Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Why a Drug Policy Organization Needs to Speak Out Against White Supremacy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and provocative little commentary authored by Megan Farrington, who is the director of digital communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here is what Megan has to say: 

The drug war is a tool of racial oppression.  We see this in racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates for drug offenses that exist even though white people and people of color use and sell drugs at about the same rates.

We see it in the way stop-and-frisk policies have been used to target communities of color.  We see it in the way allegations of drug use were raised as cover for the police killings of Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin.

And we see it in the legal marijuana industry now taking shape, which risks excluding the communities that have been most subjected to drug war enforcement by making people with past drug law convictions ineligible for licenses.

Sometimes the racial implications of drug war policies are overt, and sometimes they are more insidious.  But the bottom line is that when we work to dismantle the drug war, we are working to end a tool of oppression.

So when white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out.  If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.

We saw this when the drug war replaced Jim Crow last century, and must fight to keep it from happening again. The only way to ensure that our drug policy reforms truly end the harms of drug prohibition is to support the fight against white supremacy wherever it is taking place.

August 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Silly(?!?) talk of marijuana reform as a "flash point" in the far-off 2020 Prez campaign

4463513_kanye2020_jpeg8c21a7f088d655dd3f1084a318fc8418As of this writing in mid-August 2017, we still do not really know the marijuana reform position of the current President of the United States.  But that reality has not prevented the folks at Politico from putting forth this new article about the 2020 Prez campaign headlined "Marijuana politics emerge as 2020 flash point: The debate over legalization is about to receive a full airing on the presidential campaign trail."  Though I think it silly to try to discuss too seriously the 2020 Prez campaign with still 15 months to go before the mid-term election of 2018, I cannot resist highlighting some notable passages in this Politico piece:

Marijuana legalization just moved from the fringes of the last presidential campaign to center stage in 2020.  Between a sweeping new package of legislation introduced last week by one of the top Democratic presidential prospects and, on the other end of the spectrum, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vigorous opposition to recreational use of marijuana, the debate over legalization of cannabis is about to receive a full airing on the presidential campaign trail.

While Bernie Sanders also supported medicinal use of marijuana and the decriminalization of recreational marijuana, drug policy stayed on the outskirts of the 2016 presidential debate, and growing action at the state level was barely acknowledged.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a bipartisan nonprofit advocacy group, said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s introduction of “the farthest-reaching bill ever proposed” will have a catalytic effect on the politics of legalized marijuana and the myriad criminal justice issues related to it.  “Booker is getting a ton of fantastic press about this,’’ he said. “And other candidates will notice that and will want to say, 'I agree — and I want to introduce a bill of my own.'”

Booker’s rollout of the Marijuana Justice Act — introduced to a wide audience via Facebook Live — was more than just a call for legalizing marijuana at the federal level. The measure also addresses withholding federal funds for the construction of jails and prisons from states whose pot laws are shown to disproportionately incarcerate minorities; expunging federal convictions for cannabis use; and mandating sentencing hearings for prisoners now serving time for pot offenses.  “You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” Booker, the former mayor of Newark, said.

With Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the ambitious legislation is viewed as unlikely to pass.  But its attachment to a top prospective 2020 candidate — and the growing action on marijuana legalization at the state level — all but guarantees presidential contenders will need a fully formed position.

Several possible Democratic presidential candidates — including Booker and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — have already signed on to a separate bipartisan medical marijuana bill.  In Massachusetts, where voters approved a ballot measure last year legalizing recreational marijuana, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has addressed the issues of creating legal and secure banking for the cannabis industry.

On the Republican side, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has called for a repeal on the pot prohibition — making him popular with young libertarians — and won some conservative backing with his strong stand for states’ rights on the issue....

Already, in the two governors races on the ballot in 2017 — New Jersey and Virginia — the Democratic nominees have staked out clear positions in favor of decriminalization.... 

After California officially became the largest legal cannabis market in the world last November with approval of Proposition 64, Nevada — a key Western swing state — followed last month to become the fifth state to legalize recreational use of the drug.  States are hungrily eyeing tax revenues from the cannabis market, where revenues topped $5.8 billion in 2016 and are expected to reach at least $7 billion by 2020, experts say.

Willie Brown, the former California House speaker and San Francisco mayor who successfully carried one of the nation’s first cannabis-related reform bills to decriminalize the drug in 1973, says the political climate has shifted markedly from the days when “we couldn’t talk legalization — hell no.” But he said Booker wasn’t the first Democrat to understand how deeply the issue of legal recreational cannabis resonated, especially with millennial voters.

“Gavin Newsom was the first,” he said, saying that the California Democratic lieutenant governor stepped out in front and backed legalization of recreational pot in the nation’s most populous state nearly two years ago.  Newsom’s strong endorsement and campaigning helped pass Proposition 64 — and set the stage for him to take the front-runner spot in the 2018 governor’s race, Brown noted.

In recent days, Newsom’s rival Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor, has edged toward a more liberal stance, saying at a public forum that “cannabis is going to be the new alcohol business.” State Treasurer John Chiang, another California gubernatorial candidate, has been holding statewide hearings on cannabis banking issues.

Even California Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor who has taken a more cautious stance on the issue, is on board for marijuana decriminalization. Harris, a first-term senator who is frequently mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate in 2020, told a progressive group last month: “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs ... we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”

This article's brief mention of marijuana reform in the 2017 races for Gov in New Jersey and Virginia merits, in my view, a lot more attention than the far-off 2020 Prez race. As I understand matters, I believe the Democratic candidate in New Jersey has endorsed full legalization of marijuana and the GOP candidate supports decriminalization. That reality, as well as Senator Booker's bold bill, highlights how mainstream significant marijuana reform has already become well before we get to gaming out who might be running against Prez Trump in 2020.

August 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Congratulations to the first director of the new Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation

Cat PackerI was so very pleased and excited to see this announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles, which begins this way: "Mayor Eric Garcetti has appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation." Here is more:

Packer will be the first Executive Director for the department, which was created in June after Los Angeles voters approved the local regulation and taxation of cannabis earlier this year. In her new role, Packer will launch the department and lead implementation of the new cannabis regulations being developed by the City Council, City Attorney and Department of City Planning.  Her appointment is subject to City Council confirmation.

“Taxing and regulating legal cannabis in Los Angeles will be a complex process — we need someone leading the effort who understands and can navigate those nuances,” said Mayor Garcetti. “Cat’s experience makes her an excellent fit for this new role.  I am confident that her work will help us implement new regulations in a way that is fair and equitable for all of our communities, respects our neighborhoods and raises valuable new revenue for City services.”

Packer has spent much of her career working on issues of cannabis reform.  Prior to joining the City, she worked as a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, where she advocated for responsible cannabis policy across California.  “I look forward to serving the City of Los Angeles as we lead the development and implementation of responsible, equitable cannabis policies that will serve as a model for the rest of America,” said Packer.  “I can’t wait to get started, and I’m grateful to Mayor Garcetti for this amazing, pioneering opportunity.”

The City’s Department of Cannabis Regulation was established as the result of several voter-approved initiatives over the last year, here in Los Angeles and statewide. Last November, California voters approved Prop. 64, which paved the way for the legalization of recreational cannabis across the state. In March, L.A. voters approved Prop. M — which approved local regulation, taxation and enforcement of cannabis policy.  The Department of Cannabis Regulation will be governed by a five-member Cannabis Regulation Commission.

I find this news so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer is a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and she was a student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015.  Especially in the early years of my seminar, I made a habit of telling students that they could likely become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly because there were relatively few senior lawyers with knowledge and experience in this space.  As I gear up to teach my marijuana seminar again this coming fall, I will be sure to spotlights Cat's impressive early achievement in this arena. (With all my students, I take no credit for their any of their achievements, but I take comfort when learning my instruction did not harmfully lead them astray.)

August 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Is Supporting Legal Pot Becoming Politically Viable in DC?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Rolling Stone article.  Here are excerpts:

It's no longer political suicide, or so it seems, to embrace legalizing marijuana. At least among the younger generation of prominent Democrats, though there seems to be cracks in the dam amongst Republicans too.

The latest evolution on the issue was on display this week as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker – a former mayor of Newark who is a young, affable guy rumored to be considering a presidential bid in 2020 – unveiled the most sweeping proposal yet to the nation's marijuana policy.  The bill, dubbed the Marijuana Justice Act, would end the federal prohibition on weed by removing the plant from the list of controlled, as in banned, substances where it currently sits next to drugs like heroine and LSD....

During his failed presidential bid, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a bill to simply legalize marijuana federally, but it didn't go nearly as far as this new one.   Besides ending the federal prohibition on pot, Booker's legislation incentivize states to decrease their prison populations by withholding federal funds if they have disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people locked up for cannabis violations.   His proposal also calls on the courts to expunge the records of people behind bars for marijuana violations, while investing money in job training programs.

A sweeping proposal like this would have been seen as the political third rail a few years ago, but voters in red and blue states alike have far outpaced the nation's stodgy political class and lawmakers are now slowly catching up with voters.  Now it's becoming more en vogue for politicians to challenge some of the key underpinnings of the nation's decades-long war on drugs....

While Democrats, especially this younger generation of lawmakers, are coming around more quickly to the will of citizens across the political spectrum – who have voted in recreational marijuana in eight states and the nation's capital, as well as in the dozens of states that allow medical marijuana – GOP leaders (including Attorney General Jeff "Just Say No" Sessions) are still proving a roadblock to the reform effort.

Before leaving town for August, Speaker Paul Ryan's top lieutenants in the House beat back a broadly supported, bipartisan effort to allow doctors at VA hospitals to prescribe marijuana to veterans suffering from everything from PTSD to losing a limb, which often comes with astronomically large and recurring opioid prescriptions.

Still other Republicans brush aside any talk of marijuana legalization. That's in part because the GOP base doesn't seem to be as vocal on the issue, which former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham says never really came up as he traversed Iowa and other states that vote early. "No – didn't hang around with the right crowd I guess," Sen. Graham tells Rolling Stone....

Some Republicans are learning marijuana is no longer the political third rail it once was.  There are other efforts afoot in the Capitol to make it easier for universities and research hospitals to study marijuana, while also protecting medicinal marijuana business owners and patients.  While the progressive Booker supports those efforts, so do two Tea Party darlings, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky....

While slow moving, the change is palpable, especially for the lawmakers in those purple, blue and even red states alike who represent voters who approved medical or recreational weed.  "The country is changing, as did Massachusetts, and as each state moves further than it creates a national culture," Democratic Sen. Ed Markey tells Rolling Stone.  "It's like gay marriage: in Massachusetts it starts and then another state and another state and before long it's something that people understand is a part of the modern political culture."

August 6, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big meeting of feds and state/local officials in Colorado portends...?

As reported in this US News & World Report article, headlined "Feds Tour Colorado in DOJ Pot Review: Recommendations are due next week on whether to crush state-legal weed," there is some new activity in the arena of federal review of state marijuana reform. But what the new activity will lead to remains unclear. Here are excerpts:

Federal officials asked seemingly mundane questions during a Tuesday meeting in Colorado with state officials, at least some of whom were unaware that the discussion was part of a shadowy review of federal marijuana policy. The meeting provides the best glimpse yet into the issues authorities are considering as they prepare to make recommendations next week on what to do about state-legal recreational marijuana, with options ranging from a crackdown to keeping the status quo.

The guest list on Tuesday included Justice Department attorney Michael Murray, who is leading the department's marijuana policy review, and a State Department official with expertise in treaty obligations, according to Mark Bolton, deputy legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. John Zadrozny, a domestic policy adviser at the White House, was in the room, as were two representatives of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says Bolton, who also attended.

A person with knowledge of the meeting's purpose says the gathering and another meeting Wednesday with officials from the city of Colorado Springs are directly related to the ongoing federal pot policy review. The source asked not to be identified. Bolton says he was unaware that the meeting – which featured about 20 state agency representatives -- was directly related to the policy review....

The only question that Bolton recalls Murray asking dealt with whether 2014 guidance from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) remains "up to date," he says. That guidance outlined how banks can work with pot businesses, but many financial institutions remain reluctant to take on the compliance burden or perceived risk involved in handling cash for cannabis firms operating in violation of federal law. "I don't remember him asking other questions, but it may be they weren't questions that resonated with me," Bolton says.

The State Department official asked if there had been significant problems with diversion of Colorado marijuana to other countries, Bolton says. A representative of the Colorado Department of Public Safety said that is not a significant problem....

The ONDCP representatives at the meeting asked about educational efforts and about continued black- and gray-market sales, Bolton says. He can't recall Zadrozny asking any questions....

Bolton says state officials shared how Colorado uses marijuana tax revenue – estimated to exceed $500 million since recreational sales began in 2014 – to educate the public about the risks of the drug and about responsible use, and that officials pointed out teen use has not increased. He says participants did not directly address the possible consequences of repealing the Justice Department's 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open....

Hickenlooper was not present at the meeting. But Bolton believes invitations extended by the governor during an April meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as an invitation by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, inspired the visit. It's unclear if federal officials are touring other states as part of their policy review....

After meeting with state officials, a group of feds met Wednesday with legalization foes in Colorado Springs. No supporters of regulating recreational sales attended, KKTV reported after staking out the meeting and later interviewing Mayor John Suthers, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general who opposes marijuana legalization. "A lot of [the meeting dealt with] sensitive case investigations. That's another reason why it couldn't be public," Suthers told the station. "Probably most of the discussion centered around the huge black market that exists for marijuana in Colorado." Suthers said the city's police department created the guest list, which included a local doctor and a school district director of discipline. The mayor and the police chief were unable to provide immediate comment....

KKTV reported a member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff and at least one member of the DEA also attended the Colorado Springs meeting. Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the national DEA headquarters referred questions to the local office, which did not immediately respond.

Although the Justice Department could launch a devastating legal assault on state-regulated recreational marijuana, medical marijuana currently is protected from federal prosecutors and anti-drug agents by a budget restriction passed in Congress. And in Colorado, state legislators approved legislation earlier this year allowing businesses to reclassify recreational pot as medical marijuana if the need arises.

July 20, 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, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Noting the state of recreational reform efforts in state up north (aka Michigan)

Michigan-weedThis extended Detroit Free Press article, headlined "Michigan marijuana campaign brings together activists, moneyed investors, tobacco dealers," provides an interesting mid-summer report on the developing efforts to put recreational marijuana reform on the ballot in Michigan in 2018. Here are excerpts:

A campaign to once again try to fully legalize marijuana in Michigan is getting big support from a Washington D.C. nonprofit activist group and from a tobacco store company that has talked of opening a chain of marijuana shops in the state.

The donor list, revealed in the latest campaign finance statements filed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, alarmed critics who have long contended that marijuana's nationwide march toward legalization is being funded not by the idealistic stoners and medical-marijuana users long linked to the politics of cannabis but instead by a pack of profit-minded investors and corporate types said to be similar to Big Tobacco — the nation's cigarette and cigar industry.

"It’s obvious that these tobacco guys are making a play for the marijuana money," Jeff Zinsmeister, executive vice president of Smart Alternatives to Marijuana, based in Alexandria, Va., said Friday. The group argues that Big Marijuana is "following the playbook of Big Tobacco," hoping to get young people addicted to pot early on, then keep them as hapless customers for life, Zinsmeister said.

Those who support legalization argue that marijuana will be more difficult for youths to obtain, not less, after it passes. They liken the current availability of marijuana to the nation's era of alcohol Prohibition, when people of any age had ready access to illegal alcoholic beverages; in contrast to later laws that made alcohol legal for adults but a crime to provide it to anyone under 21.

The campaign's goal is to put a ballot question before Michigan voters in 2018, when the governor's race will trigger a big voter turnout. Medical marijuana use was approved by state voters in 2008....

Based on the ballot campaign's latest report, "44% of our contributions were $250 or less — we have a broad range of both large donors and small," said [Josh] Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Since starting the drive to collect signatures less than two months ago, the group has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, he said. That's good progress toward collecting the required 252,523 signatures — a figure that, by law, must be 8% of the number of votes cast in Michigan's last election for governor. The group said it has until Nov. 22 to gather enough signatures.

And, in order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group has set a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures, said former state representative Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, who is the group's political director. "We're hitting the streets and talking to everybody," Irwin said Saturday.

In a failed effort last year to get on the ballot, a different marijuana group relied mainly on volunteers. This year's coalition, which includes supporters of last year's effort, is using paid petition circulators at considerable cost. "It's going to cost probably a million and a half dollars just to get on the ballot," Hovey said.

"After that, we’ll need to spend a lot more on advertising and all the methods of communication to make sure that voters have the full story. We’re estimating this is going to be, in total, an $8-million campaign, by the time the vote actually happens next year," he said.

July 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Looking at the DOJ lawyer working on review of federal marijuana policies

This new US News article, headlined "Federal Pot Policy in Hands of Little-Known DOJ Official: A proposal on what to do about state-legal pot is due in two weeks," provides an interesting little glimpse into the young Justice Department lawyer who may have a big say in the future of federal prosecutorial policies for marijuana:

Michael Murray isn’t well known outside of legal circles, but that may soon change.  The former Supreme Court clerk holds the fate of a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry in his hands and will make recommendations soon on whether to launch a crackdown.

People who know Murray can’t imagine the straight-laced young father of three thinking highly of marijuana use and describe him as quiet and personally conservative.  But they also say he is thoughtful and independent-minded.

Murray, a 2009 Yale Law School graduate, is a counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was tasked with the review earlier this year, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a larger crime task force would have a marijuana subcommittee.

The marijuana subcommittee's work is shrouded in secrecy, with recommendations due by July 27.  The outcome could be either a yawn or a jarring assault on states that have regulated seed-to-sale markets serving adults 21 and older.

Possession and sale of marijuana remain federal crimes.  The Obama administration, however, allowed states broad leeway to regulate medical and recreational sales.  Eight states now have laws authorizing recreational pot markets. Among the conceivable outcomes, the subcommittee could move to pull the rug out from under the cannabis industry by withdrawing or modifying the 2013 Cole Memo, which allowed recreational pot stores to open so long as enforcement triggers – such as underage sales, interstate smuggling and public health consequences – aren’t tripped.

At least in theory, Murray is not the only person reviewing the policy. But it’s not clear who else may be serving on the subcommittee and some legalization advocates fear the fix is in, with large pot advocacy and business groups saying they have had no contact.  "They have been operating in a black box, really," says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.  "There has been no indication that there was an opening for any viewpoint other than those of whoever is on this committee."  West says the group is "preparing with our allies in D.C. for whatever may come from this."

Statistics from the early years of pot legalization can be manipulated to support a viewpoint, making diverse input potentially significant.  For example, two recent studies came to opposite conclusions on the effects of legalization on traffic safety.  And while surveys show teen pot use has not increased nationally or in the pioneering states since 2012, contrasting current rates to historical low points offers a different impression.

A closed-to-the-press June summit associated with the larger Justice Department task force featured a discussion on drug-supply reduction with Kevin Sabet, the nation's most prominent anti-legalization organizer and leader of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet has not said what interactions, if any, he has with the subcommittee.

Amplifying reformers’ concern is the fact that the larger task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an advocate of harsh sentences for drug crimes.  And Murray’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is a cantankerous critic of marijuana use who in May asked Congress to drop budget language protecting state medical marijuana programs.

Murray lacks the combative style of Sessions or Cook, according to friends and former colleagues, who describe him as family-oriented and scholarly. One supporter of legalization who asked not to be identified said they trusted his judgment.

Murray joined the Justice Department after working for the Jones Day law firm, which has sent many attorneys to the Trump administration.  His wife, Claire McCusker Murray, became associate counsel to President Donald Trump earlier this year.  “Michael is a brilliant young lawyer [and] he has a somewhat understated personality, especially compared to a lot of people who fill the ranks of the Trump administration,” says David Lat, who also clerked for Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, a prominent conservative on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.  “I would not expect anything crazy from him,” says Lat, who did not clerk for O'Scannlain at the same time as Murray but knows him socially....

Katherine Moran Meeks, an attorney who clerked alongside Murray for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2013-2014, says Murray is, however, “a man of his own mind.”

“He’s a person of integrity and he’s there to offer a careful legal opinion,” Meeks says. “I’m sure that’s what he’ll give, rather than something driven by partisanship.”

July 14, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Delaware creates big "Adult Use Cannabis Task Force" to study legalization reforms

Dell2As reported in this local article, in Delaware the "General Assembly has passed a concurrent resolution that will create a task force to study the outcome of regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use in Delaware for adults 21 and older." Here is more about this interesting development that could possibly increase the chances that the First State becomes the first state to fully legalize marijuana via the traditional legislative process:

The Adult Use Cannabis Task Force “shall study adoption of a model for regulation and taxation of adult-use cannabis in Delaware, including local authority and control, consumer safety and substance abuse prevention, packaging and labeling requirements, impaired driving and other criminal law concerns, and taxation, revenue, and banking issues.” It will hold its first meeting no later than September 7, 2017, and it must report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by January 31, 2018.

"The General Assembly is ready to take a serious look at regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to come together and examine every aspect of this issue. We hope it will pave the way for the General Assembly to adopt a more thoughtful approach to cannabis next session. Lawmakers can see the direction the country is moving on this issue and they know most Delaware voters support making marijuana legal for adults.”

The 23-member task force will be co-chaired by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, Democrats who sponsored legislation this year to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol for adults 21 and older. It will also include:

• a state senator and a state representative from the minority caucus, appointed by the Senate president and House speaker, respectively;

• the Secretary of the Department of Finance;

• the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control;

• the Secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security;

• the Director of the Division of Public Health;

• the Director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health;

• the State bank commissioner;

• the Attorney General;

• the Chief Defender, Office of Defense Services;

• the Mayor of the City of Wilmington;

• the Chair of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee;

• a marijuana policy reform advocate and a medical marijuana industry representative, both appointed by the Governor;

• a physician with experience recommending treatment with medical marijuana, appointed by the Medical Society of Delaware

• the President of the Delaware League of Local Governments;

• the Chair of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council;

• the Chair of the Employer Advocacy Committee of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce;

• a representative of AAA Mid-Atlantic; and

• a pharmacist, appointed by the President of the Delaware Pharmacist Society.

More than 60% of Delaware voters support making marijuana legal, according to a September 2016 poll by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication.

July 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fearing Trump turn, big bank no longer willing to serve national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project

This new Washington Post article reports on a new reality in the banking space for the nation's leading marijuana reform advocacy group.  The article is headlined "‘It is too risky’: Marijuana group says PNC Bank to close its accounts amid fears of a DOJ crackdown," and it begins this way:

One of the nation’s leading marijuana legalization groups says PNC Bank has notified it that it will close the organization’s 22-year-old accounts, a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbies to eliminate punishments for marijuana use but is not involved in growing or distributing the drug — an important distinction for federally regulated banks and other institutions that do business with such advocacy groups.

Nick Field, MPP’s chief operating officer, said a PNC Bank representative told him in May that the organization’s bank accounts would be permanently closed July 7 because an audit of the organization’s accounts revealed it received funding from marijuana businesses that handle the plant directly. “They told me it is too risky. The bank can’t assume the risk,” Field said.

Although marijuana businesses are legal in some states, many banks will not provide services to sellers or growers of the drug because it is banned at the federal level. But policy and advocacy organizations such as MPP are spared. A bank’s severing ties with an organization that accepts donations from such businesses signals a new level of concern in the banking industry.

PNC bank declined to discuss its relationship with MPP, but a spokeswoman said that “as a federally regulated financial institution, PNC complies with all applicable federal laws and regulations.”

The bank has held MPP’s accounts since the organization was formed in 1995.

June 20, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Leading local prosecutor among those making the case for marijuana legalization in New Jersey

JH_Quote_Public_Safety_PageI highlighting in this post a few weeks ago that New Jersey may well be on a political path to become the first state to fully legalize marijuana via the traditional legislative process.   That political path may have been started in earnest this week with a state legislative hearing on the topic, and this local article report on a notable advocate at that hearing.  The article is headlined "Prosecutor says 'too many lives ruined' because marijuana is illegal in N.J.," and here are excerpts:

As a municipal prosecutor in Clark, Jon-Henry Barr said he must try a number of cases against people who get arrested for marijuana possession.  Barr also said he knows these cases can wreck good people's lives, and doesn't want to keep quiet about it anymore.  One case he won recently against a young black woman with no prior record "turned my stomach."

The former president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors Association, Barr urged the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday to pass a law legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana because it is morally the right thing to do.  "Legalize and regulate it like we do with tobacco and alcohol," Barr said.  "I have seen too many lives ruined or damaged.  I'll continue to enforce the law -- that is my sworn duty. But I will not endorse the law."...

The supporters for Sen. Nicholas Scutari's bill (3195) far outweighed opponents.  The handful of detractors were called up to testify at the tail end of the five-hour Statehouse hearing.

Cathleen Lewis, the chairwoman for the coordinating council AAA Clubs in New Jersey, warned that legalizing marijuana will result in more people driving under the influence of the drug. A year after Washington legalized cannabis sales, the number of fatal crashes involving drivers who has used marijuana climbed from 8 percent to 17 percent, she said....

Philip Kirschner of Morristown, who described himself as a concerned parent pleaded with the committee to reconsider pursuing the bill at all.  "I know you want the tax money but let's be straight here: pass decriminalization first.  That is what most people came here and spoke about," Kirschner said.  "I plead with you, despite your rush for more taxes, to abandon this bill.  The cost in human lives and misery is simply not worth it."

Following the hearing, Scutari, the bill's sponsor and committee chairman, said the there were plenty of suggestions how lawmakers can shape the bill, including speeding-up the expungement process.  He said he didn't know whether he would call another hearing soon or wait for the new governor to take the place of Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent.

June 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

After primary win by reform advocate, is New Jersey now on track to be the first state to fully legalize marijuana through regular legislation?

New-jersey-reform1Though eight states and Washington DC have all voted through ballot initiatives to fully legalize marijuana, no state has done this form of marijuana reform via the traditional legislative process.  Vermont got awfully close just last month before its Governor vetoed a legalization bill passed by the state's legislature (as noted here), and it seems possible some form of legalization could still happen there in 2018.  

But, as highlighted by this Leafy article, headlined "New Jersey’s Primary was a Huge Win for Legalization. Here’s Why," fellow who won the Democratic primary for Governor this week in New Jersey is very committed to making, and seems poised to be able to make, this form of marijuana reform a signature achievement of his time in office.  Here are excerpts:

[This week] we learned which candidates will vie to replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in November’s gubernatorial election. Democrats selected former US ambassador and Goldman Sachs alum Phil Murphy, while Republicans tapped current Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, [Gov Chris] Christie’s second-in-command.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Murphy is the heavy favorite to win in November.

Gov. Christie is among the loudest anti-cannabis voices in the nation and in seven months he’ll be out of office. Which means prospects for major cannabis reforms can only get better. Right? “Oh definitely,” Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman told Leafly earlier today. “One major hurdle cleared in having a nominee [like Murphy] who recognizes that our current laws have not served us as a society.”

Murphy’s comments in victory underscored that sentiment. “The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy told a cheering crowd. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”...

Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) chairs NJ’s Senate Judiciary Committee. He sponsored New Jersey’s medical marijuana law and led a delegation of state lawmakers on a fact-finding tour of Colorado last year. “There is widespread public support both in New Jersey and across the country for legalizing marijuana,” Scutari told Leafly.

“In New Jersey, we now have a Democratic nominee, who I believe will be our next governor, who supports legalization. That’s why it is so important that we begin shaping our recreational marijuana program now, so that we are prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely. We’ve already done extensive research on how legal cannabis programs are faring in other states and are continuing the process of working on legislation to create the best recreational marijuana program for New Jersey.”

June 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Head of Veterans Affairs acknowledges marijuana may be "helpful" to veterans

This notable new article from The Hill reports on notable new comments by the head of the federal Veterans Affairs department.  The piece is headlined "VA chief: Medical marijuana could help vets," and here are excerpts:

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he's open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but noted it’s strictly limited by federal law.  “There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin told reporters, pointing to states where medical pot is legal.

The VA has come under pressure from some influential veterans groups, including the American Legion, to reclassify marijuana to allow federal research into its effect on troops with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries....

“Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans,” said Shulkin, who is a trained physician. “I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws, however, would conflict with several top administration officials who take a hard-line approach on drugs, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Shulkin, who spoke at the White House about President Trump’s proposed reforms at the scandal-plagued agency, is a holdover from the Obama administration. The Senate confirmed him unanimously in February to lead the VA.

Some prior related posts:

May 31, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

Images (3)As reported in this local article, "Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont."  Here is more:

At a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office, the Republican governor said he could not sign S.22, which passed the Vermont House and Senate in the waning days of the recently concluded legislative session. But Scott said he was open to revisiting the debate with legislators — perhaps as soon as an expected veto session next month.

Vermont’s Democratic legislature is unlikely to override Scott’s veto, given that the bill squeaked through the House two weeks ago on a 79-66 vote.

The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. Similar to Washington, D.C.’s marijuana law, it would not have allowed for sale or commercial growing of the drug. The bill would also have created a commission to study how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana sales, as Colorado and several other states have done.

The governor has said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack a roadside test to detect driver impairment.

Had Scott signed the bill, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather by public referendum.

Prior related post:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

UPDATE:   I have now had a chance to read Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's remarks explaining his veto, and they are available at this link.  Here are some of the interesting particulars:

I have been clear since the campaign and throughout the session: I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.

We must get this right. Let the science inform any policy we make around this issue, learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters – and those who visit us – to address health, safety, prevention and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.

More specifically – as I have said repeatedly throughout the campaign and this session – we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.

From my vantage point, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market.

I’ll be providing the Legislature with recommended changes. And to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.

Those recommendations include the following:

First, in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol. This bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged.

Weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.

Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors....

Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to be taken seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community.  The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.

May 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (15)

"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 (1)

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)