alcohol. And all but six other states have legalized a non-psychoactive form of cannabis known as CBD, which people use to treat conditions like juvenile epilepsy.

Public opinion on marijuana is going in the opposite direction. ...

Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize. ...

It does not seem high on his list of priorities. ...

Waging a war costs money. ...

There’s a lot of money in marijuana these days and the prospect of much more in the future.

If legal marijuana markets didn’t exist tomorrow, that would mean the shuttering of hundreds of small businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs. It would buoy the black market. And it would also make for a lot of unhappy investors. The market for legal marijuana in America is already worth an estimated $7 billion and, according to market research firm ArcView, it will be worth more than $20 billion by 2020. While many bigwig venture capitalists and corporations are still wary of writing checks because of prohibition, others are proving eager to cash in on the “green rush.” Among them is even a member of Trump’s transition team, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. “There’s a huge amount of capital formation,” says Vitiello. “There are literally billions of dollars of investment in these gray market establishments.”

The extent of federal government’s authority over these matters is unclear. 

December 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive

Lead_960The title of this post is my (foolish?) reaction to this notable new Politico magazine article headlined "Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana: There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters." Here are excerpts from the start of the article which I follow with a (too brief) explanation for my blunt "bring it" bravado:

By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” and that it was a "very real danger" that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a "tragic mistake" and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.”  In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: "You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly — more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state who approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.

And so far, Congress has shown no interest in trying to stop the Sessions nomination, at least on this issue. Even members who are in favor of protecting states from federal interference on the marijuana issue have said they support Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general: “I strongly support Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,” said Representative Tom McClintock, Republican from California. “He is a strict constitutionalist who believes in the rule of law. I would expect that he will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws involving strictly intra-state commerce.”

There are dozens of reasons I think it would be quite foolish as a matter of constitutional law and sound federal policing priorities for future Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start his tenure by using broad federal police powers to criminally prosecute tens of thousands of players in a growing recreational marijuana industry.  This industry is already well-established and producing thousands of jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues in Colorado, Oregon and Washington; it is now gearing up for growth in Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada and maybe Maine.

In the most simple of terms, it would be foolish for the Trump/Sessions Administration to try to "Make America Great Again" via tough federal pot prohibition enforcement because it would show to all who care to pay attention that the GOP's purported affinity for personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights is a huge bunch of hooey.  But I genuinely believe that most younger GOP Senators — e.g., folks like Ted Cruz, my wish pick for AG, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott— have always voiced a genuine commitment to personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights.  Consequently, I do not think these important GOP voices are going to be quick to bless any efforts by future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.

Moreover, and completely missing from the facile analysis in this superficial Politico article, even if future AG Jeff Sessions were eager to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat for the emerging recreational marijuana industry, there will still be the bigger and stronger and much more consequential medical marijuana industry chugging along — especially in so many swing/red states that were critical to the election of Donald J. Trump circa 2016.  I am thinking here specifically of now-red states like Arizona and Florida and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Those now-red states alone add up to nearly 100 electoral votes that a whole bunch of Dems would love to win back in 2018 and 2020; and they are all states that, I think, could easily go back into the Dem column if/when establishment Dems finally figure out that medical marijuana reform in a winning issue worth promoting forcefully.  (I have blogged here an explanation for my claim in a post at my other blog that Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform.)

Importantly, in this post I have only outlined some obvious political/policy reasons for why I think it would be foolish (and ultimately unlikely) for future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal pot Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  In a future post, assuming readers are interested, I can explain all the reasons I think the other two branches of the federal government — Congress and the federal judiciary — can and would and should find an array of means to "stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters."  Given that Congress and federal judges over the last eight years have done a whole lot to preclude the Obama Administration from doing too much by executive fiat,  everyone concerned about criminal justice and marijuana policy in the Trumpian future much keep in mind that the Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people.

Just sayin'

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform

December 5, 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)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prez Obama in "exit interview" with Rolling Stone hints he might work on marijuana reform as private citizen

Barack-obama-marijuana1-300x300Rolling Stone magazine has this big new interview with Prez Obama about his legacy on an array of issues, and it includes this notable Q&A on marijuana law and policy:

You can now buy marijuana legally on the entire West Coast. So why are we still waging the War on Drugs? It is a colossal failure. Why are we still dancing around the subject and making marijuana equivalent to a Schedule I drug?

Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.

[Laughs] What about you? Are you gonna get on the cutting edge?

Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go. But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I've already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher's show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.

November 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shouldn't a new "grassroots" Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders get started by focusing on grass and roots?

In the video below from the Late Show, Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert that the Democrats have to become a "grassroots" party. Because of the frustrating tendency in recent years the the Clinton wing of the Democratic party to promote and give power to older, less diverse and more "insider" officials and candidates than the Republican party, I have largely given up on the party and I am fairly apathetic about whether the party gets its act together sooner or later. But I am sure about one thing: if the Democratic party wants to become relevant very quickly and build as a true "grassroots" party, it ought to begin by focusing a lot on marijuana law and policy reform. Specifically, as the title of this post seeks to suggests, I think smart progressive politicians and community organizers ought to be laser focused, at least for the next six months if not longer, on (1) protecting the constitutional rights of citizens in states who are in strict and clear compliance with state marijuana laws (that is the "grass"), and (2) seeking to expand the reach and breadth of existing state marijuana reform laws, with a particular concern for allowing citizens a legal means for at least limited "home grow" (that is the roots).

I make this "pitch" largely driven by the fact that the only significant progressive policy issue that has gone to voters in the last two major election cycles and pretty consistently done much better with most voters (especially white male voters) than the leading Democratic candidate IN RED STATES has been marijuana reform. Specifically, in the 2014 election, in Alaska and Florida, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more than 50% of the vote even though, I believe, no democratic state-wide candidate in those two stated got more than 50% of the vote. Similarly, in the 2016 election, in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more support than the leading Democratic candidate. (The outlier here is Arizona, but notably exit polls show 43% of white men supported supported full legalization in the state, whereas only 36% of them supported Hillary Clinton; similarly 45% of whites without a college degree in Arizona supported full legalization, whereas only 35% of them supported Hillary Clinton.)

I could go on and on and on about why the "smart" approach for any political party circa Fall 2016 would be to focus on the bipartisan and wildly popular issue of medical marijuana reform. I will just close by noting that major medical or recreational marijuana reform is now the law of the land in just about big blue and red state except Texas. Specifically, recreational marijuana reform is now the law in "big states" like California (55 EV), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Colorado (9) Oregon (7), Nevada (6), while medical marijuana reform is the law of the land in Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), Arizona (11), Connecticut (7), Arkansas (6). Notably, I have left out three "small" full legalization jurisdictions from this list (e.g., Alaska, Maine and Washing DC), but my list of bigger states now with major marijuana reform laws on their books after the 2016 election now just happens to add up to 271 electoral votes.

This electoral math and the marijuana map are among the reasons I remain quite bullish about the future of marijuana reform in the United States, and it is why I have been saying to any and everyone who would listen that the truly smart political candidates in BOTH major political parties are likely to be supportive of state-led marijuana reforms. But, given that the election last week highlighted that leading Democrats are not very good at getting to 270, I am not really all that optimistic that the Democratic party will wake up and smell the marijuana reform future rather than keep being focused on the prohibitionist past.

 

 

November 16, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fascinating exit poll data on Arizona and California marijuana legalization support/opposition

Thanks to Tom Angell, Marijuana Majority founder and Twitter fiend, I now have seen that CNN has great exit poll data detailing and breaking down by a variety of demographics who voted for and against the marijuana reform initiative in Arizona (which failed) and California (which passed).

For those who follow marijuana reform polling, many of these demographic data points are not surprising: younger voters supported legalization in both states much more than older voters.  Democrats supported legalization in both states much more than Republicans.  But there are also some really interesting distinctive data points to be found, such as:

  • In Arizona, the majority of voters making less than $100K were supportive of legalization, with those making less than $50K being the most supportive (at 53%).  Among voters making more than $100K, a full 56% were against AZ legalization. 

  • In Arizona, a strong majority of Latino voters supported legalization (60%), but a strong majority of white voters opposed legalization (55%)

  • In California, the majority of voters at all income levels supported legalization, but those making less than $100K did so by a much larger percentage.

  • In California, the majority of unmarried voters strongly supported legalization (64%), but a majority of married voters opposed legalization (52%), but it is really just married women (against 55%) and not married men (for 52%) who move the married voters into a majority no position.

  • In California, the majority of voters saying no religion were huge supporters of legalization (76%), but protestants also were majority supporters (54%), but catholics were strongly opposed (61%).

November 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform

Cw1RUvqWgAATypwAs various folks continue to try to figure out just what happened on Election Day 2016, I am seeing a lot of people noting that Hillary Clinton won more of the popular vote than did Donald Trump.  But Trump is now Prez-Elect because he squeaked out state-by-state victories in a majority of the swing states.  As the title of this post trumpets, I think simple math suggests the most of the swing states would have swung the other way if HRC had been a vocal and consistent advocate for major marijuana reform.  Here is the basis for my thinking:

1. Third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein both advocated for full marijuana legalization, and I think it fair to imagine that some (significant?) percentage of their voters would have voted for HRC instead if she championed major marijuana reform.

If only half of voters who picked Johnson/Stein would have instead voted for HRC had she championed marijuana reform, HRC would have won, instead of lost, the states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states add up to 75 electoral votes and would have given HRC the presidency with more than 300 electoral votes. Given that younger persons disproportionately support full marijuana legalization (nearly 80%) and that younger voters disproportionately voted for Johnson/Stein, I think significant advocacy for major marijuana reform could have allowed HRC to secure many of these third-party voters in 2016.

2.  In addition to securing more of those who showed up to vote for a third party, I think significant advocacy for major marijuana reform could have allowed HRC to motivate many more traditional democrats to turn out to vote. This UPROXX article, headlined "It Appears As Though Hillary Clinton Was Ultimately Done In By Low Democratic Voter Turnout," details why lower turn out among democratic voters was fundamental to her surprising loss.  (Given that HRC mostly made arguments about who to vote against (Trump) rather than arguments about why to come out to vote for her (what did she promise to do exactly?), it is not hard to understand why she struggled to encourage her traditional base to show up and vote.

If HRC advocacy for major marijuana reforms motivate just another 10% of traditional democratic voters to show up to vote for her, she now wins Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin big AND now also wins Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and maybe even makes Ohio and Texas(!) remarkably close.  With just the first additional three of these states added to her column, and HRC has now more than 350 electoral votes; throw in Ohio and Texas and she is way over 400.

Now I realize, of course, that one probably needs to be smoking something to really believe that potent advocacy for major marijuana reforms would have turned the US deep blue and led to a landslide outcome not seen since the Reagan era. But throughout the election season and now in this period of post-mortems, I keep returning the my own feeling that HRC really provided no tangible reason for me to vote for her rather than just against the other guy. Potent advocacy for major marijuana reforms, I suspect, would have given a lot of people other than me a real reason to vote for HRC.

November 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

California and Nevada on path to legalize recreational marijuana, but Arizona not that into it

Enough results are in, and I am eager to call it a night on this blog, so I am going to rely on the votes as of now in Arizona, California and Nevada to conclude that marijuana will be legal for recreational use in California and Nevada, but not in Arizona.  Thus, as I call it a night, it looks like marijuana reform has won in at least seven and perhaps in eight of the nine states in which it was on the ballot, and seemed to win fairly big in the the big states of California, Florida and Massachusetts.

November 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massachusetts votes to legalize recreational marijuana and Maine might have too

I have been watching the marijuana legalization results on Politico from Maine and Massachusetts, and the results are clear enough in Massachusetts, currently 53.5% for reform and 46.5% against, for everyone to be declaring victory for marijuana legalization in the state.  In Maine, where the vote is currently 50.5% for reform and to 49.5% against, the race is too close to call. But it looks like there may be two New England states on the fast path to full marijuana legalization, and I suspect a number of other states nearby are going to be seriously considering following their lead before too long.

November 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)