Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Hill piece authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Here are excerpts from his accouting:

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.

Michigan

Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales....

New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion."...

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.... In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization....

Oklahoma

Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.

Delaware

Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

As I see it, full legalization is only likely in Michigan this year, though it is possible the New Jersey legislature will get this done before too long. If New Jersey does enact full legalization, that would increase the odds of neighboring New York and Delaware moving forward with legalization. But the odds still seem long to me for lots more full legalization states until the 2020 cycle. That major election year I expect we could see full legalization votes in at least a half dozen states, including big ones like Arizona, Florida and Ohio

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Wanna Beat Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee? Focus on Marijuana"

Brett-kavanaughThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Daily Beast commentary authored by Jeff Hauser.  I recommend the whole piece, and here are extended excerpts:

What if I were to tell you that there is a political issue that galvanizes young voters?  An issue that unites libertarians, independents, and African-Americans?  An issue with bipartisan power, that works not only in cities, but has demonstrated strength in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia? 

It’s an issue likely to generate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in the next decade and one on which the Trump administration’s leading law enforcement official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is already on the losing side politically.

Given all that, you would think this issue would be a central part of the Democratic Party’s campaign against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.  You would think wavering Democrats and shaky Republican senators would be targeted on the basis of the threat Kavanaugh poses on this issue.  But because the progressive movement sometimes makes political basics look liking trying to solve Fermat's Last Theorem, you would be wrong.

The issue I speak of is marijuana.  And it is likely to be a source of many complicated legal disputes in the coming decade, disputes that will be of increasing salience to American voters and, by turn, the Supreme Court.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already had to deal with some marijuana-related matters.  Just a few years ago, it was asked to weigh in on Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the court should enjoin Colorado from implementing its law.  Nebraska and Oklahoma complained that Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana “undermin[ed] their own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

On presumably technical grounds, six members of the Court declined to hear the lawsuit, but without prejudice (meaning there was no implication those Justices disagreed on the merits and the states could pursue their theory in the lower courts). Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented from the decision to not hear the case not only on technical grounds, but also by noting that Nebraska and Oklahoma have alleged “significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.”  They stated that those allegations were significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention.

That decision was back in 2016. How will Justice Neil Gorsuch (typically an ally of Thomas and Alito) feel when this question comes back to the Court now, as it likely will?  How would a Justice Kavanaugh, who most well-informed observers believe is essentially Gorsuch 2.0, feel about it?  Would Chief Justice John Roberts feel differently about it with a social-issues moderate like Justice Anthony Kennedy no longer on the Court?

These are important questions, affecting a massive and growing industry that a growing portion of the population supports.  And yet, they’ve been completely unasked during this current debate about the future composition of the Court....

It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure whether other questions surrounding marijuana legalization will come to the Court, or in what form.  But it appears likely.  Even the intersection of banking law and drug policy is a messy thicket right now.  America’s slow burning experiment with marijuana reform raises many as yet unclarified legal issues.

And that’s why those who are interested in marijuana legalization should also want to know what Judge Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the host of legal questions that might ultimately decide its future.

As a political matter, there are few better cards for the Democratic Party to play.  According to Gallup, support for legalization has "risen from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2017."  Several other surveys reveal similar increases.  An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows support for marijuana legalization not only strong among Democrats (75 percent) but Independents as well (67 percent), and even 41 percent of Republicans.

Support remains strongest among millennials — a group that commentators have noted is crucial to Democrats’ performance in this November’s midterm elections — but it has also risen rapidly among all age groups and places.  This past June, Oklahoma — Oklahoma! — voted to legalize marijuana.

In an environment in which marijuana is salient to the Supreme Court and many voters, the fact that marijuana is not part of the effort to secure red and purple state Senate votes against Kavanaugh is a little perplexing.

Not least because it has already proven to be a topic that can compel lawmakers to act.  Senators with “the federalist position” on-marijuana includes progressives like Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand but also Republicans “Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Lee.”

But no Senator better reflects the potential of the marijuana issue as a wedge than Colorado’s Cory Gardner.  Just last month, Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a marijuana legislation reform bill to “give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”  And for three months this winter, Gardner held up all Justice Department nominees in an effort to force Attorney General Sessions to agree to leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.

That display of spine was about as much as any Republican Senator has shown in attempting to restrain the Trump Administration to date.  But it also made sense.  Being viewed as a fighter for Colorado's right to legalize marijuana is likely pivotal to Gardner's political survival.  In 2014, Gardner won his seat in a GOP wave by a mere 2 points. In 2020, he will be facing an uphill battle since he holds the single most pro-Hillary Clinton seat of any Republican in the U.S. Senate....

Marijuana is not a staple of Supreme Court fights. The issue advocacy groups that focus on marijuana do not typically focus on the Supreme Court. And Cory Gardner is not a typical target for Democrats. But “typical” isn’t good enough. It is sadly clear that if progressive groups and Democrats rely exclusively on raising the same issues they raised in the Gorsuch “fight” in 2017, Kavanaugh will be confirmed easily.

Marijuana reform is one of the most important new political issues of this era and it’s about time Democrats and progressives take it seriously.

I do not think questions about marijuana will lead to "beating" Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I do think it quite sound to urge Senators to ask Judge Kavanaugh about the range of federalism and personal freedom issues that surround modern marijuana reform.  In this post upon Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, I asked "With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?".   Asking questions about Raich could be one of a number of ways to probe Judge Kavanaugh's views on these important topics.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hooray for the proposed new "Marijuana Data Collection Act" ... but ...

Images (2)Tom Angell reports here at Forbes on the introduction of a new piece of federal legislation that I consider long overdue.   Here are the details:

The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment."...

If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.

So far, the bill's backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.  “This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview.  "No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering.  Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”...

Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina. Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).

Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:

REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS

The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.

MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA

The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.

SUBSTANCE USE

The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.

IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.

EMPLOYMENT

The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.

Because I cannot yet find the full text of the bill on-line, I cannot yet provide a full informed opinion on its particulars.  I can say that I think a big, data-focused federal study of the impact of state marijuana reform is looooooooong overdue.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic, that Prez Obama might see the wisdom and political value of pushing for this kind of study effort after the issuance of the 2013 Cole Memo and after the 2014 election brought more states and DC into the recreational marijuana column.  But, sadly, we have been left largely with national number crunching by partisan advocates rather than government bean-counters for now two decades of ever-more-robust state-level reforms.

Based on Tom's description of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act," I am a bit concerned that there are not provisions likely to encourage pot prohibitionists to be supportive of this particular study effort.   The folks at SAM are often eager to stress data on black markets, increased use of marijuana by workers, increased hospital visits, increased homelessness, increased drugged driving, increased use by youths and young adults, environmental impacts,  and all sorts of other concerns (see, e.g., this SAM "lessons learned" report from March 2018).  It is unclear if these kinds of potentially negative data are fundamental parts of the inquiry imagined by Marijuana Data Collection Act.  If not, I doubt opponents of marijuana reform will want to sign on to this bill.

That said, even if the current version of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act" is in someway incomplete or one-sided, I hope a lot of folks on all sides of the marijuana reform debate will be inclined to try to make the bill better and get it passed.  I sincerely hope nobody disagrees with the notion that sound data and science is needed in this arena, and I sense both sides of the debate sincerely believe that the data, if fairly collected, will be on their side.  So maybe all can come together to really work toward trying to have all the data fairly collected (though I am not holding my breath).

July 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

Press-release-placeholderLate last week the Auditor General of Pennsylvania released this notable report on “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana” that reads a bit more like an advocacy group's document than something that would emerge from a state government office.  But, as this press release about the report reveals, the Auditor General of PA seems real eager to have access to a new revenue source:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Pennsylvania is missing out on $581 million per year in revenue by not regulating and taxing marijuana — money that could fund critical initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives. “Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized.  In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said during a news conference with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

“Today, I’m releasing a special report that shows the staggering amount the state could reap in tax revenue if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.”

The 14-page special report, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana,” compiles national research data, which show that an average of 8.38 percent of the commonwealth’s adults (21 and older) currently use marijuana at least monthly — a total of 798,556 adults. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually.  If Pennsylvania’s 798,556 adult users spent the same amount, they would create a $1.66 billion retail industry.

Assuming Pennsylvania taxed the growth, cultivation and sale of marijuana at 35 percent, the state would collect roughly $581 million in tax revenue annually. If Allegheny and Philadelphia counties were allowed to add 1-2 percent local tax, they could collect an additional $3.8 million and $6.9 million, respectively. “Imagine what that $581 million could mean for Pennsylvanians,” DePasquale said.  “Not only would it help balance the state budget, but it would also mean increases to initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives, such as greater access to opioid treatment and better health care access for veterans and children.”

DePasquale became the first statewide elected official to endorse regulating and taxing marijuana in March 2017. “With our neighboring states all looking at legalizing marijuana, now is the time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” DePasquale continued. “Legislators must act now so that we can be competitive and not lose potential revenue to other states.”

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Has the U.S. reached a ‘tipping point’ in marijuana legalization?"

Download (2)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post piece authored by Daniel J. Mallinson and A. Lee Hannah.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Has the U.S. reached the “tipping point” in marijuana legalization?  That’s what one CNN commentator said happened last month when, on June 26, Oklahoma adopted medical marijuana through a ballot initiative....

It’s true that a lot was unusual about the Oklahoma initiative.  The state approved medical marijuana with roughly 57 percent of the vote — despite the fact that the ballot measure was held in a conservative state, during a primary — when only the most committed party members tend to vote — rather than during a general election, is more permissive than many comparable laws, and was opposed by statewide Republican leaders....

Notably, Oklahoma’s voters approved medical marijuana directly, rather than through the legislature.  In our previous research, we found that five states legalizing medical marijuana via ballot initiatives between 1996 and 1999 helped legitimize the effort — and, beginning in 2000, a handful of legislatures followed suit.  Direct democracy is one important way that advocates successfully force the issue in some states — either through successful initiatives, as in Oklahoma, or through the threat of an initiative campaign, as in Ohio, where the legislature quickly passed a medical marijuana law to head off a 2016 initiative sponsored by Marijuana Policy Project.

As a result, as fewer and fewer of the remaining 20 states without any legal marijuana use have mechanisms for such direct referendums, it becomes less and less likely that those states will liberalize cannabis policy.  In that sense, perhaps Oklahoma is not a tipping point....

Direct democracy has furthered marijuana liberalization, assisted by changes in how advocates frame the issue.  Journalists and advocates have been drawing attention to recent research that shows the potential of medical cannabis to treat conditions like PTSD, epilepsy and opioid addiction.  This type of coverage serves to lift the stigma on marijuana use by presenting conditions and patients that are more relatable and sympathetic than treatment for other conditions, or than recreational use.

One of us, Lee Hannah, recently conducted a content analysis of news articles about medical marijuana stories by The Washington Post from 1995 (a year prior to California adopting the first program) to 2017 to determine whether this narrative shift was being seen in news coverage.  Hannah searched the newspaper archives and counted how many articles about medical marijuana were paired with specific medical conditions.

In the period from 1995 to 1999, The Washington Post ran 56 articles about medical marijuana that associated it with cancer, 73 articles that mentioned HIV/AIDS and only 7 articles associating medical marijuana with opioid addiction, epilepsy or PTSD.  That relative emphasis has flipped in the last five years.  The Post continued to make the connection to cancer, in 71 articles, but only 31 articles included HIV/AIDS.  Meanwhile, The Post ran 195 articles that connected medical cannabis to opioid addiction (71), epilepsy (83) or PTSD (41). The results were similar when analyzing coverage in the New York Times.

Some observers argue that evidence so far suggests other policy approaches are more successful than medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction.  But if interest groups can successfully persuade citizens that medical cannabis could help diminish the opioid crisis, conservative voters and state legislatures may be persuaded to make it available....

Whether Oklahoma’s new law is indeed a tipping point, changing public opinion and industry pressures seem to be pushing the federal government and the remaining states to make marijuana available for medical use — and probably, from there, recreational use as well.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing efforts to ensure marijuana reform is focused on criminal justice and social justice issues

Download (19)As long-time readers should know, much of my interest in modern marijuana reform emerged from my interest in criminal justice reform,  as well as from my frustration that many "traditional" approaches to criminal justice reform seem to move much more slowly than have many modern marijuana reforms.  Given this background, I have always been eager to see, and been most supportive of, proposals for marijuana reform that focus on criminal justice issues.  And this recent Stateline article, headlined "Marijuana Bills Increasingly Focus on Social Justice," effectively reports on encouraging developments in this arena. Here are excerpts from an extended article that should be read in full:

State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana this year aren’t just touting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of the government’s war on drugs.

The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters — most of whom, polls consistently show, support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups also have raised their voices in legalization discussions.

Now social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people....

Many state lawmakers say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Buffalo and has put forward a bill to legalize weed....

California’s 2016 ballot initiative, which filled more than 60 pages and covered everything from rules for marijuana testing laboratories to expungement of marijuana crimes from criminal records.

The California initiative allowed people with drug convictions to obtain marijuana licenses. It set aside $10 million a year to pay for services such as job placement, legal help, and mental health and addiction treatment for residents of communities hit hard by former drug laws. Passed by 57 percent, the initiative’s success showed that voters support justice and equity provisions — or at least aren’t dissuaded by them...

Missouri has four pot legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall; three focus on allowing medical use of the drug and the fourth on recreational use. The recreational use initiative by Total Legalization, a volunteer operation that isn’t backed by national pro-weed groups, also would require prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes to be released within 30 days and would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related criminal records. Becca Loane, a member of the board of directors for the campaign committee backing the initiative, said her team wants to legalize marijuana completely without waiting for the Legislature to work out the details. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

In North Dakota, a legalization ballot measure also would expunge the records of people with some marijuana-related convictions automatically. And in Michigan, a legalization ballot measure would require state lawmakers to encourage people in communities impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the marijuana industry....

The argument that marijuana legalization will help poor black and Latino people has been made vociferously in New York and New Jersey, where national groups that back legalization, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have teamed up with clergy and civil rights groups.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called marijuana legalization a social justice issue during his campaign last year. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, also a Democrat, has said she supports legalization because “we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”...

Nearly two-thirds of black, Hispanic and multiracial people supported marijuana legalization, according to a Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults this spring. That was a higher share than support among white adults, according to a breakdown by race and ethnicity shared with Stateline.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prominent US Representative for Ohio now advocating that "marijuana should be legal in all 50 states"

220px-Rep._Tim_Ryan_Congressional_Head_Shot_2010CNN recently published this recent commentary advocating federal marijuana reform that is particularly notable because of its author: Tim Ryan, a Democrat representing Ohio's 13th congressional district who is co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus (and who at least once had aspirations to be a party leader in the House). Here are excerpts from the commentary:

The year Donald Trump was elected President, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.  Moreover, the ACLU found that even though African-Americans use marijuana at similar rates to white Americans, they are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession....

As co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, I've been hesitant to support legalizing marijuana in the past.  But after meeting with countless Ohio families and youth whose lives have been irreparably harmed by a marijuana arrest, I find the social and economic injustices of our marijuana policy too big to ignore.  I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical.  That is why I am calling for an end to marijuana being used as an excuse to lock up our fellow Americans.

Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. Across the country, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana.  Voters in Michigan and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November, and efforts are underway in Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Utah to get legalization initiatives on the ballot. While I support these states for leading by example, this is an issue that affects every corner of our nation.  You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.

Studies have shown that marijuana legalization could save $7.7 billion in averted enforcement costs and add $6 billion in additional tax revenue -- a $13.7 billion net savings.  Not to mention the reported 782,000 jobs it could create on day one.  Think of what our country could do with that money: rebuild our highways, bridges, and railroads; provide our communities with the resources they need to respond effectively to substance abuse and the opioid epidemic; and create jobs....

Congress can change this by passing the Marijuana Justice Act.  This legislation would remove marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug -- those classified as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.  It would also eliminate all criminal penalties for an individual who imports, exports, manufacturers, distributes, or processes with intent to distribute marijuana.  To create economic opportunity in communities devastated by mass incarceration, the bill creates a $500 million community reinvestment fund to provide job training for the nascent legal cannabis industry.

The War on Drugs failed the American people. It is time for us to take the necessary steps to right our nation's wrongs.  We cannot afford to leave people behind and money on the table. If we are truly a nation that believes in second chances, our federal marijuana laws must change.  America is speaking. Congress must act.

July 23, 2018 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 (3)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Responsible Ohio: Successes, Failures, and the Future of Adult Marijuana Use in Ohio"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article that was authored by Sean Klammer and got its start in my Marijuana Law and Policy seminar a few years ago. Here is the article's introduction:

On November 3, 2015, Ohioans went to the polls to vote on Issue 3, a ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution to legalize adult marijuana use.  Though other states had legalized medicinal marijuana prior to eliminating prohibition, ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee (PAC) behind the initiative, believed it could skip this preliminary hurdle.  The group worked tirelessly for almost two years to ensure that Issue 3 would become law.  Had it succeeded, the organization would have possessed the blueprint to end prohibition in many other states, if not the entire country.  Yet, despite favorable polling in the months leading up to the election, it became clear that the PAC had miscalculated.  On election night, the initiative was soundly defeated, with Ohioans voting against legalization at a rate of two to one.  The State would have to wait until at least the 2016 presidential election to get another chance at legalization.

Part I of this Essay reviews the history and key players behind ResponsibleOhio as well as the initiative’s path to the ballot.  Part II summarizes the text of Issue 3 and assesses relevant provisions.  Parts III and IV highlight the debate between marijuana activists and prohibitionists, and Part V analyzes why the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.  Part VI notes that even though Issue 3 did not pass, it led to acceptance of medical marijuana in Ohio and thus set the stage for full legalization in 2020.  Finally, the Essay concludes in Part VII with a reflection on the lessons learned from ResponsibleOhio and gives suggestions on how to best frame a marijuana legalization campaign to appeal to voters in the next presidential election.

July 17, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Behind Schedule — Reconciling Federal and State Marijuana Policy"

Nejmp1804408_f1The title of this post is the title of this new Perspectives piece appearing in the The New England Journal of Medicine and authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Robert MacCoun and Michelle Mello. I recommend the piece highly in part because of its terrific graphic under the heading "U.S. Marijuana Policy Milestones, 1970–2018." Here is part of its text:

The present state of conflicting laws seems unstable and suboptimal for rational drug control. Federal regulation that accommodates and reinforces state medical marijuana regulatory regimes would result in a safer, more reliable, more accessible supply of marijuana products. Congress, because it answers to the people and represents the states, appears the most likely branch to move on marijuana policy; it could even be encouraged to act by Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.  Federal courts are increasingly hearing challenges to marijuana’s Schedule I status but have so far been unwilling to deem Congress’s scheduling determination irrational and therefore unconstitutional.

In Congress, rescheduling marijuana by amending the CSA is one attractive option.  The executive branch, too, can reschedule CSA substances, but the mechanisms are time consuming and unlikely to attract interest within the current administration.  Because considerable evidence now supports marijuana’s therapeutic benefits in reducing chronic pain, nausea, and vomiting in patients with cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis–related muscle spasms, there is a compelling argument that marijuana is more appropriately designated as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug.  Rescheduling would facilitate further study of products for FDA approval, but would not automatically change the severity of penalties for marijuana crimes or alter international treaty obligations, enshrined in the CSA, to ensure that all psychoactive substances are used only for legitimate medical and scientific purposes.

Congress could also remove marijuana from the CSA schedules altogether. This dramatic action could be coupled with legislation authorizing FDA oversight of marijuana products. Whether marijuana’s psychoactive effects preclude this move away from regulation as a controlled substance would provoke considerable debate. Subjecting marijuana products to FDA approval would hinder access initially but ultimately foster a robust system for regulation and research. FDA oversight of marketing would also improve product safety and consistent promotion across states.

The [proposed] legislation [sponsored by Senators Gardner and Warren] represents a third option designed to respect states’ rights — codifying the approach articulated in the Cole Memorandum by amending the CSA to exempt marijuana activities that are lawful in the jurisdiction where they occur. This solution would be more permanent than attorney-general guidance or agreements between states and the attorney general regarding enforcement, which shift with the political winds, and would therefore promote stability for medical users and suppliers. But it would not facilitate research into marijuana harms and benefits, bring products within the FDA’s purview to ensure safety and efficacy, alleviate interstate health risks, or address potential conflicts with international treaty obligations.

We think this third option, which addresses some pressing conflict-of-law concerns such as unpredictable criminal enforcement, is preferable to the current blurred vision of the future of marijuana policy.  Ultimately, a more comprehensive federal regime that perhaps resembles Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana could affirmatively promote health and safety through research and regulation.

July 13, 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 Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Michigan press suggesting state has a lot to learn from the Colorado marijuana reform laboratory

MIvotersRec_BEver since Election Night 2012 once it was clear that voters in Colorado and Washington were eager to pioneer a new approach, my thinking about marijuana reform always gravitates back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous description of the virtues of federalism in terms of a state being able to, "if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Part of serving as an effectively "laboratory" in this context, of course, is having result from a "novel social and economic experiments" that other states can seek to learn from.  

The point of this post prelude is to compliment a big new series of articles in the Detroit Free Press a few months before Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether to embrace full marijuana legalization in the state.  The lead article in this series, the first of those linked below, sets up the start of its learn and compare coverage with this note: "With Michigan having nearly double the population of Colorado — 9.9 million to 5.6 million — and an already well-established market of 289,205 medical marijuana cardholders, both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana wonder (and worry) whether Michigan is on the same path as Colorado."

What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana

5 things I found surprising about legal marijuana in Colorado

How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law

Legalize marijuana? Advice for Michigan from Colorado

I recommend all the pieces in this series, but the "5 surprising things" piece has these not-so-surprising questions from a reporter after a Denver visit (click through for the "answers" though I have reprinted the final one)

Where’s the fire?

Where’s the money?

Where’s the advertising?

Where are the baggies?

Where, oh where, is the outrage or the joy?

Marijuana has become second nature for Colorado: Everyone seems kind of blasé about the proliferation of pot in the state. No one seems particularly up in arms about the legalization or overjoyed by the success of the business. The state bureaucrats say it’s too early to say whether the presence of legal weed is a nightmare or a boon for the state’s economy and the police say there’s not much difference — and not much of a spike in crashes — between a driver impaired by booze or one high on marijuana. The businesspeople are happy with their still relatively new industry, but plagued by the uncertainty of how marijuana is treated by the federal government.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lots of notable new pieces examining (just some of) the dynamic modern politics of marijuana reform

As regular readers likely know, I find the modern politics of modern marijuana reform fascinating. And I still believe too few people have given enough consideration to how the modern politics of modern marijuana reform may have significantly impact the 2016 election (as I discussed in a long-ago post "Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform").  But a raft of new press pieces has me believing that a lot more people are finally coming to believe that marijuana reform is a big issue in modern political analysis.  Specifically, three interesting article were published just this week with intricate political analysis, and here are links/snippets:

From The Hill, "Marijuana politics evolving in red states":

Supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana are preparing to fight over ballot measures in half a dozen states this year, shifting the political battleground away from traditionally liberal states and into some of the country’s most conservative areas.  Two measures are already scheduled to appear on November ballots: Michigan voters will decide whether to become the ninth state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, while the electorate in Utah will choose whether to join 22 other states by legalizing pot for medical use.

In Missouri, as many as three separate measures could make the ballot. Supporters have submitted signatures for both medical and recreational regimes that will now be inspected by the secretary of state’s office.  Oklahoma, which voted last month to legalize medical marijuana, could see a ballot measure to approve a recreational scheme as well.  Legalization measures are also circulating in Arizona, Nebraska and North Dakota. Supporters in Ohio are trying for a second time to qualify for the ballot, in 2019....

The shifting battlefield, away from liberal coastal states and into more traditionally swing and red states like Michigan, Ohio and Oklahoma, illustrates the unusual coalitions of support on which each side relies.  Far from the traditional conservative-liberal split that divides modern politics, older men and younger progressives tend to favor legalization, while women with children — typically guaranteed Democratic voters — tend to harbor doubts.

From Politico, "Could Legal Marijuana Tip the Senate for Democrats?"

“I think what it means is how far along this issue has evolved just over the last couple of years,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist who has worked for [Florida Senator Bill] Nelson on his last two campaigns and served as campaign manager for the medical marijuana initiative since 2014.  “It’s gotten to a point where somebody on the moderate-conservative end of the Democratic spectrum like Bill Nelson is not just coming out for medical marijuana but getting involved in a political fight and saying people ought to be able to smoke this stuff. It is no longer an issue with political downside; it’s an issue with almost entirely political upside.”

That’s a calculation that is playing out in a handful of tight Senate races this year, where an issue that has 68 percent support (for full legalization; 91 percent for medical marijuana) offers a way for cautious moderates in red states — Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, for example, both of whom could share the ballot with marijuana initiatives in November — to shore up support from the liberal wing of their party.  In states like Nevada, where marijuana is already fully legal, it gives Democratic challengers like Jacky Rosen a ready coalition of bipartisan supporters.

From Forbes, "Why President Trump Is Positioned To Be Marijuana's Great Savior & How The Democrats Blew It"

President Trump, whether premeditated or not, is putting himself in a position to make history by becoming the U.S. president who reversed a nearly century-long policy of marijuana prohibition and, in so doing, reap the political spoils of taking on the mantle of “the legalization president.”

This idea is not so far-fetched. Trump has every reason politically to become an unlikely champion of marijuana legalization. Given the overwhelming public support of the issue, legalizing marijuana will certainly improve his chances of reelection in 2020. If he does, the Democrats will have nobody to blame but themselves.

Talk of President Trump’s potential support picked up steam in early June when he stated that he would “probably" support the STATES Act, a new bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would exempt legal state-licensed cannabis businesses from the Controlled Substances Act, eliminating the fear of federal prosecution, as well as banking and tax issues that currently plague the industry.

July 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Could North Dakota(!?!) fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative this year?

Download (16)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent posting at Marijuana Moment titled "How North Dakota Could Fully Legalize Marijuana In November. Here are excerpts:

Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.

Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support.  But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth — leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation — and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.

The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.  Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure.  Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.

The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies. “We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said.  “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”...

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association.  That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.  “We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media.  The people — plain and simple — they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”

Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana [in late June]....

Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”

I still think is was a very big deal that last week voters in deep-red Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a broad medical marijuana ballot initiative (details here and here). But if voters in deep-red North Dakota were to this year approve a recreational marijuana reform initiative, I suspect that even folks like Jeff Sessions and Kevin Sabet would see the political inevitability of nationwide marijuana reforms.

Of course, with limited funding and significant in-state opposition, I would be inclined to predict that a full ballot initiative would fail in North Dakota. Polls generally show roughly a 50/50 split on support for full legalization among more conservative voters, whereas medical marijuana is usually support 3 to 1 in this group. But I have to think a very thoughtful campaign could stress not only the thwarting of the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but also the coming of full legalization regimes in Canada (which is just a couple of hours drive from just about every major ND city). Perhaps a kind of "Blame Canada" campaign could help carry a full legalization initiative in this unique context.

July 2, 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, June 28, 2018

Highlighting how extraordinary the approval of medical marijuana was in Oklahoma

OK-Yes-788Over at Marijuana Moment, Kyle Jaeger has this terrific new piece reflecting on the extraordinary dynamics surrounding the vote on Tuesday in Oklahoma approving a medical marijuana initiative. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Voters in one of the reddest states in the nation approved one of the most far-reaching marijuana ballot measures on Tuesday, making Oklahoma the 30th state to legalize medical cannabis.

And while advocates and pro-legalization organizers in the state will tell you they weren’t necessarily surprised by the results — with polls consistently showing majority support in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, for example — the initiative’s passage by a wide margin (57 percent to 43 percent) is still extraordinary.

In part, that’s because of the political landscape of Oklahoma. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and its marijuana laws have historically reflected a staunch, prohibitionist mindset. Just four years ago, getting caught consuming cannabis in public twice could land you in prison for up to a decade.

But perhaps even more impressively, the initiative was decisively approved—during a midterm primary election—in spite of the fact that committees in support of State Question 788 were outspent by committees opposed to the measure six-to-one. According to the latest campaign finance records, Oklahomans for Health, which played a leading role in support of the initiative, and Yes On 788 spent a total of about $155,000 during their campaigns based on the latest campaign finance disclosure statements submitted June 26.

Committees opposed to the initiative, Oklahomans Against 788 and SQ Is NOT Medical spent a total of about $920,500 on their anti-legalization campaigns, some of which was used for television advertising against the measure. Supporters, on the other hand, did not have enough funds to go on the air with their message.

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s minimal spending “speaks volume for liberty, freedom, unity… because Oklahoma united around this and made it happen.”...

Unlike pro-legalization campaign committees advancing reform bids in many past state-level elections, Oklahomans for Health did not receive financial contributions from national advocacy groups such as Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance. Paul said it was better that way because “it means more if we do this for $0 or $10,000.”

Another element of the group’s campaign efforts involved strategically avoiding divisive, partisan politics. While the initiative itself has been characterized as “liberal” because it doesn’t include a list of limited medical conditions that qualify individuals for cannabis, the issue at hand is increasingly bipartisan. A recent survey from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress found a record 68 percent of Americans favor recreational legalization, including 57 percent of Republicans. Support for medical marijuana legalization is even higher, with 93 percent of Americans in agreement that patients should be able to legally access the plant. “For the most, we’ve managed to rise above things that would divide us,” Paul said.

June 28, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer introduces "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

220px-Chuck_Schumer_official_photoAs reported in this press release, "Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today formally introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level."  Here is more from the press release, with its links to the proposed legislation:

Specifically, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing it at the federal level.  The legislation allows states to continue to function as laboratories of democracy and ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana possession.  The legislation, however, does not change federal authorities’ ability to prevent trafficking from states where marijuana is legal to states where is not.  The bill also preserves the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana advertising -- just as it does tobacco -- so that advertisers cannot target children.  Schumer has long advocated for states’ rights when it comes to medical marijuana.

Leader Schumer’s new legislation also takes steps to help communities that have been disproportionally affected by our current marijuana laws.  The bill includes authorization of grant programs designed to encourage states and local governments to allow individuals to seal or expunge marijuana possession conviction records, and it creates a new funding stream to help ensure that women and minority entrepreneurs have access to the new marijuana industries in their states.  The bill also makes new investments in research to fully understand the effect of THC on both driving and public health – particularly in adolescents.  

Leader Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).... 

A fact sheet on the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. The full text of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. A section-by-section summary of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be found here.

Specifically, Leader Schumer’s new legislation would:

  • Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;
  • Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;
  • Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;
  • Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;
  • Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;
  • Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;
  • Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, adopt, or enhance expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose. 

This is big news not only because it provides still further evidence that "establishment Democrats" are now fully behind federal marijuana reform, but also because Senator Schumer is positioned to be the House majority leader if Democrats retake control of the Senate in either 2018 or 2020. If that happens, Senator Schumer presumably would be most interesting in having his version of marijuana reform considered first among all the competing bills now floating about.

June 27, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 of 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 (6)

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)