Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, June 18, 2018

Interesting review of the "footprint" of marijuana prohibition and expungement prospects in Michigan months before full legalization vote

RMLA-MichiganThe Detroit Free Press has this notable new article that includes interesting data on the bite of marijuana prohibition in the Wolverine State. The piece is headlined "Some marijuana convictions could disappear if voters approve legal pot," and here are excerpts:

Untold thousands of Michiganders could be in line for a second chance if voters decide to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Nov. 6 election.

In some other states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, voters or lawmakers have decided to make it easier for people convicted of marijuana crimes to get their records expunged or sealed. And Michigan could be on the same path if a bill introduced last week by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley gets a hearing and is passed.

“I hope we will listen to the will of the people. If the November vote is loud and clear, we should take a good look at it and balance the playing field on the usage of marijuana in the state of Michigan,” said the Flint Democrat. “We definitely don’t want people to have a criminal record for a nonviolent crime that is now legal if it passes in November.”

His bill would only deal with misdemeanor convictions, such as use or possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as some cannabis growing. But under the legislation, judges “shall grant” requests for expungement of criminal convictions if the proposal is passed by voters and the convictions are no longer considered a crime under the legalization....

In the past five years, 117,123 Michiganders have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses and 49,928 of those people have been convicted, according to statistics compiled by Michigan State Police from records supplied by county prosecutors and courts.

Nationally, according to figures compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 8.2 million people were arrested for marijuana offenses between 2001 and 2010. African-Americans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes as whites, according to the data, compiled from the FBI’s annual crime statistics.

Altogether, 3,670 people are either in prison, jail or on probation for felony marijuana convictions, according to the Michigan Department of Correction’s 2016 annual report of its inmate population. Some of those convictions are for high-level marijuana distribution charges, but others are for possession or use of marijuana. Neeley’s bill would allow some of those people to request an expungement of their conviction, but judges wouldn’t be required to grant those requests.

Not many marijuana offenders are locked up in county jails in metro Detroit. In Wayne County, 25 of the 1,725 inmates in the county jail are there on felony marijuana charges and no one is locked up on a misdemeanor pot charge, according to Undersheriff Dan Pfannes. Others may be there on marijuana crimes, but have other charges pending as well, he said. In Oakland County, seven of the 1,300 inmates are in jail on misdemeanor marijuana charges and four for felony crimes, said Undersheriff Mike McCabe....

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which spearheaded the petition drive that got the marijuana legalization on the November ballot, considered adding a clause that would have allowed for expungement of criminal convictions. California did the same thing in 2016 when voters there passed a referendum to legalize weed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

But there was a fear that because the proposal would deal with more than one state law that it could become vulnerable to a legal challenge. “Expungement is a separate issue than legalization,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the coalition. “Our first draft included expungement, but our attorneys strongly recommended pulling it or risk the whole thing.”

Neeley hopes his bill will get a hearing before the November election, but that’s unlikely in the Republican-controlled Legislature. “I’d like to see it taken up before the November election so people will have a clearer vision of what’s going to happen going forward,” he said, noting he hasn’t made up his mind on how he’ll vote on the ballot proposal.

But he will have support from some of the candidates running for statewide office. All the Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed and retired businessman Shri Thanedar, as well as attorney general candidate Dana Nessel — favor the pot legalization proposal and allowing for the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.

All of the Republican candidates for governor — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw Township doctor Jim Hines, as well as Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who are running for attorney general, oppose legalizing marijuana, but they have said they would respect the will of the voters if the measure passes. Schuitmaker said it would make sense to expunge low-level convictions, but she would want to check with prosecutors first to see whether the original charge was more severe and pleaded down. None of the other GOP candidates were willing to address the expungement issue before the legalization vote is taken.

In addition to California, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon have taken steps to make it easier for people to get their convictions sealed or expunged. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Nevada Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have made clearing those convictions easier, saying that the bill didn’t differentiate enough between low-level and more serious crimes.

Regular readers likely know I am very interested in these discussions because of my recent work on a recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

June 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Incomplete but sober accounting of "7 Reasons Marijuana Won't Be Legalized in the U.S."

For lots of reasons there is lots of enthusiasm these days about the prospects for federal marijuana reform.  But this recent commentary, fully headlined "7 Reasons Marijuana Won't Be Legalized in the U.S.: Despite growing public support, cannabis is unlikely to get a green light from Congress anytime soon," throws some appropriate cold water on anyone getting too hot about the prospects of Congress passing a major marijuana reform bill anytime soon.  Here are the stated seven reasons, and readers are recommended to click through to see accompanying explanation): 

1. Lawmakers worry about adolescent access

2. Clinical data has been mixed

3. Driving under the influence laws aren't concrete

4. Congress doesn't have room on its docket for reform

5. Republicans have a mixed to negative view of marijuana

6. Keeping the current scheduling has an economic benefit

7. Rescheduling could be a nightmare

As I see it, this commentary's discussion of policy and political challenges to marijuana reform really only scratches the surface. Of particular importance for any major criminal justice reform is the serious commitment of key congressional leadership.  My sense is that key congressional leaders, especially in the Senate which seems likely to stay in GOP hands through at least 2020, have little or no interest in broad marijuana reforms.

In addition, as we have seen recently in federal sentencing reform debates, even once there is broad interest in some kinds of reforms, there can often be significant fights over exactly what kind of reform will be adopted.  In the marijuana space, figuring out which or a wide variety of reforms should be embraced even among supporters of reform presents significant political and practical challenges.

June 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Meet the Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners"

Meet-mother-teresa-pot-prisoners-heroIn part because of the headline and in part because of the focal point, I could not resist linking to this effective High Times article with the headline that serves as the title of this post.  The piece merits a full read, and here are only some of the good parts (with links from the original):

Beth Curtis used to fill her days playing tennis with friends and attending community board meetings in her rural home of Zanesville, Ohio, a small coal country city on the outskirts of Appalachia. But in the past decade, the social calendar of the 76-year-old widow and mother of three has all but disappeared. Instead, she spends her time corresponding with incarcerated people, sending mailers to cannabis companies, talking to the media, and updating her website, LifeForPot.com — all exercises dedicated to advocating for nonviolent offenders serving life sentences without the possibility of parole on marijuana convictions.  Called the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” Curtis is lauded as a crucial voice in criminal justice circles for her work calling attention to those who remain incarcerated on marijuana charges as the plant becomes legal across the country.

Curtis, who worked briefly as a social worker in the 1960s, spent the majority of her life raising her three sons and volunteering on various boards. That changed when her brother, John Knock, was given two life sentences plus 20 years without the possibility of parole for his involvement with a marijuana distribution ring. During the 1970s and early ‘80s, Knock, who had moved to San Francisco, spent most of his time out of the country as part of a group that imported marijuana into Europe, Canada, and the northwest.

He left the group in the late ‘80s to spend time with his family and son, moving to Hawaii. Knock was indicted in 1994, picked up in Paris in 1996, and extradited to the United States in 1999, where he stood trial at a federal district court in Florida. He was convicted of conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and money laundering. Nine years later, when Knock’s legal team had exhausted all of his appeals, his loved ones were left in disbelief of the future that awaited him.

“Our family was shocked because we really didn’t understand the justice system and thought it couldn’t be right,” said Curtis....

Curtis, who was 66 at the time, had honed her skills on the internet investing in small pension plans in the early ‘90s.  She started searching government websites looking for people who had similar sentences for marijuana. She looked for cases that appeared to involve people who were incarcerated solely for marijuana offenses and wrote letters to them in prison in hopes they’d be willing to share more.  “It wasn’t that easy, at that time there weren’t a lot of people who were advocating for them,” Curtis said. “When a stranger writes to you in federal prison I think it’s very logical they were afraid it would be someone who would be an outside confidential informant trying to get information about them that would do harm.”

 Once she earned their trust, Curtis drew on the conversations to write profiles for her entirely self-funded website in a bid to raise awareness for people like her brother who were condemned to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for marijuana.   “It’s pretty satisfying to be able to give them some kind of the story on the outside,” she said. “Every story is a tragedy.”...

Curtis’ reputation has grown over the years and with that, she’s become a regular source for media navigating the sometimes intricate world of marijuana lifers and commutations. She regularly offers her expertise for articles, helps reporters fact check confusing court documents, and connects them with incarcerated people for interviews.  Curtis doesn’t know how many nonviolent drug offenders are now serving life sentences for marijuana but says there aren’t as many as people would expect. The website currently lists 29 people, separated into age categories of “inmates over 62” and “inmates under 62.”...

Amy Povah, a formerly incarcerated person and founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, an organization that advocates for clemency for all nonviolent drug offenders, christened Curtis as the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” alluding to the Roman Catholic Saint known for her charitable work. CAN-DO works closely with Life For Pot and has taken over some advocacy work for pot lifers in recent years. Povah credited Curtis’ work vetting cases as a boon to many other advocates as “many people, myself included, have benefited from her body of work.”

At least five pot lifers who Curtis has advocated for have received commutations, but Cox and Knock were among the more than 3,000 cases denied commutations or pardons by former president Barack Obama before he left office in January 2017. Curtis had been helping families of pot lifers prepare complicated clemency petitions to be processed through Obama’s Clemency Project 2014, or CP14, which then Attorney General Eric Holder said could shorten the sentences of more than 10,000 incarcerated people behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

“It was pretty devastating. I honestly could not believe it,” Curtis said. “It was all very hard because everybody who didn’t receive mercy contacted me and they needed reassurance there’s still hope and frankly there still is.”...

Curtis pointed out that clemency is now especially relevant as marijuana is increasingly decriminalized and legalized while a bill to end the federal ban is gaining momentum.

But the policy shifts are bittersweet for those still behind bars for their own roles in harvesting and distributing the plant. In an effort to build support from people benefiting from the new regulations, Curtis has amassed a database of cannabis business enterprises, conglomerates, and venture capitalists to whom she sends mailings urging them to advocate for those serving life sentences for cannabis. There aren’t many in the industry doing so, Curtis said—a surprising revelation, given that the plant is now part of a $9 billion industry projected to employ 292,000 people by 2021.

Curtis talks to her brother a few times a week but has passed on work like communicating regularly with pot prisoners to other advocacy groups such as CAN-Do and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), whose president, Kevin Ring, heralded her as an inspiration.

“When advocates say, ‘When a person goes to prison, the whole family serves the time,’ you just have to look at Beth’s life. I don’t think she’s breathed a free breath since her brother went to prison,” he said. 

June 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Seemingly everyone joining the call for federal marijuana reforms following introduction of STATES Act

Last week's introduction of the STATES Act (basics here) along with Prez Trump's seeming endorsement (basics here) seems to have made it cool for all sorts of government officials to start actively advocating for federal marijuana reform.  Specifically, check out these recent posts from Marijuana Moment about what is afoot at this moment:

For a variety of reasons, every one of these calls for reform make it just a little bit easier to imagine federal marijuana reform happening sooner rather than later.  I still think sooner may mean a few years from now, but I can understand how advocates may now be getting even more bullish in their predictions about the prospects for reform at the federal level.

Prior related posts:

June 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mapping out Oklahoma positions with approaching medical marijuana reform initiative vote

OK-Yes-788

This recent article from Religion News Service, headlined "In red-state Oklahoma, marijuana ballot question splits people of faith," provides a great look at the range of perspectives on marijuana reform in Oklahoma with only weeks before a big initiative vote. Here are snippets from an article worth reading in full:

As Presbyterian minister Bobby Griffith sees it, legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma could help arthritis sufferers with chronic pain and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 41-year-old husband and father has a personal reason, too, for supporting State Question 788 — a pro-marijuana initiative that the Bible Belt state’s voters will decide June 26. “For myself, I would be interested in a prescription for it to see if it works better than my anxiety and depression medications,” said Griffith, co-pastor of a Presbyterian church near downtown Oklahoma City and a member of the national group Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

As Griffith characterizes it, the Oklahoma ballot measure’s potential to improve health outcomes and reduce dependence on addictive opioid painkillers makes it a “moral issue.”

Religious opponents counter that backing the issue would be immoral. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, blasts the ballot measure as a “recreational marijuana vote disguised as medical marijuana.”

“The moral issue to me is really a family issue,” Lankford, who directed a Baptist youth camp before his 2010 election to Congress, told Religion News Service. “The best thing for our state is not to get more parents and grandparents to smoke marijuana,” added the senator, who filmed a commercial urging voters to reject State Question 788. “To have our communities more drug-addicted and distracted, that doesn’t help our families. It doesn’t make us more prosperous. It doesn’t make our schools more successful.”...

[F]aith arguments are prominent in a state where three out of four residents describe themselves in Gallup polling as “moderately religious” or “very religious.” The vote — which will take place on the state’s primary day for governor and other state and federal offices — resulted from a petition signed by nearly 68,000 voters and presented to state officials two years ago.

If State Question 788 passes, Abner warns, Oklahoma could follow the nine states that have authorized recreational use of marijuana. “The key thing is that it’s not medical,” he said. “This is something that’s hiding behind that (terminology) to bring recreational marijuana to Oklahoma. And from a spiritual standpoint, none of us can sustain the sound minds and healthy bodies God desires us to have when we place ourselves under the controlling influence of something other than the Holy Spirit.”

Other religious opponents include top officials of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma — representing the state’s roughly 577,000 Southern Baptists — and the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, the public policy arm of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses, comprising roughly 288,000 parishioners. “My hope is that Oklahoma will vote down marijuana legalization and continue to put legal barriers between addiction and the communities it devastates,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement published by The Baptist Messenger, an Oklahoma newspaper.

But Jon Middendorf, senior pastor of Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, said he favors “whatever can bring relief to folks who are in chronic pain.”

“I’m just exhausted of conspiracy theories that always seem to emanate from the Christian right,” said Middendorf, who stressed that he was speaking personally and not on behalf of his congregation. “There’s always some sinister story behind it all,” he added. “It really might be that somebody who’s in pain just needs something that hasn’t been tried just yet, that offers some help for relief and quality of life, that they would not have had otherwise.”...

Typically, Oklahomans rank among the most conservative voters in the nation.... But on the medical marijuana issue, recent polling shows State Question 788 enjoying support from 57.5 percent of voters and seeming likely to pass, reported Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com.

“We’ve polled this issue multiple times over the last five years, and we continue to see that certain groups, who one might think would be opposed to SQ788, continue to support it,” Shapard said in a statement. “Thirty years ago, these groups would have opposed it, but roughly half have changed their minds since then.”

Griffith, whose congregation is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, said some of his most conservative friends support State Question 788. “A very conservative person I know — I mean, she loves President Trump but she also wants medical marijuana,” he said. “She has rheumatoid arthritis and wants to have something that helps relieve the pain and has some healing qualities about it without the addiction.”

Notably, this article was published before Prez Trump's comments this past Friday suggesting he would support a federal marijuana reform bill that would formally respect state marijuana reform laws.   I suggested in this post a few months ago that proponents of Question 788 likely could benefit greatly, given that 65% of the state voted for Prez Trump, if they could claim he was supportive of state marijuana reform efforts.   interesting times.

Some prior related posts:

June 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

President Donald Trump suggests he supports new STATES Act effort to reform federal marijuana prohibition

Tom Angell has this notable breaking news in a new Marijuana Moment posting:

President Trump said on Friday that he “really” supports new marijuana legislation filed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” he said when asked about the bill by reporters during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn as he prepared to board Marine One to head to G-7 summit in Canada.

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

The bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions. It would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

Critically, there is a very big difference between "end[ing] up supporting" a piece of proposed legislation and actively championing it. Especially with various leaders in Congress seemingly actively opposed to any major (or even minor) federal marijuana reforms, I am not optimistic about the prospects of this bill unless and until it has Prez Trump actively campaigning for it. But, for political reasons, maybe he ultimately will.

Prior related post:

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

June 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

Ccc_SQUAREAs reported in this press release, titled "Gardner, Warren, Joyce and Blumenauer Unveil Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies," today has brought a big interesting new federal marijuana reform proposal. Here are the details via the press release (with links from the original):

U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) today introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.  The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely. 

Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products - and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes have similar laws.  As states developed their own approaches to marijuana enforcement, the Department of Justice issued guidance to safeguard these state actions and ensure practical use of limited law enforcement resources. However, this guidance was withdrawn earlier this year, creating legal uncertainty, threatening public health and safety, and undermining state regulatory regimes....

Ignoring the ability of states, territories, and tribes to determine for themselves what type of marijuana regulation works best comes with real costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with state laws are blocked from access to basic banking services.  Illicit markets often spring up and local law enforcement must divert resources needed elsewhere.  Thousands of people are prosecuted and locked up in our criminal justice system. Qualified scientists and state public health departments struggle to conduct basic and epidemiological research or spur medical advances, and the fundamental nature of state and tribal sovereignty is violated.  As more states, territories, and tribes thoughtfully consider updates to marijuana regulations, often through voter-initiated referendums, it is critical that Congress take immediate steps to safeguard their right to do so by passing the STATES Act.

 The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Safe Access, Americans for Tax Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Liberty, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooperative Credit Union Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, the Mountain West Credit Union Association, the National Cannabis Bar Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the New Federalism Fund,NORML, the Northwest Credit Union Association, R Street, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

 The STATES Act:

  • Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that - as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections - its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • Clearly states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
  • Removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana.
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

A fact sheet about the legislation is available here, and the full bill text is available here.

June 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Canvassing the parameters of possible federal marijuana reforms

Ccc_SQUARERolling Stone has this new extended article headlined "Pot for All: How Congress Is Trying to Make Weed Legal," which has a subheadline that somewhat better describes its coverage: "From decriminalization to opening up the banking industry, both sides of Congress are preparing cannabis bills – but with much different approaches.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Over the past decade, marijuana legalization has happened at break-neck speed at the state and local level. And yet, pot-related reforms have moved glacially at the federal level, especially since prohibitionist Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general. But his staunch opposition and attempt to roll back Obama-era protections for local marijuana businesses has actually attracted new support to a flurry of marijuana related bills that have been picking up support in this Congress.

There are more than 40 cannabis-related bills floating around the House of Representatives alone in this Congress, along with countless others in the Senate. That's a hard map to navigate, so below is Rolling Stone's guide to the kinds of marijuana bills that have the most support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Straight Decriminalization

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turned heads last month when he endorsed marijuana decriminalization, but he was slow to get to the party. Vermont's Bernie Sanders was there before him, along with most every Democratic senator floated as a potential 2020 presidential contender, including Sens. Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). Still, the statement from Schumer – who has long vocally opposed recreational marijuana – was witnessed as a dramatic move and is expected to trickle down the ballot to people running for Congress across the nation....

Let the States Decide

In the coming weeks, a bipartisan group of senators plans to drop a bill that will give individual states the right to override the federal prohibition on marijuana, which they say simply codifies what President Trump has allegedly told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in private conversations – that the president's fine allowing each individual state to decide their own marijuana laws, which Gardner says is simple federalism....

Make the Focus Medical Testing

Potentially the best chance marijuana legislation has of passing under unified Republican control of Washington is with bipartisan legislative efforts to simply relax the barriers that have been erected around studying marijuana. There was already historic progress on that front when, earlier this month, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 became the first-ever standalone marijuana bill to make it through a congressional committee. It not only removes barriers to testing marijuana at the Department of Veterans Affairs but also forces officials there to send regular reports to Congress so lawmakers can track whether the VA is taking the testing legislation seriously. While the scope is narrow, pot proponents see the bill as a major breakthrough because, if tests show marijuana is good for veterans, then it could easily translate to the greater public....

Push for Access to Banks

Marijuana businesses are currently locked out of the banking sector, even in states where weed is either recreationally or medicinally legal, and the Small Business Administration recently moved to stop any company involved in this green revolution from receiving loans. Bipartisan efforts are picking up steam to at least make it so marijuana businesses don't have to be all cash, which comes with massive security risks. And without access to capital it's hard to be a player in a capitalistic economy. A slew of bills deal with this issue – some allow marijuana businesses to simply access the banking system, while others go farther, allowing them to get the same tax breaks enjoyed by non-marijuana related businesses.

Finally De-Scheduling Pot

Support is also slowly growing for an effort to completely remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances where it currently sits at Schedule I, alongside LSD and heroin. But the Marijuana Justice Act goes even further and takes aim at the racial disparity that marks American prisons by expunging the records of people convicted of federal marijuana crimes and investing money in communities left blighted by marijuana convictions.

Way back in Fall 2013, I had a knowledgeable and astute guest speaking in my Marijuana Law and Reform seminar predict that federal marijuana reform would happen sometime in the term of the president elected in 2020. I am inclined to still see that prediction as spot-on. (This speaker also in 2013 predicted that term would be the second term for a Prez Clinton, so he did not quite perfectly nail it.)

May 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Florida trial judge strikes down state legislature's prohibition on smoking medical marijuana

Download (13)As reported in this local article, a "Leon County circuit court judge ruled Friday afternoon that the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, setting up continued legal fights as the state appeals the decision." Here is more about the ruling:

In a 22-page order, Judge Karen Gievers said that the Legislature's ban on smoking medical cannabis conflicted with the intent of a constitutional amendment that had broadly legalized the drug for medical use after voters approved it in 2016.

She concurred with arguments made last Wednesday by Jon Mills, an attorney for the plaintiffs, contending the definition approved by voters included "all types of medical marijuana," including forms that can be smoked. Mills had also argued that the amendment implicitly recognized smoking in private by recognizing that there was no right to smoke it in public places.

Gievers, in striking down the ban, invoked both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in her decision and highlighted Washington's characterization of the constitution as a "sacred obligation."

"Just as no person is above the law, the legislature must heed the constitutional rights Floridians placed in the Constitution in 2016," she wrote. "The conflicting, overreaching 2017 statute, while presumably adopted in good faith and with good intentions, cannot be allowed to overrule the authority of the people to protect rights in the Constitution."

Devin Galetta, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, said it would appeal the verdict, resulting in an automatic stay. The notice of the appeal was filed Friday night. "This ruling goes against what the legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law to implement the constitutional amendment that was approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority," he wrote.

About 71 percent of Florida voters had approved Amendment 2 in 2016, authorizing the use of marijuana as a medical treatment for people with debilitating conditions. But in a bill implementing the amendment the following year, lawmakers limited the scope of its use to only oils, sprays, tinctures, vaping and edibles. Lawmakers excluded smoking as a method for medical treatment, arguing that smoking would be a "backdoor attempt" at allowing recreational use.

Gievers heard arguments in a one-day trial last week for the case, which was brought against the state last July by John Morgan, an Orlando attorney who also financed the campaign behind the successful constitutional amendment. His suit, filed on behalf of two patients and two advocacy organizations, asked the court to invalidate the implementing law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Ben Pollara, who managed the political campaign that helped push the constitutional amendment, said the ruling was a victory both for Florida patients and for voters who supported the amendment.... "The voters of Florida wanted this," he said. "It was clear in the intent language and in the ballot language. ... Smoked marijuana is the most effective and quickest delivery system, period."

He cautioned that Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, should reconsider continuing to fight for the smoking ban. "What I would say to Rick Scott and [Attorney General] Pam Bondi is, 'If you decide to appeal this verdict, I think Rick Scott will lose the U.S. Senate race on this issue alone,' " he said.

The full ruling in this case is available at this link.

May 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 25, 2018

Some interesting holiday weekend reads on modern marijuana reform realities

As we head into a long weekend, I have noticed a few interesting reads about modern marijuana reform realities:

  • From The Atlantic by Ronald Brownstein here, "Will Texas Follow Houston’s Lead on Drug-Policy Reform?: District Attorney Kim Ogg is rapidly implementing progressive policies in Harris County—and she intends to be a model for the rest of her state."
  • From Forbes by Julie Weed here, "Advice To New Jersey, The Garden State, As It Expands Its Cannabis Market"

  • From Slate by Alex Halperin here, "Why the Marijuana Industry Wants Friends Like John Boehner: And why the low-regulation future some growers crave is the wrong one."

  • From the Washington Post by Judith Grisel here, "Pot Holes: Legalizing marijuana is fine. But don’t ignore the science on its dangers."

May 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"The Newest Allies for Pot Legalization: Conservatives"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece from The Crime Report.  Here are excerpts:

Current president Donald Trump doesn’t seem to believe in anything more intoxicating than cola — his elder brother died of alcoholism-related causes — but he’s been of at least two minds about marijuana legalization. He appointed ferocious marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, also opposed legalization in the strongest possible terms.

During the presidential campaign, however, Trump more-or-less stated he would let the states decide whether and how to legalize marijuana.  His choice of Sessions seemed to be a reversal, but lately, it seems as if he’s been holding Sessions back.  Last month he agreed, under pressure from Colorado’s Republican US Sen. Cory Gardner to not interfere with Colorado’s marijuana industry. (Gardner had vowed to block every Justice Department nominee until he received such a reassurance.).

Another politician who recently has reversed himself and now supports legalization — at least for medical use and study — is former House Speaker John Boehner. He has joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company “with cultivation, processing and dispensing operations across 11 states.”  In 2011, Boehner wrote, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug” because he was “concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”

Now, Boehner says, “my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities”.  Cynics might say the money Boehner will no doubt receive was a motivating factor, but opponents of legalization face similar suspicions....

Other conservatives who have voiced some support for the relaxation of marijuana laws include Meghan McCain (daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain), right-wing pundit Glenn Beck, former Alaskan mayor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Fox News host Sean Hannity and televangelist Pat Robertson....

Many Americans, including war veterans, believe marijuana helps them cope with their post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain. Marijuana can be harmful, but so can any legal product, most notably tobacco, alcohol and prescription opiate drugs.  Conservatives often espouse Henry David Thoreau’s belief “That government is best which governs least.”  Some are now concluding that should apply to marijuana, too.

May 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Key House committee votes (for the first time) to extend limits on Justice Department concerning medical marijuana prosecutions

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaAs reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, headlined "Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions," this afternoon brought some interesting developments out of Congress. Here are the details:

A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.

While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments.

But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session's department for Fiscal Year 2019. The amendment was offered by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH)....

Historically, the measure has been approved on the House floor but, because Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has effectively blocked floor votes on cannabis amendments for the last several years -- most recently on Wednesday when his panel prevented three hemp measures from advancing -- supporters haven't gotten a chance to bring the medical marijuana measure before the full chamber since 2015, when it passed by a margin of 242-186. Since then, the provision has been extended, mostly by default, through large-scale omnibus bills or short-term continuing resolutions that have largely kept federal spending policy riders frozen in place for the last few budget cycles.

But legalization supporters circumvented their Pete Sessions problem on Thursday by inserting the marijuana language into the funding bill at the earlier Appropriations panel stage, a move they previously haven't risked because members of Congress are seen as more likely to avoid bucking party leadership at the committee level when bills are being crafted....

The growing number of states that are enacting medical cannabis laws in recent years means that far more members of Congress represent constituents who stand to be harmed by the spending riders' disappearance, however, so advocates felt comfortable placing the measure before the committee this year....

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has no familial relation to the Rules Committee chairman of the same last name, asked congressional leadership to discontinue the provision in a 2017 letter, but lawmakers then extended it anyway as part of large-scale budget deals for the rest of that fiscal year and into FY 2018....

Now, the protections for state medical marijuana laws and the people and businesses who rely on them are pace to continue through 2019 as well. The rider does not protect broader state laws allowing recreational marijuana use and businesses. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to take up its version of the Justice Department legislation next month. That panel has easily approved the medical cannabis rider -- and other marijuana provisions -- in recent fiscal years, and is expected to do so again.

By taking the House committee route, led by Joyce, marijuana reform supporters also avoided the measure's long association with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has been its chief sponsor for years and who isn't a member of the Appropriations panel. The reputation of Rohrabacher, who is seen as one of the most pro-Russia members of Congress, has been damaged amid revelations about that country's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race And his reelection this year, in a district that Hillary Clinton won, is uncertain.

Now, because the measure was successfully attached to the 2019 Justice Department bill by Joyce, it is the Ohio congressman's name -- and not Rohrabacher's -- that will likely appear at the top of congressional sign-on letters about it, probably making it more likely that fellow GOP members will more seriously consider supporting its extension....

Separately during the Appropriations Committee's markup of the Commerce, Justice Science spending bill, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), an opponent of legalization, successfully offered an amendment urging the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to quickly process pending applications to cultivate marijuana to be used in scientific research.

May 17, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Estimated Tax Revenues from Marijuana Legalization in New York"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released yesterday by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.  Here is how it gets started: 

In just the past six years, voters in eight states and the District of Columbia have passed ballot measures to legalize the adult use of marijuana.  At least seven more states may follow suit this fall.  In total, over half of states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes since California first did so in 1996.  This dramatic change in public attitudes is reflective of changes as measured by survey data, with 61% of Americans now supporting lifting the ban on marijuana.  More than just a change in attitudes toward marijuana itself, the growing movement for legalization also acknowledges the immeasurable harm done by the criminalization of marijuana use, especially among communities of color.

New York State’s 2014 Compassionate Care Act legalized marijuana for medical use. Legislation to legalize adult marijuana use, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, has been reintroduced in each subsequent legislative session.  In his Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2018-2019, Governor Cuomo proposed a study of the economic impacts of legalization and the implications of continuing to prohibit use while other nearby states move to legalize.  In this report, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer provides an estimate of the fiscal impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana sales in New York.  This report estimates the legal, adult-use marijuana market at some $3.1 billion per year in New York State, about $1.1 billion of that in New York City.  In turn, the Comptroller’s Office estimates that this market could conservatively yield annual tax revenues of as much as $1.3 billion total at the State and City levels.  That assumes a combination of state and local sales and excise taxes in line with what other jurisdictions have passed that could yield up to $436 million in revenues for the State, $336 million for the City, and some $570 million for localities outside of the city.  Of course, the total revenues realized at the State and local levels would depend on the final outcome of any legalization effort.

Beyond the mere dollars that legalization could yield, decriminalization has clear human and societal benefits.  In states where adult marijuana use has been legalized, there have been declines in teenage usage of marijuana, and public health and safety concerns have been addressed.  Finally, misdemeanor marijuana arrests continue to fall most heavily on young Black and Latino New Yorkers, despite a higher reported usage rate among White youth. Erasing the harmful repercussions, including the stigma of a criminal record, would open doors that have been closed to too many for too long, yielding incalculable human, economic, and societal benefits.

May 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

The power of the pen: NYC mayor and prosecutors pledge to reduce marijuana arrests after new reports on racial disparity

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c84afc33200c-320wiAs reported in this recent post, titled "NY Times highlights racialized realities of NYC marijuana arrests," the Gray Lady earlier this week ran a big story on the racially disparate patterns of arrests for marijuana offenses in New York City.  Though lots of other folks have tracked and reported on these racialized realities in the past, the New York Times can often capture attention like few others.  And proof of this reality comes from this follow-up New York Times article headlined "Mayor and Some Prosecutors Move to Curb Marijuana Arrests." Here are excerpts:

After years of halting steps, top prosecutors and elected officials in New York City on Tuesday made a sudden dash toward ending many of the marijuana arrests that for decades have entangled mostly black and Hispanic people.

The plans, still unwritten and under negotiation, will rise or fall on the type of conduct involving marijuana that officials decide should still warrant arrest and prosecution. The changes appear likely to create a patchwork of prosecution policies across the city’s five boroughs, and are unlikely to restrict police officers from stopping and searching people on suspicion of possessing a drug that is now legal in a number of states.

But with the city now conceding a wide racial gap in arrests and with the Police Department’s rationale for that gap collapsing under scrutiny, the plans represent a striking shift that could lead in some parts of the city to people generally facing no criminal penalties for smoking marijuana.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who suggested only weeks ago that city policy would hold fast until New York State legalized the drug, directed the Police Department on Tuesday to have a plan within 30 days to “end unnecessary arrests.”

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said he would stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking arrests this summer, and he gave the Police Department until then to make a case for still charging limited categories of people. The Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said that over the last three months his office had doubled the number of marijuana smoking cases it had stopped prosecuting and that it now planned to start throwing out more cases after the Police Department weighed in.

And the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said he would convene a working group to review marijuana enforcement tactics and conceded that at least some arrests “have no impact on public safety.”

A New York Times investigation published on Sunday showed that black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white people over the last three years, and that among neighborhoods where people called to complain about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a significantly higher rate in the area with more black residents.

Defense lawyers and drug reform advocates, stung by years of piecemeal policy changes that have only reined in prosecution and arrest tactics bit by bit, said the plans did not yet offer any assurances that the decades-long era of mass enforcement of marijuana laws was over. Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which has long pushed for legalization and publicized the racial gap in arrests, faulted Mr. de Blasio for not acting sooner. In January, the mayor said the roughly 17,500 annual marijuana arrests represented “a normal level in the sense of what we were trying to achieve.”...

At the end of 2014, Mr. de Blasio said the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Arrests fell from about 26,000 people in 2014 to 17,500 people on average in the years since then, about 87 percent of them black or Hispanic. But still, thousands of people continued to miss work and school for court and face consequences in their searches for housing or jobs. Research has shown there is no good evidence that marijuana arrests are associated with reductions in serious crime in New York City.

In a report released Tuesday, Mr. Vance said he supported legalizing marijuana and had found no rationale for the New York City’s enforcement tactics: “These arrests waste an enormous amount of criminal justice resources for no punitive, rehabilitative, deterrent or other public safety benefit. And they do so in a racially disparate way that stigmatizes and disadvantages the arrestees,” the report said....

The district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn left the door open to prosecuting people on marijuana charges if they had previous criminal records. Scott Hechinger, a senior staff lawyer and director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services, said doing so would undermine a policy intended to reduce the impact of marijuana laws on black and Hispanic people: “The people that are going to have records are folks that live in neighborhoods that are overpoliced and targeted for enforcement,” he said....

The moves on Tuesday highlighted the discretion afforded the city to enforce the state’s marijuana law as police officials see fit. But defense lawyers and drug reform advocates said that so long as using marijuana was still a crime, police officers would continue to seize on the smell of marijuana to stop and search people and check for open warrants. “The odor of marijuana has become the new broken taillight,” Mr. Hechinger said. “It creates a pretext that’s quite difficult to disprove for officers to approach and search our clients in neighborhoods with a high police presence.”

Some (of many) prior related posts:

May 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Rep Earl Blumenauer predicts end to federal marijuana prohibition in four years or less

This notable new local article reports on notable new comments by a notable long-standing advocate for marijuana reform in Congress. The full headline of the piece is "U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer Says Cannabis May Be De-Regulated Nationwide Within Four Years. 'If we do our job, it’s game over in 2 years'." Here are excerpts:

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) believes the end of the battle to legalize marijuana across the United States is fewer than four years away.

"I made a bet that within five years, every state will be able to treat cannabis like alcohol and there will be universal access to medical marijuana," he told a crowd of cannabis business owners at Cultivation Classic in Revolution Hall Saturday afternoon. "If we do our job, it's game over in 2 years."

Blumenauer, a longtime champion of legal weed, said the 2018 elections could be pivotal to removing cannabis from the federal list of Schedule 1 narcotics, like heroin and methamphetamine. "If Democrats control the House of Representatives in the first months of the next Congress in 2019," said Blumenauer, "we will be having hearings on de-scheduling."...

"I don't second-guess people's motives if they're wiling to evolve," Blumenauer says, "whether its for political expediency, whether it's that they've seen the light, whether they're fed up with the racial injustice seen in drug laws or if its a commercial opportunity."

With growing support across the states on both sides of the political aisle, Blumenauer says he sees cannabis being de-regulated very soon. "It will be a sea change and it is within our grasp," he says.

May 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Great coverage of lots of political news and developments via Marijuana Moment

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A left-handed thanks from head of Drug Policy Alliance to Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his approach to marijuana policy

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has this notable recent commentary in USA Today under the headline "How anti-marijuana Jeff Sessions became the best thing to happen to pot legalization."   This piece brings to mind some political points I made in this 2016 post not long after Jeff Sessions was nominated to be Attorney General by then Prez-elect Trump.  Here are some excerpts from the commentary:

Jeff Sessions hates marijuana.  He’s made that plain in multiple colorful quotes, from stating that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” to arguing that “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is … in fact a very real danger.”  But he may also turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to the marijuana reform movement in Washington.

For years, marijuana reform has moved at a snail’s pace in Washington.  Even as more and more states — now 29 — legalized medical marijuana and increasing numbers legalized adult use of marijuana, Congress held back.  Occasional efforts to remove marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances have been rejected.  And advocates have had to fight every year to make sure that Congress included an amendment to its appropriations bills, to protect states that legalized medical marijuana from federal interference....

But in January, Sessions rescinded the Cole memo.  Perhaps he thought that the decision would chill further reform or spread fear among the industry.  Instead, his move seems to have galvanized policymakers.  That same month, Vermont announced that it had legalized marijuana.  Cities like Albuquerque, Savannah, Ga., and Baton Rouge are decriminalizing it. And now, we’re seeing a sea change in Washington, in both parties.

In response to Sessions’ decision, Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, threatened to block all Justice Department nominees.  Eventually, he said he extracted from Trump a commitment that the Justice Department would not interfere with legal marijuana in Colorado, and that Trump would support legislation to protect states that had legalized medical and adult use marijuana.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., — historically not a big proponent of rolling back criminal laws like those on marijuana — announced that he would be introducing legislation to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, essentially leaving it up to the states to decide how to handle it.  While this is not the same, even Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is pushing a bill to legalize industrial hemp.  His longtime colleague, former House Speaker John Boehner, recently made a high-profile entry into the medical marijuana industry....

And growing numbers of members of Congress are now sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act, which Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced last August.  That bill, modeled after California’s Proposition 64, would not only legalize marijuana, but also begin to repair the devastation wrought by decades of marijuana prohibition, allowing those convicted of possession to clear their records, access to the marijuana market for the communities most harmed by prohibition, and reinvestment of marijuana taxes in those communities....

Sessions himself seems to have been forced to moderate his rhetoric.  In response to questions about marijuana enforcement at a recent Senate hearing, he said that his priorities lay elsewhere, and insisted that it was up to Congress to change the laws.

Of course, Sessions or some overeager U.S. attorney may still try to go after legal marijuana.  Trump may renege on his commitment to Gardner.  Things may still get worse on federal marijuana policy before they get better.  But with more than 60% of the U.S. public behind reform, including majorities among young liberals and conservatives alike, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out against reform.  And thanks to Sessions, change may come sooner than we thought.

In my 2016 post, which I titled "Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive," I reviewed some of the reasons why I thought it would be very foolish politically for the Trump Administration to aggressively enforce federal marijuana prohibition.  And critically, despite AG Sessions obvious disaffinity for state marijuana reforms, he still has made no serious effort to aggressively enforce federal marijuana prohibition.  I surmise he would like to and he has some folks urging him to, but he knows that the political winds are blowing against any enforcement efforts here, and he clearly has other political and legal priorities.  

Of course, after a year of internal deliberations, AG Session did pull back the Cole Memo, but this commentary astutely highlights how this (relatively modest) move has served to galvanize political forces supporting marijuana reform at the federal level.  Any more significant marijuana enforcement, especially against any prominent state-compliant businesses, would seem likely to only enhance the political backlash and further elevate federal marijuana reform in public and political debates.    Modern marijuana policy and practice thus serves as another great and important example of my concluding point in my prior post: the "Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people."

May 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine legislature final enacts framework for regulating marijuana sales 18 months after initiative vote for legalization

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As reported in this local article, on Wednesday the Maine legislature "overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, moving Maine a major step closer to launching a legal retail market for the drug." Here is more:

The House voted 109-39 and the Senate 28-6 to override LePage’s veto of cannabis legalization legislation, setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legalization at the ballot box in November 2016. However, it will likely be the spring of 2019 before the first retail shops can open for business.

Now that the bill has passed, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services must hire a consultant to help the state write more regulatory rules, including inspection and licensing of wholesale commercial growing facilities, licensing of retail sellers and collection of sales taxes. The rules will have to be approved by the next Legislature, which convenes in January.

The Republican governor, a steadfast opponent of legalization, had vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt at drafting a law to launch the retail market for cannabis in November. It’s not clear how quickly the state will move to hire workers to administer and enforce the new law, and seek bids to design a seed-to-sale tracking system that will be used to regulate the marijuana market.

Wednesday’s vote provoked mixed reactions, even among those who campaigned successfully to gather voter signatures and get the legalization question on the 2016 ballot. David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill includes provisions that the organization supports and others that it dislikes. “Ultimately, we’re glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace,” he said. “We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposed the referendum, was pleased that the bill had been amended to ban social clubs and reduce the number of plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three. “This is an improvement” over previous proposals, he said. “It’s going in the right direction.” He said Smart Approaches to Marijuana now will focus on things such as helping communities that don’t want shops selling marijuana in their towns, making sure that shops don’t get concentrated in particular neighborhoods, trying to offset “normalization” of pot use and counteracting problems that arise....

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. And lawmakers cut the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on their own property – or someone else’s with permission – from six to three in an effort to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of business licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

May 3, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Michigan proposal for full legalization of marijuana officially approved for Nov 2018 vote

Images (1)As reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan approves marijuana legalization vote for November," the Wolverine State is now positioned to be the latest political battleground for the debate over recreational marijuana reform. Here are the details:

The battle to free the weed officially started Thursday when the State Board of Canvassers ruled that a group pushing a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use got enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. The 4-0 decision by the board was met with cheers by advocates for the proposal.

"The people of Michigan deserve this. They earned it," said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. "We've faced many trials and tribulations. We've had so many stop and go signs from the federal government. That's why states have to take the reins on the issue and really be the crucibles of democracy that they've always been intended to be."

It was the second time that the coalition had turned in enough signatures to get on the ballot. The last time, however, it didn't get the signatures in a state-mandated 180-day window and the petition was thrown out. But the coalition didn't have the same problem this time around. "We expected this," said John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Now we'll be out and about talking to people and educating them about the issues."

Scott Greenlee, executive director of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which opposes the ballot proposal, urged the Board of Canvassers to keep the issue off the ballot because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government. "By putting this on the ballot, you're disregarding federal law," he said. "I recognize that other states have done it, but like my mom always told me, 'Just because your friends jump off a bridge, doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.'"...

The Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would:

  • Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
  • Impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales at the retail level as well as a 6% sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
  • Split those revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities and 15% to counties where marijuana business are located.
  • Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
  • Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2.5 ounces but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home.
  • Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the market, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, ranging from growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
  • Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.

Michigan voters have already weighed in on marijuana once, approving cannabis for medical use in 2008 by a 63%-37% margin. As of March, 1, 277,752 people are medical marijuana cardholders and 43,131 people are caregivers who can grow up to 72 plants for up to five cardholders. The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medial marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales. That financial prediction is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion a year if voters pass the ballot proposal and Michigan becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use....

But getting the ballot proposal passed is not a foregone conclusion, despite recent polls showing more than 60% support for legalizing marijuana. Healthy and Productive Michigan has $215,286 for the battle ahead, primarily from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based organization that supports cannabis for medical, but not recreational uses.

"We'll continue to press forward with education and explain to the public the problems that recreational marijuana will cause in our state," Greenlee said. "And once it's certified for the ballot, we'll have a number of people from Michigan who will come in and support us."

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has raised more than $1 million, but spent the vast majority on paying the firm that collected petition signatures. According to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Secretary of State, the coalition has only $17,326 in available cash for the upcoming campaign.

April 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Making a case for the FDA as the main federal agency on marijuana reform

Download (13)Paul J. Larkin Jr., a senior legal research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, has this interesting new Fox News commentary headlined "On marijuana, let the Food and Drug Administration make the decisions." Here are excerpts:

Reports about the Trump-Gardner deal and Schumer proposal [to reform federal marijuana laws and policies] raise several additional questions:

· Will the federal government pursue an entirely new policy regarding marijuana regulation?

· If so, will that new direction leave decision-making entirely up to the states?

· If not, will the federal government still play a role?

· Will that change lead to a net social plus or minus?

The answer to each of those questions is the same: “Maybe yes, maybe no.” That’s because there is another possible option lying between “absolute federal ban” and “complete state freedom.”...

In 1962, Congress also prohibited the distribution of new drugs unless the FDA commissioner first found them to be both “safe” and “effective.” Since then, Congress has consistently reiterated that the FDA should be responsible for making those decisions – not Congress, not the states, not the public. It’s an important matter. We do not decide by plebiscite which drugs should be sold to the public. America has resolved that experts should make that decision because the average person lacks the education, training and experience to answer the medical question of whether a particular drug is safe and effective.

Why should we treat marijuana differently? For more than two decades, states have decided to reconsider their marijuana laws and permit people to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes even though the distribution of marijuana is forbidden under federal law. Three presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – each failed to force Congress to decide whether federal law should also be re-examined.

President Trump may be willing to do what his three predecessors should have done. It is time for Congress to take up this subject once again. Great nations, like great people, always must be willing to reconsider their laws in light of new developments. It makes sense for Congress to revisit this issue.

But that does not mean senators and representatives should act in a vacuum, without regard for the nation’s designated authority on food and drug safety. Nor should members of Congress simply act according to polling results. We do not let the public decide which antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, or chemotherapy drugs can be marketed. There is no reason to treat marijuana differently.

Congress has never let the FDA decide this issue, because federal law has treated marijuana as contraband since the year before the FDCA became law. Maybe we should treat marijuana in the same way that we treat any other new drug that someone argues should be used therapeutically.

No healthy democracy can afford to glibly disregard the opinions of experts on matters within their expertise. Since 1962, the United States has decided to trust the FDA with the responsibility to resolve any debate, either within or beyond the scientific community, over a drug’s safety and efficacy. That decision is entitled to no less respect today than it was 50 years ago.

So maybe Congress will re-examine the treatment of marijuana under federal law and send the nation in a new direction. But maybe that new direction will be to leave the decision how to treat marijuana in the hands of the person we trust to make other, similar decisions: the commissioner of food and drugs. And maybe that approach will be a net social plus. We certainly think so with respect to other drugs. Perhaps, it’s time to enlist the FDA commissioner to make a scientific judgment about this issue too.

April 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)