Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Interesting look at how religion and religious groups might support or oppose marijuana reform

Genesis-129-Bible-Jesus-Religion-cannabis-17234763584

This lengthy new BuzzFeed News article, headlined ""Can Cannabis And Christ Coexist? These Devout Southern Christians Think So," provides am interesting and effectively review of some issues that arise at the intersection of marijuana reform and religion.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Lydia Decker couldn’t miss the man in the motorized wheelchair as he whirred down the aisles of a West Texas grocery store. As someone with lung problems herself, she noticed his oxygen tank and wondered about his illness and his meds. They got talking, and Decker mentioned Genesis 1:29, the organization she heads that uses religion to preach the value of medical cannabis. This was one conversion that wasn't going to happen.

“Oh, that trash!” Decker remembered the man saying as she tried to reason with him in the pharmacy aisle. The nurse with the man “politely” asked Decker, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to leave. She did, but not before handing the nurse a Genesis 1:29 business card, which features a map of Texas covered with a large cannabis leaf and the words “One Mission End Prohibition!”...

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she's endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May. “People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,'” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

The South is the last frontier for cannabis law reform. And it is no coincidence that it is also the most religious region in the country, according to Pew Research. It’s a place where interpretations of God’s word can be as powerful as law, and where preachers have long proclaimed the evils of marijuana. So as pot takes hold for medical use in more than half the country, and for recreational use in eight states and Washington, DC, both are nonstarters in much of the South. Only Arkansas, Florida, and West Virginia have full medical marijuana programs, and recreational use is not even on the horizon.

The president of the organization that represents the largest evangelical group in the US won’t budge on calling marijuana a sin. “The scripture speaks against drunkenness, and marijuana is a mind-altering substance with the purpose of achieving, essentially, what the Bible would describe as drunkenness,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

To get the votes they need, pro-legalization groups can't just preach to nonbelievers; they also need to court people of faith, says Morgan Fox of Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that is behind most of the cannabis laws in the country. Support from religious groups has become as key as support from law enforcement groups, addiction specialists, and parent groups. “I know that most of the major policy reform organizations are working on that right now — trying to build coalitions with faith-based groups,” Fox said.

After all, marijuana has never been more popular with young people — recent polls show the 18–34 crowd overwhelmingly in support of legalization. At the same time, young people’s church attendance is dropping. As much as pro-pot groups need religious support, religious leaders need to hold onto their flocks, and sometimes that means loosening opinions on controversial issues.

In Utah last year, the Church of Latter-day Saints weighed in on competing medical cannabis bills and made the unprecedented move of expressing support for one, albeit by backing the stricter of two pieces of legislation. And a group of Muslim undergraduate students at the University of South Florida, where medical marijuana was on the state ballot, tackled the question of whether cannabis use is haram last year during an event called "Contemporary Issues in Islam: A Discussion on Medical Marijuana.” Some faiths have expressed varying degrees of support for medical marijuana, including the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Unitarian churches. In New York, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries had the cannabis blessed by a rabbi. And globally, to respect the traditional use of cannabis by Rastafarians, Jamaica legalized cannabis for religious use in 2015.

But to bring cannabis to the region of the US where states are deeply red and religious and where pot is both a social taboo and a ticket to jail, Decker and others are harnessing their devotion to their faiths to evangelize for it....

Still, religious opposition continues to influence drug policy throughout the region. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke out against the nine legalization initiatives put before voters in November. “I think when it comes to marijuana I’m, of course, for criminal penalties for marijuana use and for continuing criminalization of marijuana,” Moore told BuzzFeed News, specifying, though, that he is not in favor of the “incoherent mass incarceration that we’ve had as a result of the drug war.”

The Catholic Church has also come out against legalization; in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that "drug addiction is an evil” and “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs,' are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.” The Catholic diocese in Arizona and Massachusetts came out against legalization in fall 2016. While this “didn’t swing the pendulum in Massachusetts,” where legalization squeaked through in November, “it very well could have in Arizona,” where legalization failed, Fox said.

May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Risky Business? The Trump Administration and the State-Licensed Marijuana Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this short essay authored by Rob Mikos and available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he opposes legalization of marijuana, a drug he considers “only slightly less awful” than heroin.  Such comments have fueled speculation that the Trump Administration might soon launch a new war on weed.  In this short essay, however, Professor Mikos suggests that the Trump Administration’s impact on state reforms and the state-licensed marijuana industry is likely to be tempered by three potent forces: (1) political support for state reforms; (2) practical limits on the DOJ’s enforcement capacity; and (3) legal doctrines that weaken the DOJ’s ability to turn back the clock on state reforms.  The essay discusses each of these constraints in turn and ultimately suggests that the Attorney General might pursue less draconian tactics, like anti-marijuana media campaigns, to curb the rise of the marijuana industry and the harms he attributes to it.

May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont

The title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting on very big news out of the Green Mountain State. Here are the details:

Vermont’s Legislature has become the first in the nation to approve a recreational marijuana legalization bill.

Vermont's bill, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana possession in 2018 and anticipate the possibility of a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market, was approved by the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 79-66.  The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go directly to Gov. Phil Scott.

Other states have legalized marijuana following a voter referendum, but no state has yet legalized marijuana solely through the legislative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures....

Wednesday's vote closed a divisive debate over legalization, particularly in the House, that once prompted Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe to predict that legalization would take a "miracle" to pass this year.  Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to support the limited bill, which was pitched as a compromise between the House and Senate approaches on marijuana.

The proposal incorporates H.170, the House-supported bill that would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants or four immature marijuana plants for adults over 21.  The effective date has been pushed back one year until July 1, 2018.  The bill also sets up a nine-member commission to study the best way to regulate marijuana in the future.

"There's no slam dunk of any kind," said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking about the prospect of a legal marijuana market.  "It just is doing work that could be used next year or in subsequent years."  The proposal would continue to prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana and the use of marijuana in public places.  Employers, landlords, schools and prisons could continue to restrict marijuana use.

May 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prez Trump issues notable statement when signing spending bill with DOJ limit on going after medical marijuana states

170301105323-trump-marijuana-780x439As reported in this Bloomberg piece, headlined "Trump Spurns Congress as He Signals Medical Marijuana Fight," the President made a significant statement on a number of topics, including marijuana enforcement, while signing the latest spending bill. Here are the details:

President Donald Trump signaled he may ignore a congressional ban on interfering with state medical marijuana laws, arguing in a lengthy statement that he isn’t legally bound by a series of limits lawmakers imposed on him.

Trump issued the “signing statement” Friday after he signed a measure funding the government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, reprising a controversial tactic former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama used while in office.  Trump also suggested he may ignore gender and racial preferences in some government programs as well as congressional requirements for advance notice before taking a range of foreign policy and military actions....

In the signing statement, Trump singled out a provision in the spending bill that says funds cannot be used to block states from implementing medical marijuana laws.  “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he said.

Obama also occasionally released signing statements objecting to congressional restrictions on his authority.  The White House described Trump’s signing statement as routine, but did not indicate whether the president planned to take action to defy Congressional restrictions....

Tim Shaw, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that the president is bound by the language in the spending bill that now bears his signature.  “Part of the argument here in this signing statement is that he has the constitutional requirement to execute the law,” Shaw said in an interview.  “But this is one of those laws, and Congress has the ultimate authority over funds getting spent.”

Because the language used in this signing statement is somewhat boilerplate, I am disinclined to view this development as a direct announcement or even an indirect signal of any new firm policy of the Trump Administration in the arena of marijuana reform.  Still, given that the President has said almost nothing about marijuana reform since his election and given that some members of his Cabinet are clearly not fans of the marijuana reform movement, this statement provides more evidence that Prez Trump and others within the White House are not eager to be active cheerleaders for state marijuana reform efforts.

May 6, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Will Michigan become the ninth US state, and first in Midwest, to fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative in 2018?

ThThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "Pot petition drive officially begins for 2018 Michigan ballot."  Here are the basics:

Marijuana would be legalized for recreational uses and taxed at a rate of 16% under petition language that will be turned in to the Secretary of State today.

If the petition language is approved by the state Board of Canvassers, the group pushing the initiative — the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol — will have 180 days to collect 252,523 signatures from valid registered voters in Michigan. In order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group is setting a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures.

That’s a task that will take money, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition.  The group hopes to raise between $8 million and $10 million to both pay people to gather the signatures needed to get on the ballot and to wage a campaign to get the measure passed in November 2018.

“Prohibition is a failed big government program,” said former state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who is the political director of the coalition.  “We have 20,000 people arrested every year in Michigan. And we’re now going to be in a position to give our citizens a choice to end that.”...

The coalition will have an advantage this year over previous efforts to get the issue on the ballot.  The national Marijuana Policy Project, which has gotten involved in several other states where marijuana legalization has succeeded, has jumped into Michigan’s ballot drive.  So far eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana use.

The last group to try and get the issue on the 2016 ballot – MiLegalize – gathered more than 350,000 signatures, but not within the 180-day time frame.  MiLegalize, as well as the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization or Norml, have signed on to the latest effort and will bring its army of volunteers to the push to free the weed.

Marijuana Policy Project has an extraordinary recent track record of success with marijuana reform initiatives, and my sense is that MPP will not get involved in a state campaign unless it feels confident it has a good chance of winning. Michigan will be such an interesting state to watch in the run up to 2018 because of both politics and geography: the state has an (outgoing) Republic Gov and it supported Prez Trump in 2016, but it has two Democratic senators and is sometimes thought of as more of a "blue" state; the state borders Canada and a number of upper-Midwest states (Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin) that currently have fairly restrictive marijuana policies and politics.

May 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Might a crack down on state reforms by the feds actually increase the pace for national marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Washington Post piece by Paul Waldman headlined "Will Jeff Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization." Here are excerpts:

A CBS poll out today shows that 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, the highest number the poll has recorded, while a Quinnipiac poll puts the number at 60 percent, with an incredible 94 percent saying people ought to be able to get it if their doctors prescribe it (CBS put that figure at 88 percent). Perhaps more important, 71 percent in the CBS poll and 73 percent in the Quinnipiac poll said that the federal government should leave states that have legalized it alone.

But there’s one person who doesn’t agree, and he happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government. In fact, if there’s a single thing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates more than undocumented immigrants it might just be marijuana, which is why he appears to be planning what amounts to a return to a 1980s-style War on Drugs. We don’t yet know what practical steps Sessions will take, because things are still in the planning stages. But allow me to suggest that in the end, Sessions might actually accelerate the country’s move toward the eventual goal of full legalization....

[T]he big unanswered question is how the attorney general will approach the states that have passed some form of legalization. He could follow the (mostly) hands-off approach that the Obama administration did. Or he could send out federal agents to start shutting down dispensaries across the country. Or he could do something in between. But given his strong views and the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law — which gives him substantial power to go after the burgeoning pot industry in states that have legalized it — it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kind of crackdown coming from the Justice Department.

Sessions may already be having a deterrent effect. The Colorado legislature was all set to pass a law regulating marijuana clubs but backed off after the governor warned that doing so could incur Sessions’s wrath. But in other places, the movement toward legalization continues. Just yesterday, West Virginia’s governor signed a law passed by the legislature to create a medical marijuana system in the state.

Which means that if and when he attacks legal marijuana, Sessions will be going after a movement with extraordinary momentum. And it’s not just the opinion polls; it’s also what’s happening at the ballot box. In 2016, marijuana initiatives were on the ballot in nine states and won in eight of them. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana initiatives. Only Arizona’s recreational measure was narrowly defeated....

So consider this scenario. Sessions initiates some kind of new War on Weed, one that results in lots of splashy headlines, dramatic video of state-licensed businesses being shut down and thoughtful debates about the proper balance between federal and state power. Then the backlash begins. Even many Republicans express their dismay at the Justice Department’s heavy-handed actions. Pressure builds on President Trump (whose comments on the topic have been mostly vague and noncommittal) to rein Sessions in. The controversy energizes cannabis advocates and the voters who agree with them. More and more candidates come out in favor of legalization, or at least a new federal law that would remove the drug from Schedule 1 (which puts it in the same category as heroin) and leave it up to states to decide how to handle it without any federal interference.

Then in 2020, we see the first major-party nominee who advocates full legalization of marijuana. That last part might not happen three years from now (though some past and future nominees have already sponsored bills to allow medical use). But it will eventually, because politicians inevitably follow where the public has moved.

Most of them do, anyway. But on this issue, Sessions is not such a politician — he’s going to pursue that demon weed no matter what the public thinks. We all know where America is heading on this issue, and Sessions may end up pushing us there just a little faster.

I have been saying throughout the semester in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar that a significant marijuana prohibition enforcement effort by the Justice Department might provide the spark in Congress to move forward more seriously and effectively with a variety of proposed federal legislative reforms in this space. For a bunch of reasons, I do not think federal reforms and national legalization are a certainty no matter what AG Sessions decides to do, but I do think there are a lot of interesting elements to what we will see in the marijuana reform space over the next decade and that what AG Sessions seeks to do in this space will be a very important part of the story with lots of unpredictable ripples.

April 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Latest polling shows new high for support of marijuana legalization

Support-mj-pollThis new CBS News item, headlined "Support for marijuana legalization at all-time high," reports on a notable new CBS News poll about marijuana policy and reform.  Here are some details:

Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll.  Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs.  And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.

The belief that pot should be legal has reached a new high in CBS News polls. Sixty-one percent of Americans now say the it should be, a five-point increase from a year ago. This sentiment has increased each year we’ve measured it since 2013, with the turning point to majority support coming in 2014. Back in 1979, this poll found just 27 percent saying it should be legal.

Those over 65 are the most opposed to legalization, but most under age 65 support it. And women are now as much in favor of legal marijuana as men are; in previous years they were less so.

Many states have legalized pot in some form, and most Americans don’t think the federal government should try to stop its sale and use in those states. Even among those who think marijuana should be illegal, only half think the federal government should get involved with the states.  This sentiment cuts across party lines: Majorities of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) oppose the federal government trying to stop marijuana use in these states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asserted a connection between marijuana and violent crime, but few Americans see it that way: just 23 percent think legalizing pot increases violent crime, while nearly as many think legal marijuana decreases it.

Generally, most Americans think habitual drug use should be treated as an addiction problem rather than a criminal offense.  Even most Americans who oppose legalizing marijuana think so. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree. Most Americans view marijuana in particular as safer than alcohol....

Support for legalization has risen among all age groups – particularly those under 55.  Americans under 35 show the strongest support.  Three in four adults between 18 and 34 support legal marijuana use, as do six in 10 Americans between 35 and 64.  Seniors remain the one age group for whom a majority still think marijuana use should be against the law.

I think especially interesting and notable are the breakdown in these numbers by party affiliation detailed here. Specifically, I find it quite interesting that, according to this poll, Republicans disfavor marijuana legalization by a slight margin (49% to 46%), they still overwhelming support medical marijuana access (87% to 11%) and significantly oppose the federal government taking action to stop marijuana sales in legalization states (63% to 33%). These numbers suggest that any strong Trump Administration push against state legalization efforts will likely engender some backlash among supporters as well as opponents of the President.

April 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

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)