Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 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)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Justice Department seemingly impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry

Gardner-sessionsThis new Denver Post piece, headlined "Cory Gardner’s siege of the Justice Department over marijuana enters second month," provides an interested accounting of the current impact and import of the decision last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been a month since the pot blockade began, and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments to the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions softens his stance on marijuana.

So far, his siege to protect both Colorado’s cannabis industry and the state’s sovereignty has prevented as many as 11 nominees from getting a Senate floor vote — the last major step before they can start work — and there is little indication that Gardner, R-Colo., and Sessions are any closer to finding common ground. “It may never resolve itself,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the committee in charge of getting these nominees to the floor.

If that happens, the consequences would extend far beyond the 11 nominees that Gardner has put on ice. More than 20 other candidates are in the congressional pipeline for Justice-related jobs, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys assigned to states across the country. One even hails from Colorado: David Weaver, a former Douglas County sheriff in line to become the state’s next U.S. marshal....

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

At the root of the fight is a decision last month by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that have legalized marijuana, which remains illegal on a federal level. While the change hasn’t led to federal raids on pot dispensaries — and business largely has continued as usual — the move still sent shock waves through the fledgling cannabis industry.

Gardner wasn’t able to convince Sessions to reconsider when the two Republicans met last month, though aides to the Colorado lawmaker said the two sides haven’t given up on negotiations. “Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” said Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, in a statement. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”...

[Debate over congressional spending bills mean] it could be another month or more before there’s a chance to resolve the issue — and another month in which Gardner is expected to keep up the pot blockade. “He opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Contres said.

Under Senate rules and tradition, lawmakers are allowed to put a hold on nominees put forward by the White House — a tactic that’s often used to extract concessions from the executive branch. These holds can be overridden, but doing so requires party leaders to chew up valuable time on the Senate floor.

For the time being, Gardner’s hardball approach hasn’t caused much public strife among his Senate Republican colleagues. “I can understand why he did it,” said Grassley, who nonetheless disagreed with Gardner’s argument for states’ rights. “I’m an advocate for federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the constitution that federal law overrides state law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also is awaiting a floor vote for a U.S. marshal candidate in his state. Aides to McConnell did not respond with comment, though Grassley said it’s up to him to broker a solution and end the siege. Said Grassley of the nomination process: If McConnell “isn’t willing to intervene then you know it all stops.”

February 7, 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, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dreaming of what Prez Trump could say (but surely won't) in State of the Union about marijuana policy

The ever-astute John Hudak of the Brookings Institute has this lengthy new commentary about federal marijuana policy headlined "Trump’s 1st State of the Union: His chance to be a states’ rights president." The piece merits are full read, and here are excerpts:

When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address next week, there will be plenty of issues to cover. One likely to be overlooked, but in need of presidential clarity, is marijuana policy.  It is not the most high-profile issue, but a few sentences would help reconcile the president’s campaign promises with the actions of his administration....

If Mr. Trump truly believes in the promises he made during the campaign, his speech next week is an opportunity to scold Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescinding the Cole Memo that offered protections to states that have legalized recreational marijuana (and companies within those states who are playing by the state rules).  He can publicly oppose Mr. Sessions’ explicit request to Congress to rescind the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that restricts the Justice Department from spending funds to enforce against state-legal medical marijuana operations.  He can ask Congress to rescind the Harris Amendment that prevents the District of Columbia from implementing its recreational legalization initiative — a congressional decision that has left D.C. with a legal homegrow system but no power to construct a regulatory system for commercial sales.

Mr. Trump can go further and signal to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — who will likely be sitting a few yards in front of him — that the Treasury Department should strengthen protections for banks working to keep the marijuana industry accountable and transparent, and he can ask Congress to put those protections into law.  Mr. Trump knows better than any president in history how important access to financial services are for an individual starting and building a business.

Mr. Trump can talk about marijuana research. He can disavow his VA Secretary’s recent statements about medical research. Secretary Shulkin first said — incorrectly — that his department was restricted from studying marijuana’s medical efficacy.  He subsequently and messily “cleaned up” his statement by saying that studying marijuana was too bureaucratically difficult for his department to pursue.  As a vocal supporter of our troops and someone committed to helping our injured veterans, President Trump can demand that the VA Secretary change his tune.

And he can do much more.  He can tell the HHS Secretary to review and remove the barriers that hinder our nation’s most talented medical and scientific researchers from studying marijuana’s efficacy, dosing, and side effects. He can demand that Attorney General Sessions stop stalling with the approval of new licenses for regulated, research-grade facilities to grow marijuana for use in federally approved research — breaking the monopoly currently held by the University of Mississippi’s marijuana farm.  He can tell Congress that because most of their constituents live in states with medical marijuana programs, they should increase funding for such research, including promising research into whether medical marijuana can be used to combat the opioid crisis.

This is, of course, a lot to ask of a president on an issue that does not command top-tier attention.  What’s more, because his administration seems to have no interest in this policy area — and several appointees explicitly oppose marijuana—there does not seem to be an agency head or cabinet member who will lobby the White House to include language on marijuana policy in the speech.  Without having a high-level ally on the issue, marijuana is unlikely to be addressed.

Prez Obama was an (in)famous marijuana user in high school and yet never thought marijuana policy could justify any real attention in any of his speeches, let along the State of the Union. Consequently, I would by shocked if Prez Trump used his first State of the Union speech to speak really for the first time on this divisive issue. But, of course, Prez Trump sometimes seems to like to be shocking, so I will still be listening closely.

January 26, 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 (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Keeping up with the latest notable news with the help of Marijuana Moment

Regular readers are used to me regularly referencing Tom Angell great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment and his similarly titled news portal available here.  Because I have been busy on many other fronts this week, I have not been able to keep up with some notable news, and so I will link to Tom's particular recent postings that struck me as especially worth highlighting:

The last of these listed items discusses a notable new Ninth Circuit ruling that I am hoping to blog more about before too long.

January 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vermont now officially the ninth US state to legalize marijuana ... and the first to do so through traditional legislation

VermontAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vermont governor signs pot bill with 'mixed emotions'," a small state finalized some big marijuana reform news this afternoon. Here are the details:

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday privately signed Vermont's marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of the substance by an act of a state legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants.

Vermont will become the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana. The other states and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana through a vote of residents. Vermont law contains no mechanism that allows for a citizen referendum.

The Republican governor had until the end of the day Monday to sign the bill. His office issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had signed the bill. "Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed" the bill he said. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children."

The law contains no mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, although the Legislature is expected to develop such a system.

Vermont's move is an incremental reform that will have little impact for most people in the state, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "I think the vast majority of Vermonters won't notice any change at all," Simon said. "It's simply eliminating a fine and eliminating a penalty for growing a small number of plants."

The new law is unlikely to prompt people who don't now smoke marijuana to take it up, said Robert Sand, a Vermont law school professor and former county prosecutor who has advocated for years to change the state's drug laws. "Realistically anyone who wanted to try it has tried it," Sand said....

The Vermont Legislature passed a similar proposal last spring, but Scott vetoed it, citing practical concerns. Lawmakers revised the proposal to do more to protect children and enhance highway safety. The revised bill passed both chambers this month.

Recreational use of marijuana already has passed in Maine and Massachusetts, and both states are awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana. New Hampshire's House gave preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities, even though a commission studying the issue won't finish its work until next fall.

Scott said last week he was declining to hold a bill signing ceremony because "some people don't feel that this is a momentous occasion."

January 22, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Interesting new data on the latest economics of marijuana reform politics

636518826214405336-Contributions-OnlineUSA Today has this interesting new article with interesting new data under the headline "Marijuana money increasingly flowing to Republican lawmakers." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana business owners are increasingly pouring their profits into lobbying lawmakers as they face a federal crackdown from the Trump administration.

A USA TODAY survey found hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the cannabis industry into campaign finance accounts of both lawmakers and political action committees, with emphasis this year on Congressional Republicans who are trying to stop the Trump administration from targeting marijuana businesses.

Combined, medical and recreational marijuana marketplaces across the country are worth a staggering $8 billion, and last year generated at least $2 billion in taxes, said Matt Karnes of cannabis data firm GreenWave Advisors. It’s no surprise those businesses want to protect what they’ve built, experts say.  “These are legitimate, taxpaying businesses that want and deserve to be heard, and lawmakers at every level of government have become more comfortable with accepting their contributions,” said Mason Tvert, a cannabis activist who helped lead Colorado’s legalization effort in 2012.

Politicians are increasingly willing to accept those contributions from an industry that remains illegal at the federal level and now faces even more scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rolled back Obama administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use recreational marijuana....

Money is also flowing at the state level, where legislators and regulators decide on details about packaging, testing and even who can get business licenses. Legalization ballot initiatives across the country have also been backed by millions of dollars, particularly in California.

Cannabis lobbying groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), have long lobbied lawmakers, but now marijuana business owners themselves are contributing — and letting everyone know it.

John Lord, the CEO of Colorado-based LivWell Enlightened Health, whose company employs more than 600 people, has donated nearly $23,000 to federal lawmakers in the past four years, and another $10,000 to Colorado politicians and issue committees. Increasingly he’s been giving to Republicans at the federal level. "It would be rather imprudent if I didn’t,” Lord said.

Lord's donations make him one of the biggest individual donors in cannabis campaign contributions nationally, at least among those who admit where the money comes from. While campaign donors are supposed to disclose their employer, many black-market marijuana growers simply say they're self-employed or a consultant, obscuring the source of the money.

Democrats have typically been the largest recipients of marijuana campaign money in the past, but Republicans are now taking the lead in accepting those donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed contributions at the request of USA TODAY. Experts say the recent shift is largely attributable to the belief by marijuana businesses that Republicans who support states' rights are their best allies today.

Because marijuana contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign donations and lobbying spending, it's hard to track exactly how much money is flowing to candidates.

Industry groups with political action committees are the biggest donors, among them the MPP, NORML and the National Cannabis Industry Association, which combined have donated about $327,000 to candidates over the past three Congressional election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, the National Beer Wholesalers Association donated about $1.5 million to candidates in the past year alone.

While the marijuana contributions represent a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to traditional businesses like brewers, grocers, manufacturers or liquor stores, the increasing flow from cannabis entrepreneurs suggests the industry won’t willingly let the federal government slow this fast-growing juggernaut.

January 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Unsurprisingly, Colorado congressional contingent contesting AG Sessions' decision to rescind Cole Memo

Images (5)Two new article from the Denver Post detail the various steps being taken by various members of Congress from Colorado in response to Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescind the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Here are links to the stories and their leads:

"Colorado Congress members send letter to Sessions, urging reinstatement of Cole Memo: Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter"

Colorado congressional legislators fired off a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking that he reconsider last week’s rescission of the Cole Memo and related marijuana guidance. Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter to Sessions.  In it, they “strongly urge” the Department of Justice to reinstate the Cole Memo in order to ensure the Justice Department “is acting to uphold the will of Colorado voters and the rights of the states to regulate intrastate commerce.” 

"Colorado Rep. DeGette convenes delegation to respond to Sessions, discuss federal marijuana protections"

Colorado’s congressional delegation convened an emergency meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to shore up protections for state-legal marijuana operations and, in turn, states’ rights. In the meeting, members advanced plans for federal marijuana protections and honed near- and long-term strategies to counter U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of the 2013 Cole Memo.

"Cory Gardner to meet with Jeff Sessions after doubling down on threats over marijuana enforcement change: Wednesday’s meeting follows threats Gardner made last week"

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said he plans to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions on federal marijuana policy when the two Republicans meet Wednesday.

In an interview, the Republican from Colorado emphasized that he is prepared, if he doesn’t get his way, to block all nominees related to the Department of Justice, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys from other states.  The comments build on threats that Gardner made last week after a decision by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that left alone Colorado and other states that legalized marijuana in spite of federal laws against it.

“It’s my job to protect those states’ rights and states’ decisions,” Gardner said. “I would anticipate it being (Justice) officials.  I would anticipate it being U.S. marshals (and) U.S. attorneys.  But the bottom line is (that) this can be solved by the Department of Justice.”

I will be very interested to see and hear what becomes of Senator Gardner's meeting with AG Sessions.  I am certain the Trump Administration and AG Sessions in particular would not like to see all DOJ nominations blocked as the Senator has been threatening.  But I am also certain AG Sessions in particular would not be too keen on affording Senator Gardner a kind of "heckler's veto" over federal prosecutorial policies. Stay tuned.

Prior related posts:

January 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Louisiana Gov writes directly to Prez Trump urging him to urge Congress to preserve medical marijuana spending limit

I have been lately wondering if, when and how President Donald Trump might have something to say about federal marijuana policy in the wake of Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescinding the Cole Memo (basics here and here).   Though we have still not heard from the Prez on this matter, today I see that Louisiana Gov John Bel Edwards has written directly to Prez Trump to discuss medical marijuana in the Bayou State and to seemingly ask Prez Trump to push Congress to preserve the soon-to-expire spending limitation that prohibits the Justice Department from using government funds to go after state medical marijuana programs.

The short but still interesting letter from Gov Edwards to Prez Trump is available at this link.  The letter's concluding substantive paragraph reads:

Mr. President, for many people in my state, access to this treatment means a person could return to the workforce, return to school or simply lead a normal life.  Simply put, we would be failing the people we represent if we allow any funding bill to move through Congress without the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer language included.  This issue is critically important in Louisiana, and I hope we can partner together to ensure the safe distribution of this life-changing form of treatment.

January 9, 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)

Monday, January 8, 2018

US Attorney for Massachusetts refuses to provide more guidance on federal prohibition prosecution plans

As reported in this AP article, the "top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts offered no guarantees on Monday that he would take a hands-off approach to legalized pot, injecting a new layer of uncertainty and confusion into the commercial marijuana industry as it looked to gain a foothold in the state." Here is more:

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement that while he understood the desire for guidance on the federal approach to the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law, he "cannot provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution." Such determinations would be made on a "case-by-case basis," he added.

The Yes on 4 Coalition, which spearheaded the 2016 ballot campaign, had publicly called for Lelling to provide "clear, unambiguous answers" to several questions, including whether his office would prosecute businesses that are granted licenses by state cannabis regulators to grow, produce, test or sell marijuana legally in Massachusetts....

Lelling took office in December after being nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  His comments on Monday expanded on an earlier statement last week that promised enforcement of serious federal crimes but did not directly address the recreational marijuana issue....

Jim Borghesani, a Massachusetts spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the prosecutor’s comments "ominous."  Pro-marijuana groups fear the change in tone from the Justice Department and federal prosecutors will send a chill through the nascent cannabis industry, discouraging those looking to start or invest in those businesses. "I don’t think any business would ever want to open its door and have fears on the first day that the FBI is going to be standing on their doorsteps," said Borghesani....

The Cannabis Control Commission, a five-member panel created to regulate marijuana in Massachusetts, has pledged to move forward with a process that foresees the first commercial pot shops opening in July. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said last week that rescinding the Cole Memorandum was the "wrong decision," continued to support the commission’s work and would provide adequate funding for it, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The "Statement By U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling Regarding Federal Marijuana Enforcement" is available at this link.  I understand fully why officials and reform advocates in Massachusetts would like to get some more clear and definitive enforcement guidance as the state moves forward with developing and implementing rules for voter-enacted marijuana reform.  But both the tone and seeming intent of the decision by Attorney General Session to rescind the Cole Memo suggests that the Department of Justice is eager to avoid giving clear guidance to state actors and the marijuana industry concerning enforcement plans and priorities in this arena.

January 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative set for June vote

As reported in this press release, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin yesterday "set a June election date for the medical marijuana ballot measure." Here is more from the release:

Fallin filed an executive proclamation placing State Question 788 on the June 26 primary election ballot. The governor’s other option was to place the issue on the November general election ballot.

Supporters of an initiative petition asking voters to legalize medical marijuana gathered enough signatures in 2016 to schedule a statewide referendum on the measure. “Backers of this proposal to legalize medical marijuana followed procedures and gathered the more than 66,000 required signatures to submit the issue to a vote of the people,” said Fallin. “I’m fulfilling my duty as governor to decide when that election will occur this year.”

If approved by voters, the measure would permit doctors to recommend a patient, who is at least 18 years old, for a state-issued medical marijuana license. A license holder would be allowed to legally possess up to 3 ounces of the drug, six mature plants and six seedlings. These limits can be increased by individual counties or cities. 

Primary elections, typically, will bring out many fewer voters than general elections. But it seems elections involving marijuana ballot issues will bring out, sometime, at least a few more than the usual voters. It will be interesting to watch the turn out dynamics, as well as of course the outcome, in the Sooner State now that the Governor has called for a sooner vote.

January 5, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Some early thoughts and comments now that AG Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo

I have so many thoughts about what might come next in the wake of today's big news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinding the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Helpfully, Sam Kamin already has this effective Hill commentary astutely "Jeff Sessions's new pot policy: What happens now?". I recommend the piece in full, and here is just a snippet of its many notable thoughts:

In overturning the Cole memo, Sessions made it clear that the nation’s U.S. attorneys will be left to exercise their discretion over licensed marijuana businesses within their purview....

Allowing U.S. attorneys to exercise total discretion, however, could be particularly disruptive. Imagine California’s four U.S. attorneys each adopting a different policy with regard to the part of the state over which they have jurisdiction. A compliant marijuana business in the northern district, which covers Oakland and San Francisco, might be treated entirely differently than a similar one in Los Angeles, which falls in the central district. Until Sessions’s memo, compliance with state law essentially was a safe harbor for businesses and individuals. That's no longer true, though any attorney advising a client surely would tell them that it's better to be in compliance than out.

As to what the Justice Department actually can do about state marijuana conduct, the limits are more practical than legal. The authority of the federal government to crack down on marijuana conduct — even conduct legal under state law — is unquestioned.

The worst-case scenario for marijuana reform states is that the Drug Enforcement Administration could make arrests, seize assets and property, and seek long prison terms against those operating under state law. More realistically, prosecutors could send cease-and-desist letters to businesses (or their landlords) ordering them to stop violating federal law or face further consequences.

State governments need not participate in any crackdown on the industry. The anti-commandeering principle inherent in the 10th Amendment precludes state authorities from being pressed into the service of federal policy. But there is also very little that state lawmakers can do to protect their citizens from federal enforcement.

Several political options exist at the national level, however. Sessions has lobbed the ball squarely back into Congress’s court. Congress could vote to extend the spending rider both in time and scope. It could protect marijuana businesses past Jan. 19, when the current spending bill is set to lapse. It could also extend protection to anyone operating under the authority of state law, whether medical or recreational.

Congress could also change the legal status of marijuana more generally. It could move marijuana out of Schedule I (where it is categorized alongside heroin and LSD) to a more lenient category where it is permitted with a doctor’s prescription. Or, it could move marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act entirely, treating it the way alcohol and tobacco are — a regulated but legal substance.

The announcement thus creates a significant test of Congress’s willingness to stand up to the administration on matters of state policy.

Speaking of "matters of state policy," I also found interesting and notable this short commentary by Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review headlined "Marijuana Is a Gateway Drug to Federalism." Here is an excerpt:

When I speak on college campuses about the need for a more robust federalism, I am often asked how conservatives should sell the idea to those who do not share their political goals....

My answer, for a while now, has been “marijuana.” “It will annoy many people,” I have suggested, “when the executive branch is staffed by drug warriors, and they decide to enforce federal law against states that have voted to legalize. When it happens, and when there’s a reaction, we should point it out.” ...

And here I am pointing it out.  There is no good reason for Washington D.C. to have a view on this.  If Colorado or Oregon want to legalize weed while Mississippi and Utah ban it, that’s fine. In fact, that is how the country is supposed to work.   The United States is a collection of . . . well, of states; it is not a giant centralized democracy with fifty regional departments. Congress should make it a priority to get the federal government out of this area, and to let the states, not the attorney general’s fealty, determine which rules are best for their citizenries. And conservatives, of all people, should celebrate that.   The Founders did not write the Constitution to impose uniformity on hemp.  Rarely will we get a better teaching moment than this one.

Meanwhile, shifting from matters of constitutional design to dollars and cents, I wonder if marijuana stores in various states across the nation are experiencing any uptick in business (or are even considering an increase in prices). I think a shrewd marijuana consumer, realizing the uncertainty that now defines federal marijuana enforcement, might want to frequent their favorite establishment while still certain its doors are open.

January 4, 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)

After new AG Sessions memo on marijuana enforcement, is marijuana industry now "in chaos"?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in The Hill headlined "Marijuana industry thrown into chaos by Sessions decision." Here are excerpts:

The booming business of legal marijuana was thrown into chaos Thursday on the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to roll back a key agreement that shielded the industry from federal prosecution in a handful of states.

Stock prices plummeted, investors worried and business owners wondered whether they would now be subject to federal prosecution as Sessions prepares to rescind an Obama-era provision, known as the Cole memo, that directed United States attorneys to deprioritize marijuana-related cases in states where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes.

Rolling back the Cole memo would allow each United States attorney, appointed by the Trump administration, to decide whether to prosecute legal marijuana businesses and business owners under federal law. “The first question that clients are asking, that we haven’t asked for so long, is, could I go to prison?” said Amy Margolis, a Portland-based attorney at Greenspoon Marder who advises cannabis clients. “People are afraid of how each United States attorney is going to respond to this.”...

Experts said state officials involved in regulating, licensing and taxing marijuana businesses are unlikely to be targeted by federal officials. But each U.S. attorney could decide to target businesses, creating the potential for a patchwork of prosecution policies in states like California, where several different offices oversee parts of the state.

“U.S. attorneys had discretion on prosecution priorities before the Cole memo, and they'll have that again now, so it's up to them,” said Rafael Lemaitre, a longtime official at the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama....

Sessions, a vocal critic of marijuana legalization, had long hinted he planned to roll back the Cole memo, implemented in 2013 during the Obama administration. Sessions had convened a panel to review Obama-era policies, and in 2017 the Office of National Drug Control Policy sent representatives to meet with officials in legalization states.

Several state leaders said they would explore options to fight the decision. “If news reports are accurate, today’s forthcoming announcement from Attorney General Sessions is the wrong direction for our state,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement. “Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement.” “My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said.

Legalization advocates said they do not anticipate Sessions’s move stopping any states from creating new rules around marijuana. “I don’t think this is going to slow efforts to implement existing state marijuana laws and pass new ones,” said Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority and author of a daily tipsheet on the industry. “We didn’t want this to happen, but I don’t think this is the end of the world given how much momentum we had.”

But the industry took a beating with investors on Thursday. Stocks in Terra Tech, the largest legal marijuana business by market cap, had fallen by more than 25 percent as of midday Thursday. Many other marijuana businesses were down by 10 percent or more as trading continued....

Brian Darling, a lobbyist for WeedMaps who also formerly worked as an aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said that the decision could have a "huge economic impact" and hurt the product in states where marijuana is legalized. “It’s really thrown a curveball at the industry because when you look at the big picture, it shows that the federal government, at least the Justice Department, is really intent on pushing to maybe prosecute individual states that allow adult use of marijuana,” Darling said. “You’re talking about a huge economic impact and it’s the opposite of what the Trump administration has stood for, is making America great again and making the economy great again and expanding jobs and expanding opportunity.”

January 4, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AP reporting AG Jeff Sessions to rescind Cole memo to give more prosecutorial authority to local US attorneys

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d26b0c31970cAs reported in this new AP piece, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press." Here is more about this big news:

Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said. The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.

The move by President Donald Trump’s attorney general likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.

While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Pot advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade....

Sessions’ policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.

Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for pot opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.

“There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it’s also the beginning of the story and not the end,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.”

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.

A task force Sessions convened to study pot policy made no recommendations for upending the legal industry but instead encouraged Justice Department officials to keep reviewing the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, something Sessions promised to do since he took office.

The change also reflects yet another way in which Sessions, who served as a federal prosecutor at the height of the drug war in Mobile, Alabama, has reversed Obama-era criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced. While his Democratic predecessor Eric Holder told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking long mandatory minimum sentences when charging certain lower level drug offenders, for example, Sessions issued an order demanding the opposite, telling them to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects.

I am inclined to wait to see exactly what new guidance and statements come from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions before opining on what this all means and portends. But this is obviously huge news that could have lots of echo effects that I will be following closely for the days and week and months to come.

January 4, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Another review of California's commitment to expunge past marijuana convictions

In recent weeks, I have spotlighted a number of article from a number of outlets discussing marijuana reform's impact on part marijuana convictions.  The latest example today comes from the Washington Post via this extended article headlined "Convicted of a marijuana crime in California?  It might go away, thanks to legal pot."  Here are excerpts:

California is offering a second chance to people convicted of almost any marijuana crimes, from serious felonies to small infractions, with the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared or the charges sharply reduced. State officials hope to reverse decades of marijuana convictions that can make it difficult for people to gain meaningful employment and disproportionately affect low-income minorities.

“We worked to help create a legalized and regulated process for legal marijuana, but we also wanted to make sure we could help — some way, somehow — repair the damages of marijuana prohibition,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. The alliance said there have been 500,000 arrests for marijuana offenses in California in the past 10 years, and it estimates that up to a million people have reviewable convictions on their records.

At least 4,500 people had filed petitions to have their sentences reduced, redesignated or thrown out as of September, according to the California Judicial Council. The highest amount came from Riverside County, where 613 applications were filed. In addition, at least 365 people have applied to have their juvenile marijuana convictions thrown out. Not every county reported data.

The change here is part of a nationwide movement to reduce marijuana charges and atone for harsh penalties during the war on drugs. At least nine states have passed laws expunging or reducing marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland, Oregon and Vermont also now allow convictions for marijuana offenses that are not crimes under current law to be wiped off a criminal record.

The re-designation of marijuana crimes in California went into effect immediately after voters approved the measure legalizing pot. Many viewed it as an offshoot of a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and theft crimes. Those who want their marijuana convictions lessened must present their cases in court. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should someone have a major felony, such as murder, on their record. Old convictions will be reclassified under the law as it reads now. For example, if someone had been convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, that conviction would be tossed out because that is now legal in California.

Some district attorney’s offices notified the recently convicted and incarcerated that they were eligible to have their records changed and that they potentially could leave prison. Last year, prosecutors in San Diego searched for people convicted of marijuana offenses in the prior three years who would be eligible for reductions. When the measure passed, prosecutors got their petitions before a judge as soon as possible. “We absolutely didn’t want people to be in custody who shouldn’t be in custody,” said Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division in the San Diego district attorney’s office. She said that as of mid-December, the office has handled nearly 600 reductions.

But advocates said many people who completed their sentences still do not know they could be able to change their criminal records. Hernandez and defense lawyers said that the state has put little effort into outreach and that most people are hearing about the opportunities through word of mouth or social media. “One of the projects we’re working on this year is to notify people that this is an option,” said Bruce Margolin, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases. “It’s a viable thing to do, obviously, because people are suffering with these felony convictions in so many aspects of their life.”

Omar Figueroa, a defense lawyer in Sebastopol, Calif., who specializes in marijuana law, said the requirement to go to court makes it more difficult for the poor to take advantage. “That’s one of the criticisms, that a lot of people don’t have the time or energy or the access to public transportation to get to the courthouse,” Figueroa said. “What I see is the people who have more means are the ones who are taking advantage of this, and the people who have more basic struggles in their everyday life, the last thing they’re thinking about is cleaning up their criminal history for their old marijuana convictions.”

Some prior related posts:

December 18, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

More reporting suggesting Vermont will very soon enact a novel form of marijuana legalization via a not-so-novel means

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiI explained in this post last week, "Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?," how notable and valuable it could be, for policy-makers, citizens and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative law-making process.  As noted in posts link below, Vermont got very close but then failed to be a first in this arena back in May,  and thus I am not taking for granted that the state will make marijuana reform history in early January.  But this recent Forbes piece by Tom Angell continues to highlight why the Green Mountain State could kick of 2018 with a marijuana reform bang.   The piece is headlined "Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate," and here are excerpts: 

Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.

Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects "it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is "comfortable" signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018.

And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues "look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line."

If the tripartisan group of officials follows through and enacts legalization in early 2018, it would make Vermont the first state to end cannabis prohibition by an act of lawmakers. All eight states that have legalized marijuana so far have done so via ballot measures approved by voters....

In Vermont, which operates on a legislative biennium, the Senate has already passed the legalization bill. All that is required to get it to Scott's desk for signing into law is one more House floor vote, and that could happen any day after the legislature reconvenes on January 3.

In 2017, the state fell just short of ending marijuana prohibition. Both legislative chambers approved a legalization proposal, but Scott vetoed it. However, the governor then laid out a few small revisions he wanted legislators to make in order to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn't able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer. The legislation remains on the House calendar, and can be approved with a simple majority under regular order next month.

Under the bill, Vermont’s approach to legalization would differ from the regulatory systems that exist in the other eight legalization states. That's because instead of allowing licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, it would simply enact a noncommercial form of legalization where possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. However, the Senate-approved legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.

During the legislative recess, Scott used an executive order to proactively create a marijuana legalization study commission on his own, so there is a chance that the pending bill will be amended to remove its commission provisions before lawmakers vote on final passage. And that could potentially mean that it will take slightly more time than just one additional House floor vote. “Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said this month, referring to the commission piece.

While saying that he has not yet “spoken to legislative leaders” about the language, he suggested lawmakers might want to “make some changes on the floor, send it back to committee, make some alterations and then we’ll see what they either add or delete and then we’ll see if it’s the same as what I committed to pushing forward with.” But accomplishing those changes likely would not take very long, advocates say, given the consensus between legislative leaders and Scott on getting legalization enacted that seemed to crystalize during the 2017 session....

Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed, adding that success in Vermont will likely signal the start of a wave of legislative action on cannabis in other states. "Vermont now finds itself on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature," he said in an email. "The legislative process is slower than the [ballot] initiative process by its very nature, but this exciting development should bring hope to the millions of reform supporters who live in states that don't allow initiatives. I'm confident that other state legislatures will soon follow their lead."

A few prior related posts:

December 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

New talk about a new marijuana legalization initiaitive in Ohio from some old voices

As reported in this local article, headlined "Anyone over 21 could grow weed at home under proposed Ohio ballot initiative," there is some new talk about a new initiative to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. Here are the details:

A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation. Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio's current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician's recommendation.

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018. Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio's failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use. The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting "no" to recreational and medical marijuana.

But the new proposal "is as different from Issue 3 as night and day," Gould said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.'' Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3's ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers. "The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this," Gould said.

Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that "a lot of time has gone by" since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years....

Gould said his new ballot initiative would "run parallel" to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied "Level 1" licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer. "That stuff is just not OK," Gould said. "Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks" on the application graders.

I am tempted to not take this new talk of a new initiative all that seriously because right now it seems a bit like the expression of sour grapes (sour weed?) based on the failure of Gould to get a state "Level 1" license. But Gould and his team were able to get a (poorly conceived) initiative to the voters back in 2015, and maybe they really want to and really can do it again in 2018.

December 11, 2017 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, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new report from Tom Angell under the headline "Will Legalize Marijuana In Early January, House Speaker Says." Here are the details:

A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.  “It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”

In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support.  The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.

Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.  Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.

Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year. “We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said....

Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization....

Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. “We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.

I was disappointed by the veto of the marijuana reform bill that Vermont's legislature passed last year in large part because I think it could be extremely valuable, to both policy-makers and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization. Now I am excited anew that this distinctive approach to marijuana legalization may still soon become law in the Green Mountain State.

In the article linked above, Tom Angell notes that marijuana reform advocates have been watching New Jersey closely as a state that might in early 2018 enacted marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative process. For various reasons, I think action in New Jersey becomes even more likely if Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the usual legislative process.

A few prior related posts from May 2017:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

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

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Useful reminder of a prior era of marijuana decriminalization

Time magazine has this notable new article authored by Emily Dufton about an underappreciated bit of marijuana history. The piece is headlined "U.S. States Tried Decriminalizing Pot Before. Here's Why It Didn't Work," and here are excerpts:

Between 1973 and 1978, a dozen states decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.  Pro-pot activists, many of them young veterans of the anti-war and civil-rights movements, argued that marijuana wasn’t as harmful as the government said it was, and that laws against it were unjust.  In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, they built on America’s growing distrust of the government to pass less restrictive marijuana laws at the state level.  It worked: by 1978, a third of the country lived in states where marijuana possession warranted little more than a fine.

But a multi-million dollar paraphernalia industry followed in decriminalization’s wake.  By 1977, sales of pipes, bongs, rolling papers and drug-oriented magazines and toys were generating $250 million a year (equivalent to $1 billion today).  There was little to no regulation or oversight on this booming new industry, however.  Products that seemed directly targeted to kids — including Frisbees with pipes on them and bongs shaped like spaceships — were sold openly, often in corner shops and music stores.

Before long, a counterrevolution unfolded, as an army of concerned parents tied paraphernalia’s availability to rising rates of adolescent marijuana use.  By 1978, nine percent of high school seniors reported smoking pot every day, and children as young as 13 reported that the drug was easy to get.  The “parent movement” sought to close “head shops” and rescind decriminalization laws, while organizing local groups to prevent adolescent drug use in their communities.

By 1981, the parent movement had effectively overturned many state decriminalization laws, and soon it was guiding the new First Lady in her battle against pot. Unpopular when her husband first took office, Nancy Reagan was encouraged by parent activists to adopt adolescent drug-abuse prevention as her platform, and her approval ratings skyrocketed in response.  Despite decreasing rates of adolescent use, Reagan and parent activists continued to declare that adolescent marijuana use was nothing less than a “national emergency.”  This emphasis on the danger of adolescent drug use helped fuel the administration’s punitive drug war, especially when new laws were passed in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1986.

With the White House behind them, it took less than a decade for parent activists to demonize marijuana nationwide.  These activists were powerful because of how effectively they shifted the debate.  Whereas pro-marijuana advocates supported decriminalization on the basis of an adult’s right to privacy and freedom, parent activists said that children had a more important right to grow up drug-free.  And though many Americans supported decriminalization in the 1970s, once rates of adolescent use started to rise, and when paraphernalia manufacturers sold items to kids, the country’s attitude toward marijuana experienced a swift reversal.

December 7, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

With election of new Gov, might New Jersey legalize marijuana by May Day 2018?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this  local article headlined "With Phil Murphy's win, it's 'full steam ahead' for legal marijuana." Here is how it gets started:

Democrat Phil Murphy's victory in the governor's race Tuesday night drives New Jersey "full-steam ahead" toward legalizing marijuana and cultivating an estimated $1.3 billion industry, the sponsor of the legislation said.

Throughout the campaign, Murphy has embraced the idea of making marijuana available for recreational use for people 21 and older. Early on, he made his support well-known that he would sign a legalization bill when it arrived on his desk.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who controls which bills the 40-member Senate debate and vote on, said his goal was to get the measure passed within 100 days of the Murphy administration.

Murphy has said he is also counting on the sales tax from legal cannabis -- an estimated $300 million -- as a key revenue source to help fund education programs and the public worker pensions.

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